A day trip to the Southern most point of the contiguous United States. Key West…
A cold front had blown through southern Florida and the temperatures were 20F lower than they had been and the wind was blowing a gale. Whilst this has put the dampers on the beach and swimming activities it was not so bad that we couldn’t do things. Knowing there was a change in the air we had already planned a trip out to the Turtle Rescue Hospital in Marathon, about 15 miles further down the Florida Keys than where we are staying.
The Hospital was established back in 1986 to treat the numerous Sea Turtles that were turning up sick and injured around the Florida Keys. Some turtles come into the Hospital due to illnesses such as fibropapilloma (a tumour growth that can be fatal) and lethargic turtle disease, but the large majority arrive due to indirect and direct contact with humans. Many sea turtles are hit by pleasure craft cruising around the Keys, but equally, turtles get caught in fishing nets, eat fishing line and hooks, and consume other garbage thrown into the sea (such as cigarette butts – which look like shrimp to the turtles). There are some 15 permanent residents who will never be released and around another 15 who are temporary residents – with the intention of returning them to the sea. In the Hospital there are 4 types of turtles; Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Kemps Ridley. The largest of these, the Green sea turtles can reach up to 350 pounds.
At the start of our tour, we got a presentation on the hospital, an overview of sea turtles (what they eat, where they live etc) and the background to some of the residents. After this we were taken through the treatment rooms and are shown some of the equipment. Of most interest was the x-rays shots of some turtles showing clearly fish hooks, cigarette butts lodged deep inside these poor creatures. Fortunately, their digestive tracks seem to be hardy and in most cases it was possible for the veterinarian to remove the offending items by surgery or through the use of natural lubricants. The final part of the tour, and what had, of course, had come to see the turtles themselves. The hospital itself was once a small holiday resort that had a large saltwater tank filled from the sea, which was used to exhibit local fish. This tank is now home to 20 or so large sea turtles, many of which will never return to the wild … so this is home. Many of these poor creatures had lost fins or been hit by boats. One condition suffered by these boat struck turtles is called “bubble butt”, where the air has been forced into their shell as a result of the accident. The main result of bubble butt is that it affects the buoyancy of the turtles and they can’t dive under effectively – making them easy targets for predators like sharks. The solution in part is to put weights onto the shells but this would not work for them if returned to the wild. In addition to the turtles in the big tanks, there are several smaller tanks around containing single turtles who are undergoing treatment – these eventually will be either transferred to the larger pools or sent back to the wild.
For us, the highlight of the tour was the chance to feed the turtles. It was wonderful to see these large, graceful gentle creatures swimming peacefully through the water and chomping on the morsels we threw to them.
Planning your visit to the Turtle Hospital
|Address:||2396 Overseas Hwy, Marathon|
|Telephone:||T: (305) 743-2552|
|Hours:||Education Center and Gift Shop is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm. Tours run throughout the day|
Children (4-12 years old): $15.00
Children under 4 are free
Best time to visit the Florida Keys
The best time to visit Key West is between March and May. The winter crowds will taper off, the hotel rates become reasonable and the weather is remarkably similar to winter’s blissful 70s and 80s. Speaking of winter – that season is the island’s busiest and priciest. The rainy and humid summer months see the fewest tourists but the best hotel rates. The trade-off might be worth it, but you’re still gambling against hurricane season (June to November). Also, beware that rates will surge during special events like Key West Pride and Fantasy Fest.
Where to stay near Marathon
1. ANDREWS INN & GARDEN COTTAGES
Located right off Duval Street, the Andrews Inn and Garden Cottages are less than 5 minutes’ walk from various dining and entertainment options. Guests can enjoy free WiFi and an outdoor pool.
A flat-screen TV and an iPod docking station are featured in each classic room at this Key West bed and breakfast. Guests will also enjoy the convenience of a refrigerator in their room. Rooms also have a clock radio with auxiliary cables.
Concierge services are located on site, as are luggage storage, beach towels, and on-site maid and bike hire services.
A complimentary poolside happy hour is available and guestrooms located in the Main Inn offer a hot breakfast.
2. THE ARTIST HOUSE
3. AMSTERDAM CURRY MANSION
This Key West, Florida bed and breakfast offers free Wi-Fi. Guests can enjoy the outdoor pool and proximity to major attractions, such as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, which is 0.7 mi away.
Each room at Curry Mansion Inn is furnished with antiques but offers modern amenities, such as a cable TV and a small refrigerator. Ironing facilities and a private bathroom with a hairdryer are also included.
A hot tub, business centre, and laundry facilities are on-site at Curry Mansion. A garden is featured as well as a library. The property also provides free parking and a complimentary evening cocktail party.