Your Guide To Visiting The Turtle Hospital in Marathon

Do you love the ocean and its many inhabitants? If you’re like me and enthusiastically said, “YES!,” you‘ll absolutely want to visit Marathon, Florida‘s Turtle Hospital. They have 3 main goals at the Turtle Hospital:

  1. Rehabilitate
  2. Research
  3. Release

Unlike a traditional aquarium, the turtles you see at the hospital will all be at one phase of the 3-step process. The goal for all the turtles is to spend only as much time at the hospital as needed and then be promptly released back to the wild, cured of whatever ailment brought them to the doctors in the first place. The only exception to this rule is the few turtles that call the hospital their permanent home due to issues that wouldn’t allow them to survive in nature.

Now that you have a general idea of the great program you’d be supporting by giving the Turtle Hospital a visit, let’s dive more into the specifics.

What Is The Turtle Hospital?

Marathon's Turtle Hospital is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to turtle rescue and rehabilitation. It’s also focused on educational programs, awareness, and environmental legislation for the benefit of endangered sea turtles.

The Turtle Hospital is the only state-certified veterinary hospital of its kind in the world. Founded by Richie Moretti in 1986, the hospital's inspiring mission expanded to take over Moretti's roadside motel after Hurricane Wilma brought flooding that prompted an overhaul to the Hidden Harbor Motel resulting in a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for injured turtles.

Today, local volunteers and assorted veterinarians assist with the feeding and care of both temporary and permanent residents, including Bubble Butt, the center's first and longest resident, rescued after a boat strike in 1989. What was once a saltwater pool for the motel is now a 100,000-gallon sea turtle aquarium hosting both permanent residents and turtles that are almost strong enough to be released.

The world is home to seven species of sea turtles, and five are found in the Florida Keys: the Green sea turtle, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Kemps Ridley, and Loggerhead turtles. All are considered endangered or threatened.

The Turtle Hospital aims to serve all species of turtles, and a wide variety of ailments and injuries are treated at the center. Most often, patients are suffering from disease, boat or fishing line injuries to flippers or shells, or the ingestion of trash or plastics in their stomachs. The most common surgery performed at the hospital is the removal of Fibropapilloma tumors, which affect more than half of the Green sea turtles in the Florida Keys.

The oceanfront hospital welcomes more than 100 injured or dependent sea turtles each year, including hatchlings that become disoriented and cannot find their way to the sea. Injured turtles will make their way from the operating room to recovery holding tanks until they grow strong enough to eat independently and join other turtles in communal tanks. From here, they are moved to the pool where they gain strength until their release back into the wild.

The Turtle Hospital has rehabilitated and released more than 1,500 sea turtles and assisted more than 2,000 disoriented hatchlings. The facility has a full-time staff of 18 and dedicated turtle ambulances equipped with kayaks and netting. The hospital holds public turtle releases that are free to attend.

How You Can Help The Sea Turtles

There are plenty of things that you can do to help the sea turtles, especially during your Florida Keys visit!

  • Dispose of all trash properly, and recycle whenever possible.
  • Keep a close watch for turtles when boating, and keep a safe distance.
  • During nesting season (late spring - early summer), keep beach-facing lights off at night.
  • Don’t disturb any nests or hatchlings moving towards the sea.
  • "Adopt" a permanent resident of The Turtle Hospital.
  • If you spot a sick or injured sea turtle in Florida, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC.

How to Find The Turtle Hospital

The Turtle Hospital is located in Marathon, Florida at mile marker 48.5 - approximately 2.5 hours south of Miami and one hour north of Key West. The address is 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon FL 33050 (MAP).

It’s conveniently located near our vacation rental properties in Marathon, making it a fun and educational rainy day activity.

Hours, Pricing, And Additional Information

The Turtle Hospital Education Center and Gift Shop are open daily from 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Guided tours are scheduled each day, on the hour, from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM. You must take part in a tour to visit with the resident turtles.

Admission is $27 for adults, $13 for children ages 4-12, and children under 4 years of age are free. Cost includes behind-the-scenes educational tour (including a visit to the receiving room, x-ray room, and operating room) and presentations on sea turtle anatomy, eating habits, and common injuries. Interactive feeding sessions take place at the tour's end, where guests are invited to meet the center's permanent residents.

Choose from 60-90 minute tours. Reservations are strongly recommended. Please call (305)743-2552 or visit The Turtle Hospital’s website to reserve your spot and learn more about the sea turtle hospital.

Fun And Fascinating Sea Turtle Facts

  • Sea turtles have roamed the Earth’s oceans for millions of years.
  • Sea turtles migrate thousands of miles in their lifetime.
  • In a single nesting season, females lay between two and six clutches of eggs, each containing 65 to 180 eggs.
  • It is estimated that only one out of 1,000 hatchlings survives to be an adult.
  • Some sea turtles can live up to 50 years or more.
  • Leatherbacks are the largest species of sea turtle and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
  • Sea turtles feast on anything from seaweed to jellyfish.
  • Sea turtles can travel at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour in water.

For more educational activities about marine life in Marathon Florida Keys we also suggest you visit the nearby Dolphin Research Center. Both the dolphin center and turtle hospital are great places for you and your family to visit on your upcoming trip to Marathon.