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Key West hospital serves special clientele

Sea turtle recoups at Marathon Vet Hospital

By Trimmel Gomes

Tallahassee, FL – After months of rehabilitation, a loggerhead sea turtle was released back into the wild in the Florida Keys Tuesday. As Trimmel Gomes reports, a group of environmentalists and journalists witnessed business as usual at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

It's all about helping sea turtles survive, like this sub-adult loggerhead named Karsten being released off Sombrero Beach.

Five months ago, Karsten was found floating in a local Marathon canal by homeowners. He was scooped up and taken in the Turtle ambulance to received medical attention and diagnostics. Richie Moretti is founder of the Turtle Hospital.

" We root for all of them. Ones that come in that has so many problems at one time, like this one, she had two hooks in her, one real deep that Doug got out and one he got out of her jaw. You have to really see how the animal is doing, you can't just take the hook out and assume the animal is fine. That's we found
out they had lockjaw."

As a result, the turtle couldn't open his mouth to eat until volunteer veterinary staff stretched his jaw daily and fed him squid using a tube down his throat. Moretti says a sign that Karsten was ready to go home came when he caught and ate a live lobster.

"When you watch that loggerhead, stalk and then strike that you can throw his head and you know all my staff is just looking at her, they'd been feeding her, forcing her mouth and when they watched her go like that and can just crush that shell, made them all a little more respectful that these guys can be a lot stronger than you think."

On the eve of Karsten's release, Dr. Doug Mader of Marathon Veterinary Hospital quickly turned his attention to another sub-adult loggerhead that was hit by a boat.

"This piece of shell was just hanging loose by some tissue over the top of the tail."

You can see the slices from the propeller, like a cheese grater, as it lays steady in critical condition, in an empty pool at the hospital.

"...and every time that propeller is spins it cuts a slice in their shell. It actually got the back part of the shell badly sliced last night, I came in and had to amputate part of the shell and then those wounds over there as bad as they look, there is a good chance this animal is going to make it, cause there is no damage to the flipper or the head. So we've got it on antibiotics, we've got it on fluids, we have it on lots and lots of pain medication right now."

So as this turtle begins what now seems like a long journey through the rehabilitation process, back on Sombrero Beach, Karsten is getting reacquainted with his natural habitat.

"It's sort of like sending a kid off to college, you hope they at least say hi occasionally, but you know with us with Turtles if we don't hear anything that's good. Cause if they ever get hit by a boat, they're wearing a tag internally and they're wearing tags on their flipper, so as long as we don't hear, no news is good news!"

Turtle Hospital Founder Richie Moretti says there are simple steps people can take, to prevent harming turtles.

"Things that we can all do, is just watching our fishing lines, watching our plastic bags, if we stay on a beach during nesting season, closing your drapes just so they don't go the wrong direction. The little things make such a difference."

There are 24 patients at the Turtle Hospital.