Montel the Turtle

miles and jaXon toppen

Each Young Filmmakers Contest winner receives a matching gift to donate to an organization supporting the theme of their film.

In 2017, Jaxon and Miles Toppen made a film about two sea turtles rescued from polluted waters off the Florida Keys. On behalf of One Earth Film Festival, they adopted Montel with their matching gift. He lives and thrives at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, where he will remain permanently.

Here we offer quarterly updates on our new adoptee, Montel.

May 2017

"Hey! My name is Montel and I love squid! Lettuce is alright, but I really like squid the best. I've been here at the Turtle Hospital since April of 2001. I was tangled in some monofilament fishing line near Avalon Park and a shark bit me because I couldn't get away fast enough. Then these tumors started growing on me. Then when I was floating on the surface, minding my own business, feeling kind of sad, a boat hit me! I have only one eye and half a front flipper left, but I don't let that get me down! I'm also skilled at sneaking up behind unsuspecting caregivers and biting them when they go snorkeling in the pool!"

September 2017

"You are not going to believe this, but on September 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, carrying winds of up to 130 mph, rain, and flooding. I was thinking, 'Come on! Haven't I had enough bad luck already?'"

Earlier in the week, my caretakers carefully placed all 44 turtles + hatchlings into special hurricane and temporary tanks before evacuating the island on Thursday—all except for Richie Moretti and Tom Luebke, that is. The Turtle Hospital’s founder and engineer/handyman resisted the mandatory order to evacuate, risking their lives for us.

As the storm raged, blowing off roofs, tearing down trees and capsizing boats, the Turtle Hospital remained strangely intact. My luck had finally turned, and this was very good news for Richie and Tom too.

They hunkered down in their respective homes, which they felt were hurricane safe. As soon as the winds died down, they returned to The Turtle Hospital, which, because of its location on the Bay, did not experience the 6 to 10 foot storm surge that pounded the ocean side.

After the storm settled, they assessed the damage. A 1,000-pound shade cloth covering the rear enclosure had been torn off, support poles for the enclosure bent and shifted, light poles snapped and some signage fell along with trees and branches. But the Turtle Hospital appeared to be in fairly good shape.

Explains general manager Bette Zirkelbach: 'We did lose about $15,000 worth of pumps that flooded or short circuited from sand that blew from a resort next door. The structure that held the 1,000-pound shade cloth needs special plates for repair. And we are waiting on a shade cloth replacement.'

The Turtle Hospital also lost revenue from visitors who pay admission to see the turtles and the work with rescue, rehabilitation, and release. The hospital closed on Monday, Sept. 4, due to the impending storm, and finally reopened, with full programming again, on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Since Hurricane Irma hit, Bette says they’ve had many calls about little sea turtle hatchlings that probably swam out in the Gulf stream and then were blown back with the current. 'People are finding them in the oddest places: in boats that have sunk, in the middle of the road, in areas far from the ocean. Keep your eyes open,' she says. 'You never know where a sea turtle hatchling may appear.'"