Saturday in the Keys: From Flea Market to Bocce

posted in: Family and Friends, Florida | 0

Saturday was our last day in the Keys with Tim and Amanda and what a full day it was. We kicked it off with a trip to the Big Pine Flea Market, held on Saturdays and Sundays. There were booths with everything and anything your heart might desire – cheap souvenir stuff, higher end merchandise, antiques and collectibles, hardware, fishing equipment, plants, produce, clothing……… and so on.

Father- Son bonding moment as they  roam the hardware tents. “Hey, Tim, look at this,” Scavenger Dad says.

I didn’t expect to purchase anything, but I found something to add to a collection of mine.

Found this yellow glass float for a very good price, much less than my other two at home. Hmmmm, here’s a dilemma. Will it fit in a suitcase for the flight home? Perhaps I didn’t think this through…….                                                                                      I think it looks pretty good nestled between my blue and my green one. (I found a way to bring it home!)
Plants and hanging wind thingies. I bought one of them, too. They are made out of nut shells, twigs and feathers. It was the sea bean hanging as an anchor that convinced me.
There was a food truck making and selling “mini donuts.” 12 for $3. How can you go wrong?

The mini-donuts provided us with enough sustenance for continuing on to Marathon to visit the “The Turtle Hospital”. The admission price for a tour was more than expected, but the cause is very worthy. The Hospital opened in 1986 with four goals: “1) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles.”

The building itself was once a motel. Parked outside was the hospital’s very own ambulance. And, naturally, there is the obligatory gift shop.

The tour began with a short presentation by our guide to provide a little turtle background.

Our guide teaching us about the  sea turtles.
This graphic is painted on the outside of the hospital. It accurately portrays the sizes of the five turtle species in Florida.

There are 7 species of sea turtles throughout the entire world. Five of the seven are found in Florida:

  • Leatherback (9-12 feet long and weighs up to 2,000 lbs.)
  • Green (3-5 feet long, weighs 200-500 lbs.)
  • Loggerhead (2-4 feet long, weighs 200-350 lbs.)
  • Hawksbill (2-3 feet long, weighs 100-150 lbs.)
  • Kemp’s Ridley (2-2½ feet long, weighs 75-100 lbs.)
After the mini-lecture, we passed through the “hospital” part of the building to see the operating room. That’s a plush toy turtle on the table waiting for a new lease on life.

What brings a turtle to the hospital? A turtle emergency. The website has directions on who to call (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coast Guard, or a 24-hour hot line) and how to identify a turtle in distress. In a literal sense, humans bring the turtles to the hospital. When someone does find and report an injured turtle, they get to name the turtle.

Outdoors there are 23 individual tanks, ranging in size from 150-800 gallons. The largest tank is the 100,000 gallon salt water pool.

Watching the graceful swimmers.

The first tank held green sea turtles recovering from fibropapillomatosis (FP), an aggressive virus that causes benign tumors to grow mostly around the turtles’ flippers, neck, eyes, and sometimes internally. Without the ability to move or see, a turtle’s survival is seriously threatened. Surgery is the only option.

This tank held green sea turtles recovering from surgeries to remove the tumors caused by fibropapillomatosis. Poppy, Jacques, Lawless, and Donatello have been here for 3-10 months. Within a year, the turtles are usually well enough for release.
“Bubble Butt”

A boat’s propeller or a hull can cause significant damage to a turtle’s shell, as hard as it is. Sometimes when a turtle is hit by a boat, the damage can prevent the turtle from submerging, possibly due to air that is trapped under the shell, or other physiological damage. A turtle must be able to submerge in order to survive in the wild. The hospital named this condition “Bubble Butt Syndrome,” after the turtle who first arrived with this problem in 1989.

Lead weights are attached to the shell so that the turtle can submerge. This is not a permanent solution for life in the wild because those weights will eventually fall off. Any turtles that arrive at the hospital with “bubble butt” safely spend the remainder of their life there.

Resident turtles with lead weights attached to the shell to help them submerge and live a more normal life, although thy will remain in captivity.

Turtles are not picky eaters and will chomp down almost anything. Unfortunately there are many synthetic things floating in the oceans that are not digestible. This leads to an intestinal blockage, called an impaction. In the wild, without assistance, the turtle cannot eliminate the impaction and will starve to death. At the hospital, turtles are treated with Metamucil, fiber and vegetable oil. This is why humans must be more careful of trash disposal!

More turtles recovering from various problems in separate smaller tanks.

Turtles can also ingest fishing hooks that can cause damage to their digestive tract and frequently become  trapped in fishing line and buoy lines. (Fishing line takes 600 years to biodegrade.) Worst case scenario, the turtle may drown or loose a flipper due to loss of circulation.

Another tank held a group of 15 small Kemp’s Ridley turtles that had been rescued near Cape Cod, MA on January 2nd  and brought to the hospital. They should not have been that far north in cold waters and became ill, “cold-stunned.” The website has updated their status – they were released on Feb 9th in North Florida. Success!

The 15 Kemp Ridleys were kept in this tank to warm up and recover. They were numbered, but not named.

The permanent residents live in the last, very large, saltwater tank.

We were given pellets to feed to the turtles. That’s “Coastie,” a 60 pound green turtle who was rescued by the Coast Guard in St. Lucie County, Florida in 1999. Coastie was battered on the head by a boat propeller, missing the posterior end of the shell,  and had a minor case of Fibropapilloma. A permanent floater and resident now, Coastie has a lead weight fiberglassed to the shell  to make life more comfortable.
Tubbie Time for Turtles! Click here to see an 8 second video of the bath.

Our visit to the Turtle Hospital was definitely worth the time and money. They are doing good things there with their focus on “rescue, rehab and release.”

Enough for one day? Nah………… We had a party to attend that evening! Amanda’s father, Bill, hosts “bocce night” every week in his back yard. Bill has a cool little place on Big Pine, living life the way a native “conch” should, although he is really a “freshwater conch”, spending his summers in Vermont.

Saw a few iguanas hanging out in Bill’s neighborhood.
Sign posted at the beginning of Big Pine Key.

We finally saw Key Deer, especially in Bill’s neighborhood. Key deer are only found in the lower Florida Keys and 75% of them live on Big Pine and No Name Keys.  In the 1950’s the Key deer population had dropped to only a few dozen animals. The formation of the National Key Deer Refuge and the designation of Key deer as an endangered species in 1967 led to a striking recovery of the species, which now numbers almost a thousand. Evidently they are very friendly and readily approach people looking for tidbits and snacks, which is why this sign warns drivers to be careful.

Deer and chickens grazing on a front lawn.
Key deer definitely aren’t afraid of people. I think they wanted an invitation to Bill’s party.
Can we join you??

Back to bocce. Neither Al or I had ever played bocce before. We had a lot to learn. Rolling balls down a sand court doesn’t sound complicated, but there are a lot of rules. Fortunately, everyone else plays regularly and were patient teachers.

Bill’s bocce court is not just a rectangular sand pit. It is a work of art.
Al and Tim, taking their turns. Look at that form! We both enjoyed playing bocce and think that Shennecossett YC should install a bocce court. Near the fire pit?
Speaking of conch, Bill whipped up some very excellent conch fritters that disappeared quickly. After finishing the bocce game, we all sat around the table and enjoyed a potluck supper. That giant “lazy susan” made it very easy to pass the food around.

Wow, What a day! From the flea market to the bocce party, it was a great last day in the Keys. Thank you, Tim and Amanda, and Bill, too. 🙂 Tomorrow we would be heading northward back to the west coast of Florida.

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