Driving the Keys is easy – you can’t get lost – its just one road through a handful of islands (about 150 miles long) joined by bridges. Most of the way you can see water on both sides, what they call the bay side leads out into the Gulf of Mexico, and then you have the Atlantic on the other. It’s pretty cool. From Key West, at the very tip, we headed back up through the Lower Keys to an area called Marathon, where we had noticed on the journey down that there was a turtle hospital. It was well worth the visit.
They do great work here, and we met a lot of turtles! There’s lots of different reasons why a turtle may need help, but the main reasons are injuries from boats, ingestion of plastics and fish hooks, and pollution, which causes a type of cancer. Basically, besides the odd shark attack, (we met one with only one fin left – he is now a permanent resident) its humans that cause the damage, and so its fitting that humans give up thier time and money to redress the balance.
Most of the turtles get re-released, but the average stay is about a year – injuries take a long time to heal, and those that have the tumors removed need to be observed for a year to make sure that they don’t grow back. And then there’s the permanant residents – one of them has been here for 23 years – all of these have the same injury, comically called ‘bubble-butt’ which means that they can only float on the surface, its impossible for them to dive. Its caused when they have serious impact by a boat, which damages the shell and creates oxygen pockets through the tissue of the shell – there’s no cure, so they would starve in the wild without the ability to dive for food. They have a good life here at the rescue center, in a large, natural, tide-fed pool, and they are huge! We fed them catfish pellets, and it was great to get close to them.
Our next stop was on the island of Islamadorada – and a museum on the history of diving. It might sound a bit nerdy to visit a dive museum, but this place was fascinating, with exhibits going back to the 1700’s – equipment and diving bells straight out of a Jules Verne – all polished brass and copper! “Steampunk” if you will. Did you know that humans were diving in the 1700??? Amazing.
It surprised us just how long we spent in this place, especially the section on deep sea life – you don’t have to be a diver to interested in the bizzare creatures at the bottom of our oceans, and the equipment it takes to access them.
It was late afternoon by the time we surfaced and we found ourselves in Key largo, near the mainland, before we found somewhere to stay for the night, but as this is where I intended to do some diving before leaving we’ve settled in for a couple of days. Going to check out some dive places tommorrow.