This post is in partnership with The Turtle Hospital and The Florida Keys and Key West who hosted our visit. All opinions are my own. You can read my full Disclosure Policy here.
One of the highlights of our Florida Keys vacation this summer was a visit to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. This place is just incredible, especially if you are an animal lover.
The Turtle Hospital is a non-profit organization dedicated solely to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sea turtles. They’re thought to be the only facility like this in the world! Not only is it really cool to get up close to these incredible creatures, but it’s really educational so it’s the perfect stop with kids.
Education programs run on the hour from 9am to 4pm each day, and we were able to participate in one. I’ll walk you through what we learned and all the turtles we got to meet below, plus how you can help these beauties!
Turtle Hospital Florida Keys
The Turtle Hospital is located in Marathon in the Upper Keys and is very easy to find with this sign out front.
From the parking lot, it looked like kind of a small place to us, but the property is very deep. They have room to house over 230 turtles here! When we visited, there are 47 on site. You can always see the current patients on their website.
Be sure to look for the Turtle Ambulance in the parking lot! The kids thought this was so cool. When they get a call of a turtle in distress, this is the vehicle taken to bring them back to the hospital.
Things To Do In Marathon FL
If you want to participate in an educational tour (highly recommended!), consider booking your reservation in advance. You can call in to do that. They do fill up, so you don’t want to arrive and find out you’ll have to come back later.
The tours last about 90 minutes and are definitely appropriate for kids. There is a brief sit-down educational portion at the beginning so if you have really little ones that can’t sit still, just excuse yourself to the back of the room where you can listen, but your kiddos can move a bit.
This is interactive with questions and answers, and really informative. Even though you might want to get right to the turtles, it’s great to get some background before you see the tanks and learn more about what we can do to take better care of our oceans, and our sea life.
Discarded fishing line and hooks (like the one above that got stuck in a poor turtle’s mouth), pollution that causes fibropapilloma – a growth of tumors anywhere on the turtles body but often on the eyes which can lead to blindness, and strikes from the propeller of a boat are the most common things that bring sea turtles to the Turtle Hospital.
This is the surgical room where fibropapilloma tumors are removed, among other surgeries performed. After removal, the turtles are kept for up to a year to make sure they don’t grow back before they are released.
You can see by the map of the rehab enclosures that the Turtle Hospital has a lot of room for residents. During times of greater need, they can house over 200 of them!
Most of these turtles come in, get treated and rehabilitated, and are then released. However, there are a handful of turtles that are permanent residents. These guys were injured badly enough that they really can’t survive in the wild, so they have a comfortable home here.
Sea Turtle Rehabilitation
A quick tip before your visit: other than the sit-down educational portion, everything is outside. There is some netting to cover the tanks and provide a little bit of shade, but you are outside and in the sun a fair bit, so be prepared for that. And do not forget your cameras!!
The first turtle we met was Jovanovich, and since our visit she has been released! Her right front flipper got caught in fishing line, and despite a lot of effort to save it, including leech therapy, it was not able to be salvaged and had to be amputated.
The Turtle Hospital’s rule of thumb is that turtles are able to be released with three good flippers and one good eye. She was a strong swimmer and made it back home to the ocean!
You can’t touch the turtles, but as you can see you can get very close to them. Jovanovich even splashed us as she came up to the surface. She’s such a pretty gal!
This particular tank above housed three green sea turtles, and they don’t really pay much attention to each other. Apparently sea turtles aren’t very social animals. They are green because of what they eat, and the staff at the Turtle Hospital feeds them a diet of green veggies.
You might notice some PVC piping in some of the tanks. In the ocean, turtles will scratch their shells on coral, but there is no coral in these tanks, so the piping provides something to rub against. The staff will also put food in the holes so that the turtles have to dive to get it.
When a sea turtle like the one above is hit with a boat propeller that cracks their shell, sometimes it creates air pockets under the shell that make the turtle float.
