Local's Choice: Richie Moretti

Richie Moretti - founder of the Turtle Hospital as the world's first state-licensed veterinary hospital for sea turtles - has rescued, rehabilitated and released between 2,000 and 3,000 sea turtles.

The eclectic entrepreneur's fascination with turtles began when he was a young child fishing in New Jersey ponds.

"I was amazed that we would catch the same turtles over and over - that they could survive after the ponds froze over," Moretti said.

A roofer weary of frigid winters, Moretti moved to Central Florida on the recommendation of a friend and ended up founding the country's largest Volkswagen repair business.

He first came to the Keys in 1980 in part to fish. One business venture led to another: acquisition and management of a tiny 1950s-era motel in Marathon, ownership of five video stores and selling those stores to purchase Fannie's adult club - which Moretti then converted into Marathon's Turtle Hospital, licensed in 1986.

Moretti subsequently used the motel's saltwater pool as a home for marine creatures and an educational facility. An elementary school student, entranced with the Ninja Turtles craze, expressed disappointment that the pool had no green sea turtles.

Florida officials told Moretti he could house endangered sea turtles if he could provide rehabilitation care.

"I went from fixing cars to fixing turtles," he said. "Things just happened."

His motto: "If you dream it, you can see it … you can do it."

Where he dines: Lazy Days South in Marathon. Key Colony Inn in Key Colony Beach. Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House in Marathon.

Where he explores: On his 34-foot Fountain power boat, 45 to 50 miles offshore to the far side of the Gulf Stream, to release turtle hatchlings typically in groups of 20 to 100.

How he relaxes: Exploring nightlife in Marathon and in Key West, wherever the food or music gets his attention.