Everglades USA Exped – Day 13

Friday, November 25

Day at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida

By Ann-Kathrin

Today our motivation behind getting up, after another night of the anchor watch was the day trip to the turtle rehabilitation center in Marathon on the Florida Keys. We were all looking forward to being informed and to learn more about those endangered creatures. When we arrived with the dingy at a little marina called Burdines. From there we walked along the street for some minutes to arrive at the Turtle Hospital. It was good to touch the earth again, but when we walked towards our destination we crossed a really poor part of the city. We all were moved by the images of the poor people because it was unexpected. On the way through the dirty and damaged mobilehomes and trailers something Martin said popped up in my head. We all– especially the Young Explorers–  who have the chance to be on this unique trip should really be thankful for what we have. We have not only this rare opportunity, but we also are free, we can run, jump, sing, speak, listen, think, love, decide and swim. We have a huge amount of possibilities we must appreciate even more than we do. Those people we saw try to make the best of what they have, but we are blessed with what we have and only those moments in which we see the difference, raise the awareness. It is so important to think about it from time to time. We should be more than thankful for what we have everyday.

We arrived early for our 10 AM workshop at the hospital so we had more than 30 minutes to inform ourselves in the decorated waiting room about the six species of sea turtles found in U.S. Waters: the Hawksbill, the Leatherback, the Green, the Loggerhead, the Olive Ridley and the very rare Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. All of them are inhabitants of the area around Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. We read on the many information boards more about the Turtle Hospital, its foundation 25 years ago, its history, its aim and purpose – the three Rs: Rehab, Research and Release.

At 10 AM, Jeanette, a marine biologist and our staff guide for the day called us out and we received an informational seminar about sea turtles and a tour of the facility. She showed us the turtle emergency room and told us stories about the turtles who have found their way onto the operating table — like Sara, the sea turtle rescued on August 3, with a 4-foot  barbed spear in her head shot purposefully (and illegally) by a fisherman. Hospital staff, Dr. Doug Mader of Marathon Veterinary Clinic, and Monroe County Fire Rescue performed surgery to push the barbed spear through Sara's head and she was rehabbed and successfully released back into the wild this September! 

As soon as the guided tour started everyone was eager to see the real turtles and to experience their behavior. We learned more about the turtles and the threats they are exposed to (like lobster traps, commercial fishing lines, powerboats, toxic pollutants especially plastics) and the way the Turtle Hospital helps, analyze, learn about and improve the treatment of turtles especially the endangered ones.

Finally we got to see the 23 turtles resident in the tanks of the hospital. We all held our breath when we saw the majestic animals gliding through the blue water as if they were flying. Seeing some of those unique creatures in such bad shape, tortured by tumors, with amputated flippers and shells deformed by careless boaters really drove the tears into our eyes.

After our workshop, we went for lunch at a nearby authentic Mexican cantina. During lunch a wild discussion developed whether saving those turtles positively impacts the eco-system as much as intended, or if one could spend the money more efficiently for other purposes. [Although the hospital upkeep, operating room equipment and general care of the turtles must be costly, it should be noted that the Turtle Hospital (Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, Inc.) is a certified 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable corporation.] It was a interesting discussion in which I felt misunderstood when I declared that I feel strongly about rescuing and helping animals, nevermind the costs. Christian, as a specialist for marine life then spoke right out of my heart. Every challenge you feel worth working for is worth the money and time you spend. Every project you put your lifeblood in is as important as you feel about it. Everyone knows what is important for themselves and that is what we should spend our time on and put our effort into. No matter if it is to save a hundred turtles each year, making a relatively small difference but reaching a huge group of people each day, or taking young people out to see the world so that they can share their message and their experiences with others – everyone is making a difference in their own way.

For more information about the Marathon Turtle Hospital click here

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