Ageism is pretty much nonexistent in the Florida Keys. An 80-year-old can be fast friends with a 35-year-old, and the two can work together side by side in any number of occupations. And speaking of working, the concept of retirement means something different in the Keys than it does in most places.
An outstanding example of a project that burgeoned after so-called retirement is The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. This is the only licensed veterinary hospital in the world that’s dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles. And it was established by a man who, though he wasn’t a senior, had earned the right (and the wherewithal) to retire in the Keys.
His name is Richie Moretti, and he came to the Keys after a successful career spent restoring Volkswagens. Since then, his so-called retirement has kept him busier than ever pursuing a passion and benefiting the ocean environment.
When he arrived in the Keys, Richie bought a small motel in Marathon and began filling its saltwater-fed pool with fish and other marine creatures. He quickly became intrigued with sea turtles, and established The Turtle Hospital in 1986 to care for and rehabilitate sick and injured turtles.
Turtles can be injured by being struck by boat propellers, getting tangled up in fishing line and trap ropes, or ingesting fishhooks or other non-digestible materials. They are also subject to diseases such as lockjaw, which makes it impossible for them to open their mouths to eat, or tumors that can cover their shells and even their eyes.
Species of sea turtles treated at The Turtle Hospital include loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley. Antibiotics, diet, surgery, careful nurturing — you name it, a sick or injured turtle gets it all at The Turtle Hospital.
Believe it or not, this unique hospital even has its own ambulance for transporting patients.
When a turtle has recovered sufficiently, it is taken to the waters it came from and carefully released to swim away. Former President Jimmy Carter assisted in one release.
Those that can’t be released remain at The Turtle Hospital for the rest of their days.
In addition to caring for the sea turtles, The Turtle Hospital is an educational facility. Guided tours are offered daily for people eager to learn more about the hospital and its occupants, and visitors of all ages have come to view the facility.
In 2011, The Turtle Hospital celebrated its 25th anniversary of caring for sea turtles. The county honored the occasion by designating Sept. 24 “Richie Moretti and The Turtle Hospital Day.”
What more could a man ask for than to be honored for his second career that’s also his passion?
Richie Moretti may be an unusual “retiree,” but he’s far from the only one who has embarked on a new life and second career in the Florida Keys. I’ll introduce more of them in upcoming blogs.