As long as sea turtles remain on the Earth, they will always have a hospital in the Florida Keys.
The Turtle Hospital’s deed is now permanently restricted to remain a place for turtle care, thanks to its creator.
Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti wanted to make sure the facility he started outlived him. So in February he transferred the Marathon property at 2396 Overseas Highway to the nonprofit that runs it, with the provision it remain a place for turtle care.
Located at mile marker 48.5 gulfside, the hospital is the world’s first state licensed veterinary hospital dedicated solely for sea turtle care, Moretti said. It has a full-time staff of 18 and three ambulances.
“I’m ecstatic The Turtle Hospital will now live on forever,” Moretti said, adding that more than 1,500 sea turtles have been rescued, treated and released since the hospital opened in 1986.
Moretti, 74, a former Volkswagen mechanic and New Jersey native, bought the property, then the Hidden Harbor Motel, in 1980. In 2005, he stopped lodging operations and focused completely on sea turtle rehabilitation and environmental education.
"We built a great spot and are able to care for all the turtles of Monroe County," Moretti said. "This was a way to make sure it goes on forever. I don't have grandchildren. This is my grandchildren."
Hospital employees say they’re grateful to the community for helping the Turtle Hospital thrive over the years.
“The visitors coming to the Turtle Hospital is what supports the turtle care and what put it in the position to purchase the property,” said hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach.