Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ann's Trip to The Turtle Hospital

An earlier posting spoke of Sandy, the Hawksbill sea turtle injured by dogs on a beach in St. Croix, flown to Miami by American Airlines, and undergoing surgery and rehabilitation at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. Her right front flipper was amputated, and damage to other flippers was severe.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) volunteer extraordinaire, Ann Zscheile, traveled to a rehab workshop in Marathon in early December, where she presented a lecture on the STPS Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program (STERP) and attended workshops and seminars on topics ranging from turtle barnacles to the sea turtle gastro-intestinal system. Fortunately for us, she brought back photos and a first-hand report on the hospital, the rehab workshop, and Sandy the Hawksbill, as follows:
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon has been the flagship for caring for sick and injured sea turtles. At one time, you could stay at a motel on the grounds of The Turtle Hospital on a visit to the Keys. That was all changed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The surge from the gulf almost put the hospital out of business - it destroyed expensive equipment in the hospital and flooded the pool and all of the tanks outside. Fortunately, they were able to save all of their sea turtles - some of which were not releasable and were permanent residents. With help from the turtle license plate emergency fund and the support of many concerned turtle lovers, the hospital was restored and is now in full operation. The motel is no longer available for visitors, but there are some nice places to stay nearby. The hospital is a must see for anyone taking a trip down the Keys. You can arrange to go on a tour of the facility through the office. (Photo from The Turtle Hospital web site. The Turtle Hospital is located in Marathon, Florida, in the heart of the Florida Keys, on Overseas highway at mile marker 48.5, Bayside.)

While at the hospital, we were allowed to visit the holding facility pool and tanks with either long- term resident turtles or turtles currently undergoing treatment. We particularly wanted to see Sandy, as she was the subject of an earlier posting on your blog. It was both awesome and sad to see this large hawksbill sea turtle in her tank. Hawksbill sea turtles are in the middle of the size category for all 7 species of sea turtles in the world. They rank 4th in size after the loggerhead sea turtle. It is rare to see such a large hawksbill, as the species as a whole has been brought almost to the brink of extinction due to overcollecting. The hawksbill shell is amazingly beautiful and is the source of the "tortoise shell" that was used in the past for jewelry, combs, etc.

Sandy was attacked by dogs on the beach after coming ashore to do her part in helping her species survive. She had already laid her eggs in the sand and was on her way back to the ocean when the dogs attacked her. The right front flipper was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated, and she is missing almost 2/3 of her other front flipper. Both hind flippers were damaged also. This means that she will never be able to nest again. In fact, she will never be able to swim freely in the ocean again.

On the last day of the conference, we were treated to the release of one of their patients -Duke. Duke is a very large loggerhead sea turtle who came in lethargic and with an elevated blood sugar. He was one of the several turtles that received insulin treatment. As he was released near the Seven Mile Bridge, he was given the admonition that The Turtle Hospital staff gives to all of their turtles upon release: "Don't Come Back."

These are Ann's photos. The first is of Sandy, and the second of Duke, who is obviously ready to hit the open seas!

Our thanks to Ann for providing us with this positive note on which to start 2009, and a salute, as always, to Ann and those like her for their tireless efforts on behalf of our planet's critters.


Cactus Jack Splash said...

Amazing story. I am glad there are people out there to help injured turtles.

R.Powers said...

Very informative post! I worked with sea turtles quite a lot in the park service so I really enjoyed hearing about this.

Florida Beach Basics said...

Cactus Jack - I'm glad there are horses out there that care for people and vice-versa!

FC - If you have a chance, look at the November postings for Sandy the Hawksbill and Aloha - you'll love Blair Witherington's pix of an adult Hawksbill and the Hawksbill hatchling pic from Hawaii.