Sea Turtle Summer

When Marco’s best friend moves away, an injured turtle helps him learn an important lesson.

By Spencer Kayden
From the May/June 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify facts in a fictional play about a sea turtle rescue and a strong friendship.

Guided Reading Level: U
DRA Level: 50
Download and Print
Up Close: Fact vs. Fiction

This play is a work of fiction, but it also includes many facts about sea turtles. Look for these as you read.

Scene 1 

The Florida Keys, mid-August 

N1: Marco, Mel, Lita, and Lolo are on a boat.

N2: Marco is at the back, his hat pulled down low.

N3: Mel tilts her chin toward the sun and enjoys the warm breeze.

Mel: I’m going to miss this.

Marco: Then maybe you shouldn’t go.

Mel: It’s not like I have a choice. My mom got a new job, so I have to move to Boston.

N1: Mel points her Polaroid camera at him.

Mel: Smile.

Marco: Why do you like Polaroids so much?

Mel: Seeing the picture appear is like magic. And I’d rather hold a photo than see it on a screen.

N2: Mel positions the camera again.

Mel: Move your hat so I can see your face.

N3: As Marco lifts his hat, a gust of wind blows it away.

Marco (shouting): My hat! Lolo, can we go back?

Lita: You have many hats.

Marco: But it’s a Red Sox cap! Mel got me that one in Boston.

Mel: I can get you another.

Marco: It’s not the same. Por favor, Lolo? 

Lolo: Sí, capitán.

N1: Lolo swings the boat around.

Lolo: Do you see it?

N2: Marco points at something in the water. 

Marco: Is that it?

N3: Lolo steers the boat toward the object.

Mel: That’s not a hat. It’s a turtle!

Marco: It’s just floating there.

Lolo: That is no bueno.

N1: Lolo makes a call.

Operator: Emergency Stranding Hotline.

Lolo: We’re about 10 miles east of Sombrero Beach, and we found a green turtle. It’s not swimming.

Operator: Is it coming up for air?

Lolo: No.

Operator: Can you gently poke it with something and see if it reacts?

Lolo: OK. 

N2: Lolo takes a long piece of tubing, leans over, and pokes the turtle’s flipper. 

Lolo: It lifted its head a little!

Operator: Good. It’s still alive. Can you wait there? I’ll send the Coast Guard.

Lolo: Yes, we’ll wait.

Marco (to the turtle): Hold on, little dude. Help is coming. 

Scene 2 

The same spot, 30 minutes later 

N3: The Coast Guard boat arrives.

Mel (waving): Over here!

N1: The rescuers maneuver their boat closer

N2: One rescuer carefully lifts it out of the water.

N3: The turtle’s legs and neck are thin and shriveled, its eyes sunken.

Rescuer: Poor guy looks close to starving. 

N1: Mel snaps a picture of the turtle.

N2: The rescuers scoop some seawater into a shallow plastic tub lined with towels.

N3: Then they gingerly place the turtle into it. 

Marco: Where are you taking him?

Rescuer: To the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. If anyone can save his life, they can. 

Christopher Doherty/Alamy Stock Photo 

Amazing Creatures

Sea turtles are reptiles that live in the ocean. They swim thousands of miles during their long lifetimes. Some turtles can live to be 100 years old.

Scene 3 

The Turtle Hospital, the next day 

N1: A smell like rotting leaves, fish, and algae [AL-jee] fills the hallway. 

N2: Marco and Mel stand with Dr. Hayes outside an exam room. 

N3: Through a window, they see the rescued turtle hooked up to beeping machines. 

Dr. Hayes: We weren’t sure he would make it through the night. 

Marco: Is he . . . is he going to die?

Dr. Hayes: It’s too soon to tell.

Mel: What’s wrong with him?

Dr. Hayes: The X-ray shows there’s something blocking his intestines. We won’t know what it is until it comes out.

Marco: How do you get it out?

Dr. Hayes: We give him vegetable oil and fiber and hope that moves it along naturally. 

Marco: Does this happen a lot?

Dr. Hayes: When trash gets stuck in turtles, it can cause their bodies to fill up with gas. Then they can’t dive down and feed themselves. 

Mel: If they can’t eat, they can’t survive.

Dr. Hayes: Exactly. Trash causes millions of marine animals to die every year.

N1: A smiling woman walks up.

Megan: You must be Marco and Mel. I’m Megan. (looking at the turtle) Would you like to name him? Since you found him, you can name him.

