This sea turtle was struggling to swim. Veterinarians are trying to find out why

David Goodhue
·2 min read

Staff at Marathon’s Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys are in the process of determining if a green sea turtle rescued by state wildlife officers Monday can ever be released back to the water.

The turtle was found struggling to swim near Alligator Reef Lighthouse off Islamorada by a couple riding a personal watercraft. They called the animal hospital.

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescued the turtle and brought it to hospital staff waiting on shore, said Officer Bobby Dube of the commission.

Bette Zirkelbach, Turtle Hospital manager, said the reptile was unable to submerge properly, and that is because it has too much gas in its intestines. However, staff is not sure what’s causing the ailment. It could be some sort of infection, or something more serious like a spinal injury.

If it is an infection, Zirkelbach said the turtle will likely be able to be treated with antibiotics and released back into the ocean.

However, a spinal injury would mean the turtle would be fitted with weights to the back of its shell and adopted out to an aquarium where it will be “an ambassador for its species,” Zirkelbach said.

If it can’t be freed, there is also the possibility it will stay at the Turtle Hospital and serve as a blood donor for the many sick and injured turtles that are brought in for treatment.

“It’s a very important role,” Zirkelbach said.

Located at mile marker 48.5 on the Gulf side of U.S. 1 in the Middle Keys city of Marathon, the Turtle Hospital is the world’s first licensed veterinary hospital dedicated solely to the care of injured and sick sea turtles. The nonprofit has a full-time staff of 18 and three ambulances.