Three years ago, I went to Naples in Florida for 3 weeks with my family : we went to Naples, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, the Keys, Fort Myers…
In Key West, we saw the only turtle hospital in the world !! We stopped the car and went into the hospital. Unfortunately, there were too many people so we couldn’t see the turtles. But I was lucky enough to speak with Liz, who is a member of the hospital staff.
1) You are the only Turtle Hospital in the world.When did you have the idea to found this hospital ?
The Turtle Hospital was founded by our founder, Richie Morettie, back in 1986. The idea came about when he had turned his hotel swimming pool into a mini aquarium with fish and such to show the visitors at his motel what the marine environment was like around the Keys. The teenage mutant ninja turtles were very popular at the time and the children visiting were constantly asking him why he didn’t have turtles. Sea turtles are an endangered species and therefore protected by law, so it is not allowed to have a healthy sea turtle in captivity for a lengthy period of time. However, the state told Richie if he was willing to help the sick and injured turtles that washed up here in the Keys, he could have some to rehabilitate. So Richie decided to turn part of the motel into a hospital for the sick turtles, and now the whole facility is a functioning hospital.
2) Why do you save specifically turtles and not other animals ?
It was Richie’s decision to focus on sea turtles as they are an endangered species and at the time of the start of the hospital, there was not a lot of room for any other animals. As the hospital started to grow, and more and more sea turtles starting coming in, it was clear these animals need a lot of help. Therefore the hospital is dedicated just to sea turtles and their plight.
3) How many turtles do you rescue per year ?
We can rescue anywhere from 50-100 sea turtles in a year, sometimes more. It seems this year already we have rescued close to 40 and we not even at half the year!
4) What is the most common reason for turtles to be treated in your hospital ?
There are three common reasons for turtles being treated at our facility. One is a virus that causes tumors to grow on the turtles, another is impaction due to trash and other marine items and the last it boat strikes. You can learn more about these issues at our website at www.turtlehospital.org.
5) What was the worst injury you have seen ?
The worst injury I myself have personally seen was a turtle who was hit by a boat propeller, or possible multiple propellers. It was missing a good chunk out of the back of the shell and numerous chunks from the top of the shell as well. If you search for ‘Frumpy’ on our website it will come up with the page on him and his story. Unfortunately he was not able to survive his injury and passed away.
Thanks for the very interesting interview, Liz. Good luck to all the staff members at the Turtle Hospital!