The Turtle Hospital – Save the Turtles!
My favorite thing about my trip to The Florida Keys was our visit to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL.
I always considered myself pretty Earth conscience, considered myself to be relatively 'green'. I mean, I recycle, I use metal straws at home, I try not to waste water, I drive an Eco-friendly car, but after visiting The Turtle Hospital, I am a changed woman. There is always more we can do. I'm going to really try to use less plastic.
I knew sea turtles had issues with plastic and trash in the ocean, but I didn't totally understand why until this visit. Turtles eat mostly jellyfish. What looks like jellyfish in the water? Plastic bags! Also, you know how pretty it is when people do a balloon release, well, those balloons end up popping and in the ocean and turtles eat them! Then the turtles can't digest them and they can die. So limit your plastic usage and don't litter!
Also, fishing hooks and other garbage can cause turtles to get tetanus, which leads to lockjaw. One of a turtle's biggest defense mechanisms is its strong jaws so lockjaw is not good.
Pesticides and chemical runoff in the oceans cause the turtles to grow tumors and that inhibits their ability to swim and eat. A few of the turtles at the hospital still had tumors because they had to be removed in stages. They looked so sad. I just wanted to give them a hug.
Another thing that really affects turtles in the area, getting hit by boats or jet skis. Or even sometimes when they get attacked by sharks or bigger predators. When their shells are hit sometimes it allows air pockets to form and that causes buoyancy issues and they can't swim. Also, sometimes getting hit on their shells causes them to become partially paralyzed. At the hospital, they will attach weights to their shell to help balance out the air pockets.
The goal of the hospital is to release as many turtles back into the wild as possible. They keep tabs on the turtles that come and go from the hospital with trackers that you can then see through their website. They also do this just to see if they have any return guests to the hospital.
We were really in for a treat because they had a baby Leatherback Turtle. Leatherback Turtles aren't super common for the area, but they look really cool. That day, the Leatherback Turtle was getting physical therapy to make sure he could dive properly so he could be released back into the wild. They said maybe even later that day he would be let go. The little guy had a hurt flipper. Baby turtles are sometimes attacked by bigger birds or predators and a flipper can be damaged.
UPDATE: Little Leatherback Turtle has been released!
I highly recommend checking out The Turtle Hospital's website to learn more. I found it fascinating. These turtles are pretty resilient creatures, all they need is a little help.