New manager on duty

New manager on duty

A long-time familiar face at Grassy Key’s Dolphin Research Center, former facilities director Bette Zirkelbach has joined the team at The Turtle Hospital.

Since taking the helm as manager two weeks ago, the dynamic staff has been able to host four public releases across the Keys.

“I wish I could say I had a hand in that, but it’s strictly coincidence,” Zirkelbach laughed.

She assumed the post around the beginning of Spring Break, and with the heavy flow of traffic through the Keys this season, she said the facility has also been posting record numbers of visitors on their daily tours.

“We’ve increased from four programs a day to seven programs a day, seven days a week,” Zirkelbach continued. “We are continually evolving.”

For the past four years during the annual Key West Powerboat Races, Zirkelbach hovered above Key West Harbor alongside Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti, who kept an eye out for turtles while she served as the marine mammal expert on board. Each representing their respective facilities, they’d often worked in partnership with area animal rescue and transport situations, particularly with the cold stunning of dozens of turtles two years ago.

“We’re excited to have Bette and her great energy at the hospital,” Moretti said.

Zirkelbach is also currently serving on the Florida Keys Area Committee, chartered and chaired by the U.S. Coast Guard and consisting of key response agencies, environmental organizations and public officials across the Florida Keys. The goal of the Area Committee is to develop and test prevention, response and recovery activities to respond to any future pollution incidents like the BP/Deepwater Horizon rig explosion or incident off Cuban shores.

This past Sunday, the Turtle Hospital ambulance arrived at Bahia Honda an hour ahead of sub-adult loggerhead Sport’s schedule release so as many people as possible could give him a proper send off home. Camera-wielding crowds can make public beach releases an intense experience, but Zirkelbach said Moretti had planned for Sport to relax under a shaded tree to welcome his adoring fans. Sport lost one of his back legs due to a lobster trap line entanglement but was fully recovered at the Turtle Hospital. Upon his release, he reportedly swam enthusiastically through the surf.

Upper Keys residents and visitors are invited this Sunday to the first public beach release at Founder’s Park in Islamorada, located at Mile Marker 87 Bayside, 87000 Overseas Highway.

Sully was rescued off of Islamorada in the Florida Bay last December where she was found floating and struggling to dive due to an impaction or an infection in her intestinal tract. Such infections release CO2 gas that compromise a turtle’s buoyancy and renders them unable to dive for food.

She was treated with antibiotics, and our miracle drugs: lactulose, Metamucil, and Beano to help alleviate her impaction. Sully is now fully recovered and diving well. She can’t wait to go back to her ocean home at 10:30 am on Sunday, March 25.

Turtle Hospital Founder Richie Moretti (left) along with help from staffers Tom Luebke and Stacey Venzel as well as Marathon Veterinary Hospital’s Kourtney Grimm and new Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach along with dozens of supporters helped send Sport back to sea.

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