This Labor Day we’ll celebrate those who have contributed to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. But I can’t seem to forget a group of volunteers that I met this summer who also show the same dedication in a very unique way.
They are the committed helpers and medical staff who serve at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida. This dedicated bunch helps rehabilitate sick or injured sea turtles and return them to the wild.
For these folks, it’s a labor of love.
From the outside, the Turtle Hospital reminded me of pulling up to neighborhood urgent care facility. Although the hospital had once been a roadside motel, in 1986 it was transformed into a full-fledged medical facility that provides so much more.
The Turtle Hospital offers guided educational experiences to the public daily 7 days a week. And my family and I were lucky to take one of the tours to learn more about the important work that goes on there.
Our guide explained that sea turtles may get into desperate situations in a variety of ways. They may find themselves tangled up in netting, hit by a boat or stricken with a variety of debilitating injuries and illnesses.
Concerned people who spot these hurt flippered friends contact the Turtle Hospital, and staffers and wildlife experts set off to rescue them.
Many require immediate medical attention. The hospital contains up-to-date equipment needed to perform a variety of surgeries on different species and sizes of sea turtles. More than half of this equipment has been donated by local hospitals and doctors, and some equipment has been given by environmentally friendly organizations and individuals.
This year is proving to be one of the hospital’s busiest times ever for sea turtle patients.
Currently, the Turtle Hospital has admitted 140 sea turtles in 2015. And even though 2014 was a high volume year with 126 patients, the hospital has already passed that number by Labor Day.
This year alone, the volunteers and staff have successfully rehabilitated and released 38 sea turtles. They have tirelessly treated 116 Green sea turtles, 20 Loggerheads, three Hawksbills and one Kemp’s Ridley.
These turtles have found their way to the hospital with a range of injuries such as entanglement and ingestion of fishing line and hooks, as well as boat strike injuries.
The staff has also treated a large number of turtles for illnesses like fibropapilloma, bacterial infections, neurological conditions and parasites. They even provide care for impactions from the ingestion of foreign materials like trash.
Remarkably, the rehabilitation staff has provided care for more than 60 sea turtles simultaneously! But their involvement extends far beyond medical attention.
The volunteers and staff also educate the public through outreach programs, conduct and assist with sea turtle research and work for environmental legislation to make the coast and water safe for sea turtles.
One of those sea turtles I met was named Montel who inspired me by measure.
As sea turtles go, Montel had experience his fair share of drama. Montel had been struck by a boat, he had a fin amputated by a fishing line and he was blind in one eye as a result of disease and infection.
It didn’t look good for this big guy.
But after extensive rehabilitation thanks to the caring and hard-working staff at the Turtle Hospital, Montel was doing fine now. Although, he was not in shape to survive in the wild, Montel had found a new home at the Turtle Hospital where he was happy and thriving.
Which just goes to show you that sometimes when life gets you down, you can learn to lean on friends and just keep swimming.
For more info or to learn how you can adopt a turtle or donate, visit Turtle Hospital