Brenda Harsham is hosting Poetry Friday this week. You’ll find poetry links from around the kidlitosphere at her blog, Friendly Fairy Tales.

Happy Poetry Friday, readers! It’s good to be back after a long hiatus.

In September, I visited the Florida Keys on a book research trip with writing friends. One of them, author and science educator Timanda Wertz, suggested that we visit the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.

I learned so much about sea turtles. Funniest (and saddest) is that when sea turtles’ shells are damaged by a boat strike, air can become trapped in the healing carapace. That makes it difficult for the turtles to dive for food — a syndrome called Bubble Butt.

Yeah, I laughed too. The syndrome takes its name from a permanent resident of the hospital. (You can see photos of the original Bubble Butt here.) Turtles with Bubble Butt don’t do well in the wild, so they come to live at the hospital.






This was the highlight of the entire trip for me. (Author admission: It was even better than visiting Judy Blume’s bookstore in Key West.)




There were some brand new hatchlings among the turtles we visited…






… but my favorite was this guy. Look at that face!






Here is a sea turtle poem from the online journal Rattle.

Mary H. Palmer, RN, C, PhD


Shoulder-deep in the sea turtle’s nest,
I search for remains, nothing alive.
The tiny turtles would have climbed
over each other, forming a living ladder
out of their sandy birth canal
leaving only the unhatched and dead behind.
Mongoose would have gotten any stragglers.
I am here only to count egg shells.
My hand reaches bottom and scoops up
sand and bits of leathery shells. In their midst,
I find a black soft lump, a hatchling left behind.
It remains listless until I gently stroke its belly
until its life flickers and catches hold
as a flame lays claim to a
candle wick.
It doesn’t have much of a chance.
Pelicans already circle. But waiting until night
so it can follow the moon to the
water is a death sentence too. I place it on
the sloping beach and whisper a prayer.

10 responses to “Poetry Friday: A Visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital”

  1. Irene Latham says:

    This reminds me of visiting the turtle centre on Grand Cayman many moons ago… I think Judy Blume would be perfectly fine knowing writer-reader-you pick the turtles over the book store! 🙂 xo

  2. Hi Laura – so glad to know you’ve dipped into Florida again. And with a research writing project. And to the magical FL Keys! This article reminds me of our homegrown sea turtle rescue folks, who are suffering after our big swipe from the Oct. 10-13, 2018 Hurricane Michael. RATTLE is new to me – appreciations for the link. And so many splashy images to like from Mary H. Palmer’s poem, especially thinking of the babies’ scrambling as a “living ladder.” And just the term, mongoose, tells me a lot. Appreciations for your finding this perfect selection.

  3. Tabatha says:

    Mary has a wonderful voice in this poem. Thanks for sharing it. Glad you had a chance to see turtles up close!

  4. Ruth says:

    Thanks for sharing the sea turtles with us!

  5. Bubble butt–sad and funny, for sure! Thanks for sharing all the sea turtle love, especially Mary Palmer’s beautiful poem.

  6. Linda Baie says:

    My students and I released sea turtles one year in Costa Rica, following those babies to the sea, shouting away the hovering birds just as you wrote, Laura. What a journey they make, and I think we all said our prayers for them. Happy to see your new journey & this poem.

  7. Oh, my goodness…that poem is beautiful. I was rooting for the little black lump as soon as it was found! Oh, bubble butt. What a silly name for such a serious condition. Your trip looks really fun and informative. I think Judy Blume would approve!

  8. This enchanting–yet sad–life poem left me rooting for that baby sea turtle–hope it made it–and what a wonderful voice in the poem. Sounds like a rich trip down to the keys–I was there once, the area is gorgeous–thanks for sharing all with us Laura.

  9. Kay McGriff says:

    Yep, I laughed, too. And it brought back memories of our visit to South Carolina where we were lucky enough to see some sea turtle stragglers get some help to the sea.

  10. […] Friday, I brought you with me on a visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital on the Florida Keys. Today, let’s visit the […]

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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