A floating turtle can’t dive for food, so while their crack heals (it will heal on it’s own!), they are weighted down so they can eat independently.
This gal, Coral, was my favorite. Check out that nasty crack in her shell from a boat. Poor girl!
This is just like a human fingernail and will heal on its own. I think that’s simply amazing.
Coral had the most sweet smile and she kept coming up to the surface and opening her mouth for us. Adorable! Be sure to watch the video I have above to see her do it.
The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and were able to tell us about each turtle and how they ended up at the Turtle Hospital. This kind of interactive learning is SO good for kids!
Some of the turtles do a neat trick where they squirt water out of the holes in their noses. We could have watched them for hours. They’re so beautiful and I’ve never seen a sea turtle this close up. Have you?
Here’s an example of a turtle with fibropapilloma. You can see the tumors on her flipper and around her eyes. The Turtle Hospital will remove these and then keep an eye on her for up to a year to make sure she’s in the clear from regrowth before releasing her.
Adopt a Sea Turtle
This area was probably my favorite part of the tour. In these little tanks around the perimeter are baby turtle hatchlings.
They are so tiny and cute!
I held my phone up to the net to get this photo of them. The dots mean something, and I’m trying to remember what they told us. I think it means that they are eating on their own. Let me know if you know!
In the interior pool of this section you’ll find a lot more turtles, including all of the permanent residents. I mentioned that there are a handful that are unable to be released because they can really no longer survive in the wild and have been deemed non-releasable by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Above is Bubble Butt, who was struck by a boat propeller that damaged his shell and caused air bubbles underneath of it. He is unable to dive for food, so he wouldn’t make it in the ocean. And LOOK HOW CUTE!! The poor guy. We fell in love with him!
April is a blind turtle, so she gets fed separately so that she has an opportunity to eat her food before the other turtles get it. And Montel was not only struck by a boat, but he also survived a shark attack. These are some tough turtles!
The five turtles that call the Turtle Hospital their home are available for ‘adoption.’ This is a really neat way to support the efforts of this awesome non-profit. You’ll receive a photo, bio, and certificate of adoption for only $35 a year!
I love this for a gift idea. My kids are each getting one for Christmas. Note: You’re not really bringing a turtle home!
This is nearing the end of the tour, and our guide gave us some food to give to the turtles. They swim right up to the edge to eat up!
We absolutely LOVED visiting the Turtle Hospital. Truly, if you are on vacation in the Florida Keys, make this a stop on your travels. It really made a lasting impact on us not only because we fell in love with the turtles, but also because we learned some simple things we can do to make the ocean a healthier place for them.
If you are a boater, go slow through shallow water. If you fish, don’t discard your hooks and line in the water. And do not litter. Turtles eat everything, so that balloon you send up into the sky might end up in one of these turtles’ stomachs. We’re ditching plastic straws and as much plastic as we can. Every little bit helps.
Turtle Hospital Marathon
The Turtle Hospital is a must-do on your visit to the Florida Keys. Learn more on their website, and be sure to follow on social media to catch pics and video of their turtle patients and releases: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
The Florida Keys and Key West are the perfect place for a family vacation. Visit their website, and check out their social profiles for tons of ideas to help plan your adventure: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
HOW TO PLAN A FLORIDA KEYS FAMILY VACATION:
WHERE TO STAY IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
- Marker 88 Restaurant in Islamorada
- Angler & Ale Restaurant, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key
- Morada Bay Beach Cafe, Islamorada
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Turtle Kraals Restaurant in Key West
- First Flight Restaurant & Brewery: USA’s Southernmost Microbrewery
- 11 Best Places for Key Lime Pie in The Florida Keys
THINGS TO WITH KIDS IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
- The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key
- Dolphin Research Center, Marathon Key
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Aquarium Encounters in Marathon FL: Coral Reef Encounter
- Bahia Honda State Park – Best Florida Keys Beaches
- Key West Butterfly Conservatory
- The Cats of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida
- 15 Things to Do With Kids in Key West