Marathon Magic

The snowbirds in Florida are apprently not going back home to snow, cold, rain and remaining masks. They are staying in Florida not only bacause of sun, sea and beaches but also, they say, because the state is more open and better governed than others as it proved during the pandemic. Hotel managers report full occupancy during the uusually abandoned summer if only they could find enough help to handle it.

A must-see for newcomers is Marathon in the Florida Keys where two sets of impassioned staffers are working to reduce the mosquito population and rescue the ever endangered sea turtles. They require far different techniques that continue to evolve for the benefit of human health and the survival of creatures that share the planet.

Marathon Turtle Hospital Photo: Bonnie Gross

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not on view. Despite striped legs, he’s not very photogenic. But he can cause a world of trouble; that is, she can. Her bite can be poisonous while the male is harmless. To deal with this distinction, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is releasing tens of thousands of genetically modified males who will mate with unsuspectng females. The result: when their eggs hatch, only males willl survive to the benefit of human health.

This species accounts for four per cent of the mosquito population but is responsible for most of the disease. Dengue fever, which is highly debilitating but infequently fatal, has been increasing around the world with up to 100 million cases a year and some 20 thousand deaths. It’s rare in the U.S., though there was an outbreak of 70 cases recently in Key Largo. Whereever water is left around – flower pots, trash cans, drainage ditches – mosquitos thrive.

(Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, published under the GNU free documentation license)

Genetically engineered crops are commonplace today, while similarly modified insects are new on the scene. Pesticides remain essential. Skeptics note that mosquitos are ingeniously elusive in avoiding peril. We will have to wait to see, but the Marathon modifiers are confident.

Sea turtles are much on view at their hospital. They come in various sizes, species and ages as they float in various pools for repair from injury largely inflicted by human behavior. They get entangled in fishing nets that may cost them a flipper. They devour the waste plastics that litter the sea and get trapped in their stomachs. Boats are a special hazard with propellers that easily slice through a shell. Turtle ambulances are kept busy picking up the injured when they’re spotted. People are alerted to look out for them.

The surgeons at the hospital operate with human care as they cut away bulbous tumors caused by a special turtle virus. Cures are routine. But if nothing can be done, a permanently disabled turtle can retire to a 100,000 gallon salt water pool that formerly served as a swimming pool for human guests at a motel now converted to the hospital.  

Considered living dinosaurs headed to extinction, the turtles have been given a reprieve by the hosptal. Its proudest moment comes when the turtles, now restored and fit, can be returned to the sea where of course they belong.

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