Turtle Hospital Prepares to Help Victims of the Oil Spill

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During a recent visit to the Florida Keys, I toured the Turtle Hospital, the only state-certified veterinary hospital in the world dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles. Located in an old motel, the small staff and dedicated volunteers routinely help injured and sick turtles, and, when possible, release them back into the wild.

In a typical year the hospital receives 70 injured animals.

But 2010 has not been a typical year. The unusually cold weather in January left some 5,000 turtles stranded throughout the state. Of those, 188 were rescued and taken to the hospital for treatment. Now the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in the death of 186 turtles and threatens to affect many more. The hospital staff is preparing for the worst by setting up two 36,000-gallon emergency tanks that won’t pull in water directly from the bay. They are also collecting supplies like Dawn dishwashing liquid and mayonnaise, which work on removing oil.

The hospital, which opened in 1986, is funded largely by donations. During our two-hour tour, we learned that they have a turtle ambulance and an operating room, and that fishing lines and garbage typically pose the biggest threats to the turtles. Some of the dedicated staff live at the hospital to provide around-the-clock care. Our guide, Andy, gave a description of the turtles found in the Keys–loggerhead, green, hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemps Ridley. But the most inspiring part of the tour was seeing the turtles in their tanks and hearing about their progress. Many are released back into the bay, and those that can’t be re-released either stay at the hospital in its large saltwater enclosure or are moved to aquariums in different parts of the country, where they serve as a reminder of the dangers that face sea turtles.

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The hospital offers daily tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults, and space is limited, so it’s best to call ahead.

See the hospital’s website for more information.

Photo: Kathie Gartrell

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