During the 1980s Ninja-Turtle frenzy, a young Ninja fan wondered why the pool had no turtles. Richie’s mental wheels spun into action. By law sea turtles were highly protected. He could only capture turtles to rehabilitate them. Who could have imagined that humanoid Ninja Turtles would inspire a sea turtle hospital?
Richie bought the gas station next to the motel and turned it into a hospital with state-of- the-art equipment. He brought in veterinarians to treat the animals and paid for the hospital through motel income.
In September 1991 Monroe County Sheriff, Rick Roth, gave the hospital a confiscated burglar tool. Thieves had used this 14-inch-long, fiber- optic viewing scope to peer through small holes drilled into safes. (The hospital used this tool until they acquired the endoscope Dr. Lily uses in Stakeout.)
Before the hospital had this new tool, doctors could only see tumors inside a turtle’s body on fuzzy x-ray images. These pictures did not clearly show the difference between internal organs and tumors. With the new tool, hospital staff no longer released turtles with unseen tumors.
These tumors are caused by a disease called fibropapilloma. First seen in the 1930s, this disease is very widespread in Florida turtles. Little is known about its cause or cure. The Turtle Hospital uses surgery to remove any tumors from rescued sea turtles. Often these turtles successfully return to the wild. But surgery does not stop the disease.
The Turtle Hospital has been working with the University of Florida to research cures. Their mission has spread. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater, Florida, both treat and research this disease. And in January 2010, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, Florida, received a state permit to treat fibropapilloma. Gumbo Limbo is also working hard to study this disease. Researchers at these sites hope to soon find a cure so turtles no longer have to suffer.
It’s difficult to imagine a bright after-math of a hurricane. But in 2005 Hurricane Wilma wreaked havoc on the hospital and motel. No turtles were lost, but the property was badly damaged. Once again, Richie had a brilliant idea. He turned the hospital into a charity, offered educational tours, and opened a gift shop. He also restored the old motel to house hospital workers on site. As of 2010, admissions and donations provided total support for the Turtle Hospital.
Those who care about sea turtles can also join groups that protect them. In the story, Protect-A- Turtle (PAT) is based on an actual organization called Save-A-Turtle, Inc., of the Florida Keys. This group was formed in 1985. It is a volunteer, non- profit group that preserves and protects rare and endangered sea turtles as well as their habitats in the Keys and throughout the world.
Like PAT volunteers in Stakeout, Save-A-Turtle
volunteers meet at the Turtle Hospital. They perform all the duties described in the story as well as many other important services. I promise there has never been a devious poacher among them.