The Sea Turtle Hospital

When you look at a sea turtle, you just feel like you’re looking at an ancient creature. You look into their eyes and it seems like they have the history of the planet, you know? When dinosaurs were roaming our planet, sea turtles were in our oceans as they are today. It’s another reason we work so hard to save them, because something that has survived our planet for two hundred million years, we really don’t want to go extinct on our watch. The Turtle Hospital is a non-profit veterinarian hospital strictly for sea turtles. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release endangered and threatened sea turtles back to the wild. The Turtle Hospital is the first, fully licensed veterinary hospital for sea turtles in the world. We’ll be celebrating our 30th year next year. People know our number. They know who to call. Most of our rescue calls come from the local community or people visiting the Florida Keys. If they see a sick sea turtle in the water, they’ll call us. We have a team of rehab specialists and a veterinarian waiting on call. That turtle is checked in. It gets a physical like you or I would get if we went to the hospital. We draw blood to look at blood chemistry. We administer fluids based on that chemistry and start antibiotic treatment. Just like in a human hospital, every patient has its own bed. At the turtle hospital, the really sick turtles have their own tank. All species of sea turtles in the United States are either endangered or threatened. We see turtles that are struck by boats, that have ingested trash or plastic. Mostly human impact. There is a horrific disease called fibropapilloma virus and it causes these external tumors on the turtles. It affects over 50% of the green sea turtle population. It’s not only growing in numbers, but it’s also in the severity of the disease. These tumors now overtake the eyes so most of the turtles that come in with it have both their eyes covered over with these horrible tumors. Last year in 2014, we saw 56 of those turtles. This year we’ve already seen over 115. We’re its first line of defense. Its only hope is us. So, I look at every turtle that comes in as one we can save. This is “Professor”, he’s already had the tumors removed from his eyes. If you take a look at the before picture, his eyes were completely covered. He’s got quite a few surgeries ahead of him to remove that tumor load. But, he’s healing well from his initial surgeries. So, I have a lot of hope that he’ll make it back out to the ocean. There you go, buddy. The FP virus is only found in and around developed islands, which tells us a lot. It’s a gauge of pollution and the quality of our water. Something that starts affecting such a resilient animal is like the canary in a coal mine. What is affecting them is essentially affecting all of life. There are times that we can’t save turtles. Unfortunately, that’s a regular event meaning it happens weekly. Rather than get depressed or frustrated with the situation I go home at night and try to get real creative and work with top research scientists at universities to try to find what causes a virus, how we can help the virus. Every turtle that dies here does teach us something. It takes a lot of dedication to work with turtles, a lot of patience. They’re really slow to get sick and they’re really slow to heal. In the wild, these guys are found on our reef systems. They go under the coal heads to scratch their backs. So, their carapace. That’s why they kind of like a good back scratching. There becomes a point where that turtle almost knows that you’re helping it. This is “Penny”. “Penny” is a post-hatchling that just washed back last week. She’ll grow to be 350 pounds if you can believe it. One in 1000 hatchlings last their first year, and only one in 5000 makes it to sexual maturity which is about 20, 25 years old. Pretty difficult. Their life span is upwards of 100 years and that’s when a sea turtle comes in the Turtle Hospital and is past that juvenile phase, we feel it’s very important to keep that sea turtle alive because that one has a better chance that we can fix it and put it back into the ocean of reaching sexual maturity and having more baby sea turtles. At the very end, the reason that we all do this and what makes our heart sing is the day that we get to release a turtle back into the ocean. Unfortunately, there’s always another one at the door waiting to come into the Turtle Hospital.

20 thoughts on “The Sea Turtle Hospital

  1. The laws should get very strict on littering at all…Make it an extremely expensive fine to help pay for the rehabilitation of turtles, or any wildlife in the oceans for that matter!

  2. I have loved sea turtles for about 20 years. When I was in Hawaii a friendly sea turtle became my companion while I was snorkeling and he must have really liked me because he stayed by my side until I had to leave the water. Saying goodbye to him was hard. That turtle being so nice to me was my favorite part of the trip.


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