Saturday, Sept. 24, is designated as “Richie Moretti and the Turtle Hospital Day” in the Florida Keys following issuance of a proclamation Wednesday at the Monroe County Commission meeting in Marathon.
The recognition comes as the facility, the world’s first state licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, celebrates its 25th anniversary in the Florida Keys this month.
“We’re looking to go on in perpetuity, not just another 25 years,” Moretti, the hospital’s founder, said. “I don’t have grandchildren. These turtles are my grandchildren.”
The hospital has treated and rehabilitated more than 1,200 injured sea turtles and assisted tens of thousands gone astray after exiting their nests. It remains the only facility of its kind in the world, according to Moretti, and even has a “turtle ambulance” for patient transport.
“I look at every turtle as something special,” he said. “I love them all, and every turtle has its own story. Saving just one could make the difference to future generations.”
The Turtle Hospital officially opened in September of 1986 at mile marker 48.5 bayside in Marathon. In 1993, Moretti expanded facilities by purchasing an adjacent building that once housed an exotic dance lounge named Fanny’s. The building features a surgical suite, examination room, commons area and classroom.
Today, a staff of 12 plus veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader, who donates his time, helps treat turtles and, when possible, return them to the wild. If release isn’t feasible, the creatures become permanent residents.
Daily educational tours of the facility introduce visitors to the resident sea turtles and to the hospital’s curative programs for loggerhead, green, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Individuals who have visited the hospital include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who toured in December 2010 and participated in a recovered turtle release.
As the facility begins its second 25 years, Moretti hopes to morph it into a research center as well, helping to identify and eradicate infectious diseases and viruses such as fibropapilloma, an ailment that produces cauliflower-like tumors impacting sea turtles around the world.