Category Archives: Nature Center

South Florida Nature Center Crawl

Before and after our Bahamas mini-trip back in 2013, Arthur and I visited four different nature centers: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center; Hobe Sound Nature Center; Loggerhead Marinelife Center; and Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.

We stopped at Gumbo Limbo on our way down to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Gumbo Limbo is a turtle rehabilitation and research center as well as a nature center. They have an impressive setup of tanks holding all kinds of marine life. There are viewing platforms above the tanks and windows below for visitors to peer inside. They also have a permanently injured, non-releasable resident sea turtle in one of the tanks.

Gumbo Limbo tanks

Gumbo Limbo resident turtle

Gopher Tortoise at Gumbo Limbo

We visited the sea turtle rehab area, where we could get up close looks at some of the patients in their tanks.

Gumbo Limbo turtle rehab

Gumbo Limbo turtle rehab

During our self-guided tour, we visited part of the research facility on the property. Sea turtle research is conducted by Florida Atlantic University and other organizations in the laboratory. The setup here was interesting. From a gallery level, we could look down at hundreds of baby sea turtles in little baskets in the facility. There’s plenty of signage explaining much of the work that was taking place.

Gumbo Limbo turtle research

Gumbo Limbo turtle research

Leashed Leatherback at Gumbo Limbo
Leatherbacks are particularly prone to hurt themselves by swimming into the edges of their tanks — hence the leash

During our visit, we walked the boardwalk nature trail, complete with observation tower. There we found a locally semi-rare bird, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Mangroves at Gumbo Limbo

Gumbo Limbo tower

just an eBird record shot

After our cruise, on our way home, we stopped first at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. We visited their new nature center. The previous nature center there was wiped out by Wilma and other hurricanes; the volunteers there were very happy to have a facility again. They had a Red-tailed Hawk and a Barred Owl in a nice unique display area. They had other permanent resident education animals, including an Eastern Spotted Skunk. We had never seen one before and we were amazed at how small it was! They are just a little bigger than a squirrel and so adorable.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Hobe Sound Nature Center

It was a lovely day so we also took a short walk at the refuge. We we had a nice view of the sound.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

Our next stop was Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a facility that rehabilitates sea turtles. Here we saw the work they do to save injured and sick turtles. They also have a great little museum.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Our final stop on the way home was the wonderful Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a large facility that cares for hundreds of animals of all types each year. On their property they keep many permanently injured animals in various enclosures along a self-guided boardwalk trail. We attended an educational program with some resident animals there.

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
A wild Pilated Woodpecker worked one of the trees in the turtle ponds

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
This wild Green Heron hunted nearby

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
Sanctuary for permanently injured birds

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
Education Virginia Opossum and handler

While we had been looking forward to stopping at Gumbo Limbo on the way down, we didn’t plan to visit any of the last three spots before our trip. They were all surprises — we just noticed the brown tourist signs on the highway as we headed home and decided to take a few detours. I’m glad we did. 🙂

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The Turtle Hospital

Back in September, Arthur and I spent a few days camping at Bahia Honda State Park in the Middle Keys. One afternoon we took a break from snorkeling to visit the remarkable Turtle Hospital on Marathon.

Welcome to The Turtle Hospital

The Turtle Hospital has an interesting history. Here is a brief overview (related from signage at the hospital; any factual errors are mine).

It started when a man named Richie Moretti purchased Marathon’s Hidden Harbor Motel in 1981. The hotel had a 100,000 gallon saltwater pool, which was converted to display fish starting in 1984. The following year, local schools started visiting the hotel pool for marine education programs. Students asked, “where are the turtles?” Good question!

In 1986, Moretti obtained a permit to rehab sea turtles. The first patient arrived at the facility, now named the Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, that same year. More patients arrived. Surgeries would be performed in re-purposed motel rooms.

The facility expanded in 1991 when the nightclub next door to the motel was purchased. The nightclub became The Turtle Hospital in 1992.

Turtle ambulances

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit the motel and hospital hard. Flooding to the property was extensive and the motel ceased operation. The entire facility registered as a non-profit organization and continued as a rehabilitation center and turtle hospital. Today, the motel rooms are used (in part) for storage, and to house interns, visitors, and staff.

There’s no doubt the facility used to be a motel!

In 2010 a brand new education facility, funded by the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate, opened at the hospital.

Life-size models of sea turtles

Lots of turtle information in the education center

turtle anatomy
Turtle insides!

Educational tours are offered several times daily. Our tour began with a presentation on the different types of turtles that come to the hospital.

The hospital used to be a nightclub!

Turtle classroom

Next we got to see where injured turtles are admitted and where operations and procedures occur. We could see that the patients can be quite large!

Turtle hospital operation room

The biggest patient ever admitted to the hospital

A turtle was recovering from a procedure when our tour came through. A member of the staff must stay with any turtle as it comes out of anesthesia to help it breathe — unconscious turtles don’t breathe on their own.

A patient recovers from anesthesia

We learned about the rehabilitation pools. The original sea water pool houses permanent residents as well as turtles at the last stage of rehab before release. Today the facility also has additional smaller tanks that can house turtles at various stages in their rehabilitation.