Mel: Let’s name him Marco. You saw him first 

Marco: What if we combine our names? 

Mel: Mel Marco?

Marco: Or the end of your name and the start of mine.

Mel: Elmar.

Marco: El mar means “the sea” in Spanish.

Mel: That’s perfect! 

Courtesy of The Turtle Hospital 

The Turtle Hospital

The turtle hospital in the story is based on a real turtle hospital in Marathon, Florida. The character of Megan is inspired by Megan Mertsock, one of the hospital’s conservationists.

Scene 4 

The Turtle Hospital, two weeks later 

N2: Marco sits with Elmar, lightly running his fingers over the turtle’s green-and-black shell. 

N3: The turtle swims around slowly.

N1: Marco shows Elmar some Polaroids.

Marco: This is Mel in her new room. This is Mel eating ramen in Boston.

N2: Megan enters.

Marco: Elmar is still so skinny.

Megan: He’s eating on his own now. Turns out he loves cucumber.

Marco: That’s great!

Megan: But the blockage in his intestines hasn’t moved. He may need surgery.

N3: Marco bites his lip.

Megan: Come with me.

N1: Megan leads him outside to an open space covered in shade.

N2: There are a dozen large round tanks filled with seawater.

Megan: Go on. Look inside.

N3: Marco looks in one and sees tiny turtles the size of baseballs swimming around.

Megan: Those are Kemp’s ridleys—the most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

N1: Another tank contains a huge turtle with a missing flipper. 

Megan: That’s Hazel. She’s a 200-pound loggerhead. 

Marco: What happened to her?

Megan: She was caught in a fishing line. It cut off the circulation in her flipper. We had to amputate it.

Marco: Will she be OK?

Megan: More than OK. We’re releasing her back into the wild this weekend.

Marco: How will she survive without a flipper?

Megan: She learned to adapt. Turtles are amazing creatures.

N2: Marco’s eyes suddenly well up.

Marco: Are Elmar’s friends out there in the water, wondering where he is?

Megan: No. Turtles are solitary animals. They don’t form attachments to others.

N3: Marco glances down at the Polaroids.

Megan: They don’t need each other the way humans do. 

Courtesy of The Turtle Hospital 

Each year, the team in Marathon rescues and treats about 100 turtles. Most are able to return to the wild.

Scene 5 

The beach, the following week 

N1: Marco sits on a woven blanket picking loose threads. 

N2: Lita sits in a chair beside him.

Lita: Why so sad, mijo?

Marco: Elmar’s surgery is tomorrow. It’s really risky.

Lita: It will be OK.

Marco: But what if it’s not? He could die.

Lita: It’s hard when someone muy importante goes away.

N3: Lita puts her hand on his back.

Lita: Have you written to Mel?

Marco: No. I keep meaning to.

N1: They look out at the setting sun. Streaks of pale pink, fuchsia [FYOO-shuh], and orange are painted across the sky.

Marco: I don’t know what to say. Nothing is the same without her here.

Lita: You must remember: You can’t have a glorious sunset like this without the clouds. 

Scene 6 

The Turtle Hospital, the next day 

N2: Marco paces around the outdoor tanks.

N3: Finally, Dr. Hayes comes out.

Dr. Hayes: Good news! We got it out. It was a party balloon.

Marco: Why would a turtle eat a balloon?

Dr. Hayes: To him, it looks a lot like a jellyfish.

Marco: He’s going to be OK?

Dr. Hayes: We’ll have to wait and see.

Yuen Man Cheung/Alamy Stock Photo 

From Sand to Sea

To lay their eggs, many females return to the beach where they were born. After about 60 days buried in the sand, the eggs hatch and the babies head to the sea.

Scene 7 

The Turtle Hospital, two months later 

N1: Marco tosses cucumber pieces into Elmar’s tank. 

N2: Elmar dives down. He has grown strong.

Marco: Isn’t it weird, Elmar? If Mel hadn’t moved, we never would have gone for one last boat ride.

N3: Elmar nibbles on a piece of cucumber.

Marco: And she never would have taken my picture, and I never would have lost my hat, and we never would have found you.

N1: Elmar comes up for a breath of air. 

Marco: Maybe everything happens for a reason.

N2: Elmar swims around the tank.

Marco: I’m going to miss you, Elmar. 

Doug Perrine/

A hatchling makes its way to the sea.

Scene 8 

The beach, two days later 

N3: Marco, Lita, and Lolo gather by the water with a small, cheerful crowd. 

