Sunshine, palm trees, pirates, turquoise-blue waters, and a safe haven from the winter blues. Yes, the Florida Keys are a wonder to behold. While they are a perfect place to relax and recuperate for a Midwesterner like myself, they also play host to a wonderful organization that strives to rehabilitate sea turtles. If you’re heading to the Keys for spring break, then the Turtle Hospital in Marathon is a must see! Now, you’re probably wondering what sea turtles and honey bees have in common. More than you may think! It turns out that honey bees play a key role in helping injured sea turtles heal and live long, happy lives.
In the Midwest, February is always a brutally cold month. Air hurts my face, my nose hairs freeze, my bones ache kind of cold. So when I felt that sweet humid air outside of the Fort Lauderdale airport, I swear I had never felt so overjoyed. This was my first time in Florida, and I was excited to find my next bee-themed adventure! Florida is a tropical paradise. I figured it would be a piece of cake to find something about bees. But, I wasn’t having any luck. With two days left, I found my next Bee Adventurous story in a place I never expected. A sea turtle rescue.
If you’re any human with a soul then you love sea turtles. There isn’t an explanation why, you simply do. They are adorable, magnificent, and all around fun. Look at Crush from Finding Nemo! While in the Keys, we stopped to tour the sea turtle rescue. I love learning, and this was a fantastic learning experience. Our tour
guide took us through the operating room and then out to a set of saltwater tanks that had a sea turtle with a cracked shell. She said it had been hit by a boat propeller and brought in for treatment.
“Because we want the turtles to be released safely back into the ocean,” she said, “we only treat them with all natural products. For cracked shells, we use honey.”
My jaw dropped. Of course, if honey can be used to treat burns and wounds on people, then it could definitely be used to help other animals.
Honey has been used to help treat wounds since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. There are some burn wards that use honey in modern hospitals, though that honey has been treated and is not meant for human consumption. Most medical grade honey also comes from the New Zealand native, Manuka honey, which has great antibacterial properties.
The sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital are treated with raw honey, donated from a local apiary. Isabelle and John of Keez Beez have been beekeepers since 2007. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into a full time gig. The couple now have over 600 bee hives and produce amazing raw honey!
Now, most honey you buy in a store for your tea or on toast is typically pasteurized, which means it has been heated to remove yeast and other debris. Pasteurized honey will also appear smoother and stay in a liquid form for longer. Raw honey, however, comes straight from the hive and contains the antibiotic properties that help heal the sea turtles. The honey helps seal the wound and keep it clean all while promoting healthy tissue growth. Once the turtle’s shell is fully healed and approved for release, the turtle can then be released back into its natural habitat.
The Turtle Hospital is an amazing organization that would not be possible without its dedicated staff. At the heart is Bette Zirkelbach, the manager of the Turtle Hospital. Before Bette came to Florida, she was working in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware at her family’s business. She also spent time volunteering for wildlife programs and raising and training service dogs. She made the move to Florida and began working with the Dolphin Research Center, another must see on your trip to the Keys! From there she made her way to the Turtle Hospital where she has now been for nine years.
My experience at the Turtle Hospital was incredible. I learned so much about marine life and the impact humans have on it. Sea turtle habitat, similar to bee habitat, is very fragile and constantly at risk of being ruined by human impact. Luckily, there are people like Bette who have dedicated their time and energy to saving these amazing creatures. If you’re looking for another reason to head to the Florida Keys, the Turtle Hospital should be at the top of your list.
For me, the best part of traveling is the unknown. I went to Florida expecting to find beautiful wild flowers that honey bees loved. Instead, I found a unique honey bee connection I never would have known existed unless I traveled. Honey bees and sea turtles travel far distances to find the best forage or the best place to lay their eggs. Sometimes, to find the best stories, you have to travel to distant places.
Please head over to the Turtle Hospital website to find out more about them. They are doing amazing work. You can also adopt your own sea turtle! How cool is that!? Stay tuned for my next story, and don’t forget to #BeeAdventurous.