The Turtle Hospital’s Bette Zirkelbach, left, Isabelle Gilbert and Sarah Buttrey carry Popcorn to the water.

A young green sea turtle earned a second chance at life in the big blue as a crowd gathered on the evening of May 13 to witness the release of “Popcorn.” Rescued off Big Coppitt Key in December 2022, the juvenile underwent a relatively brief rehab stint at the Marathon-based Turtle Hospital. The turtle’s treatment at the hospital included surgeries to remove tumors caused by fibropapillomatosis, broad spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a healthy diet of greens and mixed seafood.

Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach watches as Popcorn completes the last leg of the journey home
College of the Florida Keys leaders, including President Jonathan Gueverra (center, with red sash) honor retiring Key West cityStaff from the Turtle Hospital celebrate another successful release. Patti McLauchlin during the college’s May 5 graduation ceremony. CONTRIBUTED
As is tradition before most releases, children in the crowd were invited to see Popcorn up close and learn about ways to protect sea turtles from Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach.
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.