Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Conservation in the Florida Keys

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Early on during our trip through the Keys, SVV and I learned a bit more about the ecosystem in those parts—specifically the underwater coral landscape and the islands’ turtle population.

Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo

First, we stopped by the Coral Restoration Foundation, a Key Largo-based, non-profit organization established to plant coral nurseries and protect the endangered reef. I found this initiative fascinating: The team grows elkhorn and staghorn coral offshore, then relocates them to the ocean in lines, trees or disks (see the various forms nurseries take here); eventually, when the coral is mature enough—usually eight months along—they move them again, this time to plant along the sea bed. There’s not a lot to see at the headquarters itself; we more stopped by to learn about everything the organization is taking on, and what they’re doing is really neat (and admirable).

Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo

Sadly, we didn’t get to go out with them as the next coral-planting dive was on a Saturday and we visited on a Monday (note to self: do more advanced planning next trip). But for any fellow divers out there, this would be a really cool opportunity. Since 2003, CRF has outplanted approximately 4,000 staghorn corals at more than 20 different reefs in the Upper Keys.

Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo

On our third day in the keys while staying in Marathon, we paid a visit to The Turtle Hospital, which is every bit as adorable as it sounds. We had booked a tour in advance, which you must do if you want to see the behind the scenes, and got a insider peek at what all this 501(c)3 is doing for the local ecosystem.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Formerly a hotel, the Turtle Hospital has served as a sanctuary for sick and injured turtles, mostly greens and loggerheads, since 1986.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

The goals of the facility have always been to: 1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities) and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Locals call in the wounded animals to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the hospital houses more than 30 temporary residents and 13 full-time inhabitants, who will spend the duration of their lives at the hospital. Some of the turtles are victims of Fibropapilloma (a virus that causes tumors both internal and external), some have lost fins when struck by propellers or have become entangled in fishing line, while others develop a serious condition the scientists refer to as “bubble butt,” when air is injected into their flesh once they’re bumped by boats. In simplified terms, this is a lifelong illness and dangerous as it causes them to float to the top of the ocean, unable to stay submerged. These turtles wind up as hospital lifers. So sad, I know.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Turtle Hospital-4

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Those who are able to recover are rehabbed slowly and eventually released back into the wild. Some are kept separate in their own private swimming pool tanks, while others get to mingle in a giant swimming pool. Our tour concluded with us visiting these turtles who “play nice together” and feeding them fish scraps and lots of romaine lettuce.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

While indeed it’s very sad that humans can cause such trauma to these beautiful creatures, you’ve got to admire what the folks at the Turtle Hospital are doing to combat it (and you can donate to the cause here).

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

Looking for other similar eco/educational activities in the Florida Keys? Check out Dolphin Cove, a facility in Key Largo where you learn about the dolphins from a scientist then are able to swim with them in a natural lagoon, or the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada.

COMMENTS
  • March 11, 2014

    Oh my gosh…turtles! ALL THE FEELS! I would love to visit there. I actually just got an email this morning from a guy who works with the CRF…perhaps it’s time to plan a Florida visit!

    • March 11, 2014

      Do it! DO IT. You could totally go on a coral-planting trip with the CRF. That would be rad!

  • March 12, 2014

    Loved reading about these initiatives — thanks for sharing! You are really selling the keys to me!

  • March 13, 2014

    Maybe it’s time to plan a trip to Florida!

    I love sanctuaries… It’s so good to see that other people do everything to safe the animals!

    We need more like them!

  • March 13, 2014

    Very cool. When I was in the Galapagos I saw a bunch of baby turtles head to the ocean but unfortunately birds ate most of them. The hardest part was that we could not interfere with nature, we had to stay back and watch it happen.

  • March 13, 2014

    A fantastic project, wildlife conservation is always good. BTW, I was in FL just a few months ago and didn’t know about them 🙁

  • March 14, 2014

    Working in animal rights and conservation, it is so wonderful to see a place like this!

  • March 14, 2014

    I like turtles.

    …and I’m ready for a return to the Keys. It’s like they’re just sitting down there at the end of my state taunting me to come visit!

  • March 14, 2014

    That is so cool!! I’ve seen so many amazing efforts over the years of ways to help the turtles, but never a hospital. So cool.

  • March 18, 2014

    I love sea turtles so, so much! They’re so cute and I hate that humans hurt them but it’s awesome that a place like this exists to help them recover.

  • March 24, 2014

    Lucas would LOVE this place, he’s such a huge fan of turtles!!!

  • March 27, 2014

    I’ll bet the kids would enjoy dropping by at that turtle hospital in the Florida keys. When they were little they used to have tiny pet turtles. Getting to know a bit about the eco-system there would be the icing on the cake!

  • April 8, 2014

    If you enjoyed this, you should head over to Zakynthos, a Greek island, in the summer to see baby turtles hatch and go into the sea. It was an incredible experience, you can even swim with the baby ones and watch them literally power through and you’re like ‘But you’ve just been born, how are you able to do this??’

    It’s on my old blog that I wrote about it, if you’re interested check it out ^.^: http://theurbanmaze.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/island-in-the-sun%E2%99%AC/

  • May 8, 2014

    It is great to see others striving to conserve and protect our environment. I enjoyed learning that there is place like this to further conserve our wildlife. Great post, thank you for sharing!

    -Sara

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