The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Turtle Hospital in The Florida Keys

If you happen to be taking a road trip through the Florida Keys, keep your eyes peeled for a small building that goes by the name, The Turtle Hospital. This little green building is the home of the first ever turtle hospital. In fact, it is still the only state-certified veterinary hospital for sea turtles in the entire world. It was opened in 1986 in Marathon, FL, an island in the lower Florida Keys, and the facility’s goals are to help turtles survive, educate the public, participate in turtle research, and work on environmental legislation to make sea turtles more safe. In its 25+ years, the hospital has made quite an impact with its desire to rehabilitate, research and release sea turtles.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

The story of how the hospital started out is pretty interesting. Before becoming a turtle hospital, part of the property was a hotel with a saltwater swimming pool (another part of the property was an adult dance club at one point, too). The owner decided to make the pool into a saltwater aquarium with fish so people could snorkel; after many inquiries about adding a sea turtle to the mix, he decided to look into getting a sea turtle. After following up with the government on legally obtaining a sea turtle, he learned the only way to keep one on site was if the property was a rehabilitation project since sea turtles are endangered and protected. Thus, the turtle hospital was born and over the years, it has grown into what it is today.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Tours through the facility are offered daily–while you wait for your tour, there is a gift shop and small room full of turtle facts and information to explore. Visiting the hospital was just as interesting as our evening at the sea turtle hatchling release–and one we cherish just as much!

Once the tour officially starts, you will learn about sea turtles and the hospital in a classroom like setting for around 45 minutes. The information we were able to absorb was interesting and slightly disturbing at the same time.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

There are 5 different types of sea turtles found in the Florida waters: Loggerhead, Green Turtle, Leatherback, Kemps Ridley and Hawksbill. Unfortunately, human impact plays a large part in the decline of the sea turtle population. Because turtles will eat almost anything, they end up eating trash, litter and hooks found in the ocean. This causes impactions as they are not able to break down synthetic material or digest it, which usually leads to starvation. Entanglement is another major issue for turtles–getting caught in fishing line and buoy lines happens quite often. Getting trapped in a fishing line will likely cause the turtle (or other marine life) to drown or possibly lose a flipper.

The last main reason humans impact turtles is by hitting them with their boats–when a turtle is hit by a boat, it can crack their shell or put a permanent dent in it. A dent in a turtles shell can create an air pocket which will prohibit them from diving for their food. One fix for this is to put weights on the turtles shell, which will enable them to dive, but this is only a temporary fix as the weight can fall off. There is a permanent resident at the hospital with this problem, and this turtle affectionately received the name “bubble-butt” due to the large bubble on the backside of her shell–this turtle has become the most famous resident and visitors love seeing her on repeat visits.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Of course there are many other ways turtles are harmed, by humans and nature, and tumors are another danger for turtles. Fibropapilloma tumors are debilitating and require surgery. After surgery to remove a tumor, the recovery time is typically over 1 year. The next part of the tour led us through the actual hospital portion of the facility. We saw the area where surgery is performed, x-rays are taken and check ups are given. A max of 40 turtles can be housed at the facility at a time, and there are 23 hospital beds. One turtle named Farley, weighed over 400 lbs, and almost broke the hospital table! Sadly, his leg had to be amputated due to a lobster trap, but I just can’t imagine how big he must have looked on the table.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

The ultimate goal of the hospital is to rehabilitate and release the turtles, which they are able to do most of the time; however, when a turtle is deemed unfit for the wild, they will give them a permanent home at their facility or another one equipped to care for the turtle. The Turtle Hospital houses its permanent residents and rehabilitating turtles out back in the saltwater pool and hospital tanks.

Finally, catching a glimpse of the turtles is the last stop on the tour, and we were all giddy with excitement to see them. They are adorable and fascinating creatures–we saw everything from full-grown turtles to tiny little newborns. Once we made our way to the pool, it was feeding time, so we were able to feed the turtles lettuce for some up close and personal time.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Turtle Hospital Marathon, FL

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Sea Turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida

Thankfully, there are places like this to help care for injured turtles, but we need to remember to do our part, as well. Please remember to dispose of trash properly no matter if you are on the water or land, watch out for turtles when boating, don’t leave fishing line or hooks in the water, donate to the cause and if you see a turtle in need, call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL

Reservations are required for the tour, and can be made by calling 305-743-2552. Please note, that since it is a working hospital, tours are subject to cancellation for turtle emergencies.


