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Survivor: The Sea Turtle Edition

It’s not every day that a wild animal gets a lucky break, but a few months back that’s exactly what happened to Karsten, a peaceful loggerhead sea turtle that was released off of Sombrero Beach in the Florida Keys after months of rehabilitation.

Karsten was found back in May with a fishhook in his jaw and another in his esophagus. His painful plight is unfortunately all too common for countless numbers of sea turtles who mistake baited fishhooks for harmless food and then drown because they are unable to surface for air. Though turtles have charted the seven seas for more than 100 million years, over the past few decades these ancient and resilient creatures have seen their numbers plunge due to destructive human activities. Florida, for example, has seen its nesting loggerhead population plummet by more than 40 percent in the last decade, in part because of longline fishing.

Luckily for Karsten, the Florida Keys just happens to be home to The Turtle Hospital – a unique nonprofit organization that has rehabilitated and released more than 1,200 injured sea turtles since first opening in 1986. Chairman and cofounder Richie Moretti started the hospital to treat such common turtle ailments as fishing line and trap rope entanglements, shell damage caused by boat collisions, shark bites, and intestinal impactions caused by ingesting various trash items like plastic bags, balloons and fishing hooks. In September, the hospital even saved a federally protected loggerhead turtle after it was shot in the head with a spear. Currently the hospital houses eleven permanent sea turtle residents as well as a number of other turtles in varying stages of recovery – everything from green turtles to the very rare and endangered leatherback sea turtle.  

When local residents found the injured Karsten in May 2011, they promptly took him to the hospital where the Turtle Hospital's Dr. Doug Mader used an endoscope and grabbing tool to remove the life-threatening fishhooks from the imperiled turtle. Since Karsten’s injuries caused him to develop lockjaw, the hospital staff then spent several months manually stretching his jaw so he could eventually eat lobsters, squid and other foods on his own.

Five months later, upon a full recovery, I was fortunate enough to witness Karsten’s going away party as he was released off of Sombrero Beach, near where he was originally found. When asked whether he finds it difficult when it comes time to release the turtles, Moretti said simply, “It’s easy because it’s a deposit in the future." 

To learn more about how Earthjustice is working to save these magnificent creatures and others in the deep blue sea, check out our oceans feature at

Tags:  Oceans