A new hospital is open at Zoo Miami. What that means for the animals and the humans

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Sunny, a green sea turtle who got a fish hook stuck in a flipper, was released from the hospital into the Atlantic Ocean from Crandon Park on Wednesday. The hospital that treated the injury also had its ceremonial opening a few hours earlier at Zoo Miami.

Although Sunny is the first patient released from the new Zoo Miami Sea Turtle Hospital, it’s actually the hospital’s second patient. The zoo facility took in Baymax, a 100-pound loggerhead turtle with a flipper missing from a shark attack, back in May. The hospital successfully amputated her missing flipper’s exposed bone, saving Baymax’s life. The team hopes to return her to the ocean in coming weeks.

Baymax, a loggerhead turtle, is fed a variety of seafood including crab and lobster. Baymax had been attacked by a shark. Zoo Miami hosted a grand opening for its new turtle hospital on July 6, 2022. The hospital is meant to take in endangered turtles from the wild that need treatment and aims to be the first hospital to treat turtle fibropapillomatosis virus that causes tumors on the skin.
Baymax, a loggerhead turtle, is fed a variety of seafood including crab and lobster. Baymax had been attacked by a shark. Zoo Miami hosted a grand opening for its new turtle hospital on July 6, 2022. The hospital is meant to take in endangered turtles from the wild that need treatment and aims to be the first hospital to treat turtle fibropapillomatosis virus that causes tumors on the skin.

READ MORE: 217-pound turtle dragged 2 fishing rods, 10 hooks, part of tire, Florida rescuers say

What’s at the hospital?

The 1,600-square-foot hospital on the Zoo Miami grounds has five saltwater pools that can house 16 turtles. While the hospital will treat turtles for injuries such as boat strikes or pollution ingestion, it will specialize in treating fibropapillomatosis, a disease that forms potentially fatal tumors that look like cauliflower on a sea turtle’s skin.

The Turtle Hospital, in the Middle keys city of Marathon, has been saving sea turtles since 1986. The hospital helped Zoo Miami employees get hands-on experience.

Meanwhile, the Miami Seaquarium has a sea turtle rehabilitation program that performs surgeries on injured turtles when needed and releases them into the ocean. Although the aquarium has an animal hospital on site, the rehab center is not considered a hospital.

The Miami area needs its own major turtle hospital because of all the waterways and boat traffic, said Genevieve Simon, a clinical intern at Zoo Miami.

“Think about how much ocean we have,” she said.

Genevieve Simon stands in front of a mural she painted on one of the walls by the entrance of the turtle hospital on July 6, 2022.
Genevieve Simon stands in front of a mural she painted on one of the walls by the entrance of the turtle hospital on July 6, 2022.

Public education

In addition to saving sea turtles, the hospital will eventually educate visitors through public tours.

“While humans cause many of these problems, we also have the power to work to make things better,” Simon said.

Rosemary Lucas, hospital manager at Zoo Miami, talks about the turtle hospital to guests during the show and tell part of the opening ceremonies on July 6, 2022.
Rosemary Lucas, hospital manager at Zoo Miami, talks about the turtle hospital to guests during the show and tell part of the opening ceremonies on July 6, 2022.

The tours will help people understand the hospital’s work in saving sea turtles, and maybe even persuade them to donate to the zoo, said Rosemary Lucas, a hospital manager at Zoo Miami.

To house turtles, the hospital needs to buy food, medicine and special equipment, which can be expensive, Lucas said.

Although smaller turtles like Sunny are easy to feed and will only be on site for just a few months, turtles like Baymax need more time at the hospital and have a more luxurious diet of lobsters and crab, Lucas said.

Sea Turtle Hospital is run by Zoo Miami, which is under Miami-Dade County, and supported by the private nonprofit Zoo Miami Foundation, which reported $30 million in assets last year.

Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, center, along with other elected officials and guests, cuts the ribbon to officially open a new turtle hospital. Zoo Miami hosted a grand opening for its new turtle hospital on July 6, 2022.
Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, center, along with other elected officials and guests, cuts the ribbon to officially open a new turtle hospital. Zoo Miami hosted a grand opening for its new turtle hospital on July 6, 2022.

The ceremony

At the hospital’s grand opening on Wednesday, foundation leaders and county officials stressed the important work ahead for the zoo’s new addition.

“Sea turtles are important,” said Miami-Dade Parks Director Maria Nardi, “and we know that they are kind of like a litmus test for the health of the oceans.”