  • Jessica
    Posted at 00:33h, 15 July Reply

    After attending a sea turtle release, I have been fascinated with turtle rescue. This looks like a great tour and, bonus for the very unique start up story.
    Jessica recently posted…How to Pack Your Bags for a Multi-Day River RaftingMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 10:53h, 20 July Reply

      Glad you made it to a turtle release too–they are so fun! And this tour was great too–lots of interesting information!

  • Charli
    Posted at 00:37h, 15 July Reply

    What an interesting history the building has had! Great to hear that the facility’s main aim is to rehabilitate and release. Thanks for highlight such a great tour!
    Charli recently posted…Discovering The Lost Island Of MolokaiMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:42h, 20 July Reply

      We are always happy to see when the aim is to release too! It was a great spot!

  • Lauren Bassart
    Posted at 08:25h, 15 July Reply

    I love turtles. I even have a turtle tattoo 🙂 Conservation of these amazing creatures is becoming more and more necessary for their survival. It’s so sad to me that they get caught in traps or eat garbage and die. People also use their meat as bait and so many other horrendous things. Breaks my heart!
    Lauren Bassart recently posted…Leatherback Turtles of Trinidad – Conservation of a Prehistoric GiantMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:46h, 20 July Reply

      Turtle tattoo–that’s awesome! I agree, it’s so sad that they have so many things that can harm them, especially when it could be prevented. I forgot to mention people catching them for their meat too–that’s another good one to bring up–so sad!

  • Mary Calculated Traveller
    Posted at 08:26h, 15 July Reply

    I’ve driven by this before but didn’t know you could tour it. Great article…next time I plan to be in the area I’ll make plans to check it out.
    Mary Calculated Traveller recently posted…6 of the Best Chinese Cheap Eats in ChinaMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:48h, 20 July Reply

      Thanks! Yeah, you should check it out next time–it’s an interesting stop!

  • Christina S.
    Posted at 13:25h, 15 July Reply

    How fascinating! I have heard of turtle rescues and sanctuaries, but never actual hospitals.
    Christina S. recently posted…Hotel Review: Jefferson Hotel; Richmond, VAMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:49h, 20 July Reply

      Yeah, I don’t think there are really any others! It was fun to see–even though they call it a hospital, I was still surprised to see the operating room and X-rays and such, lol!

  • Anna
    Posted at 14:33h, 15 July Reply

    That’s amazing! What a fantastic place! The turtles are adorable!
    Anna recently posted…Taste of Belgium – Cincinnati, OhioMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:52h, 20 July Reply

      They are so cute! It was a great spot–I really loves the baby turtles 🙂

  • Jeff
    Posted at 21:57h, 15 July Reply

    I did not know this place was there. I am sure I drove by it many times when I lived in Florida. It is nice that someone decided to create this place when they could have done many other things with the land.
    Jeff recently posted…How Traveling in Europe has Changed in 20 YearsMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:57h, 20 July Reply

      I agree–it’s so nice there are places like this. You probably have driven by it! It’s right on the way to Key West–you’ll have to look for it next time!

  • Bev
    Posted at 15:22h, 16 July Reply

    I love the story of how the hospital came into being. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 12:01h, 20 July Reply

      Thanks! I thought it was a fun story too!

  • Jeremy
    Posted at 22:36h, 20 July Reply

    They do awesome work … some friends of mine have volunteered here in the past … I’ll have to take the drive down from Miami soon to check it out for myself!
    Jeremy recently posted…The Best Places to Drink Wine Around The WorldMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:27h, 23 July Reply

      What a fun place to volunteer! Hope you have fun if you check it out–nice that you aren’t too far away!

  • Steph
    Posted at 23:05h, 21 July Reply

    So much diversity. Turtles are fascinating creatures and it’s heartening that people are caring for them. Thanks for sharing this story.
    Steph recently posted…Five Kinds of Awesome You Can Experience in IllinoisMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:28h, 23 July Reply

      I agree–it’s so great there are places like this to care for them! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 16:10h, 28 July Reply

    I love turtles and this looks like a terrific facility to help sea turtles.
    Jennifer recently posted…Sea Kayaking Sweden’s Bohuslän CoastMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 22:18h, 29 July Reply

      It is a great spot, and a fun way to get up close to turtles! 🙂

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