Map of the turtle rehabilitation tanks

Rehabilitation tanks

We learned about some of the patients. Jack was a Green Sea Turtle with the condition Fibropapilloma Virus. This may manifest as large growths, which can be seen on Jack’s front left flipper in this photo.


Xiomy was a Loggerhead Sea Turtle that was found in Islamorada as the victim of a boat strike. She had been admitted on July 29th, 2013. Xiomy was released in October.


We were surprised to learn that the hospital had an education turtle in residence. Zippy the Educational Ambassador is a Loggerhead Sea Turtle that came to the Hospital from Gumbo Limbo on July 28th, 2013. Florida Atlantic University has a research facility at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center; hatchling turtles are studied and then released. Zippy was kept to be an education ambassador; if I understood correctly, Zippy will eventually also be released back into the wild (with a very big head start!).

Hi Zippy!

Zippy with enrichment
Zippy’s tank includes interesting objects for enrichment

A few little hatchlings were in one of the tanks. These healthy little turtles would soon be released.

Loggerhead on the left, Green on the right

Finally we spent some time looking at the large pool, where we could see healthy turtles nearly ready for release as well as the hospital’s permanent residents.

Sea water pool

Rehab patients nearly ready for release

A patient in the final stages of rehab before release

The hospital has capacity to care for adult sea turtles that are no longer able to survive in the wild due to their injuries. Note the three round masses on the back of turtle in the lower right of the below photo. Those are weights; the turtle is unable to properly regulate its buoyancy on its own. Another turtle in the photo has one weight on its back.

Permanent resident sea turtles

We had a great time visiting The Turtle Hospital, and seeing the great work they do there. They have released over 1000 rehabilitated sea turtles back into the wild since 1986. Sometimes they invite the public to release events — they just released two turtles on February 14th. Keep an eye on The Turtle Hospital Facebook page to keep up with the latest news.

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Posted in Endangered, Florida, Herps, Nature Center, Not Birds | Leave a comment

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Crane Point
Panoramic view from Crane Point

During the weekend of December 7, Arthur attended a sea turtle rehabilitation conference in Marathon. Lucky me, I got to tag along and amuse myself for a day and a half in the Middle Keys. On Saturday, I spent nearly the entire day at beautiful and historic Crane Point, a rare wild space.

A trail at Crane Point

The first settler on the current Crane Point property was George Adderley, who came to the Keys from his home in the Bahamas in 1902. He built a traditional Bahamian stone home where he lived with his wife, Olivia, and their adopted daughter. Adderley made his living by sponging and making charcoal from wood. Adderley’s restored home still sits on the property, in the area where a small settlement known as Adderley village once stood.

Adderly House
Restored interior of George Adderley House

The Adderleys lived on their property until 1949, when they sold the mostly untouched land to Francis and Mary Crane, a wealthy couple from Massachusetts. The Cranes built a modern Art Deco-style home on the property, and added a few exotic trees and shrubs. For the most part, though, they left the hardwood hammock and other native habitats untouched. The Cranes lived on the property they renamed Crane Point until 1979.

Crane House
The Art Deco style Crane House

Today the 63-acre property is owned and managed by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust. Along with Adderley’s home, the site is also host to a history and nature museum, the Marathon Wild Bird Center (a bird hospital), the original Crane house, a replica Florida Cracker home which holds a collection of natural artifacts, and more. There are interpretive nature trails leading from the museum and gift shop to the end of the property as it reaches into Florida Bay. Visitors can explore the trails and attractions at their own pace. It’s a good idea to start any visit with a viewing of a short documentary on the history of Crane Point.

Cracker House
Natural artifacts in the Florida Cracker house

This Way
Follow the pelican to the Marathon Wild Bird Center

Oliver is a permanent resident at the Center

This Green Heron is also a permanent resident at the Center


I really enjoyed my visit to Crane Point. While not particularly birdy, I had a good time walking along the trails and reading the interpretive signs about the unique trees and plants found there. From the Point I saw a small Nurse Shark swimming in the shallow water. As I scrambled up the rocks to get a better look at the shark, I was extremely surprised to see an octopus working along the rocky edge of the island. I sat on the rocks for a good half hour waiting for the octopus to emerge; they have such amazing camouflage and are so clever I realized the creature may have slinked past my view out in the open and I may have missed it!

Wyland Mural
Detail of a Wyland mural on the Crane Point museum building

Boardwalk trail

I wasn’t done exploring by the time noon came around. I left to have a quick lunch at a nearby deli and returned in the afternoon to have a proper look at the museum and to walk the trails again. I saw even fewer birds than I had in the morning. I did get to see a pair of young raccoons slinking along the mangroves and further down the trail an agitated squirrel conveniently pointed out a corn snake slithering around a mangrove tree at about eye level. I spent more time at the Point, sitting at a picnic table in the Crane House gardens. There I had my best looks ever (but no photos) of a Magnificent Frigatebird, an adult with a bright red throat patch. It had a fish in its beak and was being chased by a couple of gulls. As I relaxed in the garden, Green Iguanas roamed around the Crane House grounds. I had a chance to photograph them as they sunned.

corn snake
No friend to the squirrels

Immature Magnificent Frigatebird

Green Iguana

Crane Point is a wonderful piece of wild Florida in the Middle Keys and well worth a visit. I’m sure I’ll be back again!

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