I had not previously given it much thought but it turns out the life of a turtle is most likely going to be nasty brutish and short. Oh, and solitary, because we were told on our $25 tour of the Turtle Hospital they like to live alone.
One turtle hatchling out of a thousand makes it to maturity. And as if those odds aren't daunting enough the adult turtles who do roam the oceans are subject to shark attacks, quantities of plastic pollution to ruin their digestions and give them bloat, fish hooks, skin tumors, propellor cuts and being hunted for human food in less enlightened parts of the world where they are poached.
Do not plan to be reincarnated as turtle, clearly, as you will suffer and die most likely. However if you do end up suffering around the Florida Keys there is free first rate health care for you at the hospital started on a whim in Marathon. If the place reminds you of a motel that's because it was one and the owner liked to show off tropical fish for the guests. One day a child, a fan of the then popular Ninja Turtles craze asked Richie where he kept the turtles and an idea was born. Last year founder Richie Moretti deed restricted the property to permanent turtle care in the hands of a not for profit created to run the place.
It is a brilliant facility, with a track record and a publicity apparatus second to none. The thing is turtles are easy to understand and care about, a bit like whales and elephants so despite the fact they aren't sociable and can be down right mean turtles make for great visual aides when cameras are in the offing. The hospital is so well known any turtle covered in limpets or unable to dive, snagged in fishing gear or scarred by a boat prop will get the hospital on it's side.
They cover all the Keys where needed but when a turtle in the US Virgin Islands was in trouble American Airlines got in on the act and gave it a free ride to the mainland. It is recovering nicely they tell us and it has a ride planned back to the Caribbean when ready.
Turtles are bizarre creatures and Sharon our guide was full of information about them. Apparently they can hold their breath for hours but they need to think to breathe as it doesn't come naturally. That's weird enough if you ask me but they like to rest on the seafloor so they have to keep half their brain awake to remind them to surface to breathe as necessary so they don't really sleep as you and I do because when we sleep we breath automatically.
The other grotesque thing is it's almost impossible to sex turtles so they get gender specific names but usually they are wrong. The external features of their gender are not apparent to humans except by blood test so I just found my mind boggled once again. That and they have to think to breathe. Weird.
The hospital tries to release all injured turtles and when they are sent back to the ocean they get a microchip tracker and a serial number as shown on this fake slipper:
Some turtles can never be released as they are too seriously injured. Ohuge problem is when they get their digestion screwed up by ocean pollution and gases get trapped in their bodies. Normally they expel air flapping their flippers but if they lose a flipper or the gas gets stuck under their shell they can't sink in the water and they cannot therefore hut for food or rest on the seafloor. Those turtles are permanent residents at the hospitals largest pool.
They all get names, not as we have seen related to gender, but the tour guide spends a lot of time explaining turtles ad calling them out by name. Whoever finds an injured turtle and reports it gets to give it a name.
After the reception gathering of the visitors and the slide show and a quick look at the surgery center where they are operated on just as though they were human:
There are a whole bunch of tanks to see on the ninety minute tour (reservations required!):
Sharon, a volunteer, used a brilliant microphone set up that broadcast her voice from the various speakers in each area where we walked.
Here is the former hotel which is in the middle of all the tank areas and the tour walks from one to the other. Golf carts are available for the less ambulatory. Indeed the whole facility appears entirely accessible :
To overcome the floating situation the hospital glues weights on the shell of the affected turtle. However this is a short term solution as the shell grows and casts off the weight and they have ti stick them on again so these turtles are lifers in the big tank
Feeding time. We got turtle food pellets to toss out. So I tossed food and photographed the turtle as it chased the pellets and I hoped for the best when I clicked the shutter.
They aren't really easy to see,a swirl of shells and dark green water ona gray sunless morning.
I did manage to spot more of those weights they glue on the shell:
I looked out the cage and I wondered at the miserable fate that injured these animals and the stroke of good luck that got them here before they died. Still, its a life in a cage and no fault of their own.
It is frankly an amazing operation.