Marco: Today’s the day!

Lita: I have something for you.

N1: Lita hands Marco a Polaroid camera.

Marco: Gracias, Lita!

N2: The Turtle Hospital van drives up.

Lolo: La tortuga is here.

N3: Megan climbs out.

Megan: Hi, everyone! Elmar is fully healed and ready for release!

Crowd: Yay! Woo! Woo!

N1: Members of the release team bring Elmar out. He is wriggling around. 

Marco: Look how feisty he is!

N2: They carry the turtle down to the water. 

Crowd: El-mar! El-mar! El-mar!

N3: They set him down, and immediately, his flippers glide through the water.

N1: Marco snaps a picture.

N2: They watch the turtle swim farther and farther away, until at last, he dives under and disappears.

N3: Marco holds the photograph and watches the image of Elmar slowly appear.

Marco (smiling): It’s like magic.

N1: Marco goes and sits down on a blanket. He takes out a notebook and starts writing. 

Marco: Dear Mel . . .

This play was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue.  

Slideshows (1)
Audio ()
Activities (9)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
Slideshows (1)
Audio ()
Activities (9) Download All Activities
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)

More About the Story


vocabulary, fluency, character, key details, cause and effect, inference, mood, compare and contrast, interpreting text, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

The play is about friendship and dealing with change. On another level, it’s about the power that humans have to harm—and help—our fellow creatures and specifically the problem plastic in the ocean creates for marine animals.


The play has eight scenes and is chronological. It contains a good deal of symbolism.


The play includes some challenging words (e.g. maneuver, circulation, amputate), as well as some words in Spanish.

Knowledge Demands 

Some prior knowledge of how pollution affects sea animals will be helpful.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes)

  • Have students look at the pictures of sea turtles and read the captions throughout the play.
  • Show our vocabulary slideshow or distribute the vocabulary Skill Builder to introduce new words. Highlighted words: maneuver, gingerly, algae, marine, circulation, amputate, solitary, feisty, conservationists (in caption) Note: This play includes a number of words and phrases in Spanish. Students will likely be able to infer the meanings. If they need help, have them refer to the vocabulary Skill Builder.
  • Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box for the class.

2. Reading the Play

  • Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions (25 minutes)

Close-Reading Questions (25 minutes)

  • In Scene 1, why does Marco want to go back to get his hat? What does this tell you about Marco and Mel’s friendship? (character) Marco wants to go back because the hat was a gift from his friend Mel, who’s moving to Boston. This shows that he cherishes Mel’s friendship and wants to have the hat as a reminder of her once she moves away.
  • At the end of Scene 2, why does the rescuer take the sea turtle to Marathon? (key details) The sea turtle Mel and Marco found is in bad shape—he’s barely moving, he’s too thin, and his eyes are sunken. The rescuer takes him to a turtle hospital in Marathon where workers can take care of him and try to nurse him back to health.
  • According to what Dr. Hayes says in Scene 3, what happened to Elmar? What does Dr. Hayes do to treat the turtle? (cause and effect) Dr. Hayes says something is blocking Elmar’s intestine. It has caused his body to fill with gas, so he can’t dive down in the water to feed himself. Elmar is starving. Dr. Hayes gives Elmar vegetable oil and fiber, hoping the turtle will poop out the blockage.
  • At the end of Scene 4, what key fact do you learn about the difference between turtles and humans? How can you infer this fact makes Marco feel? (inference) You learn that, unlike humans, turtles are solitary animals. This means they don’t get attached to others. When Megan tells Marco this fact, he is reminded that as a human, he needs other people, like his friend Mel. You can infer that this reminds Marco that Mel isn’t around anymore, which makes him feel lonely.
  • What is the mood, or feeling, of Scene 5? Use examples from the play to support your answer. (mood) The mood is sad and worried but still hopeful. Lita asks Marco why he is sad, and Marco explains it’s because Elmar’s risky surgery is the next day. He’s worried Elmar might die. Also, Marco is sad because he misses Mel, which becomes clear when he says “Nothing is the same without her here.” The beautiful sunset makes the scene end on a hopeful note.
  • How does Elmar’s behavior at the beginning of the play compare with how he behaves in Scenes 7 and 8? (compare and contrast) At the start of the play, Elmar is weak and skinny, and he barely moves. By Scenes 7 and 8, he is lively and has nearly made a full recovery. He’s strong again and is eating, swimming, and wiggling.
  • Why do you think Marco finally decides to write a letter to Mel at the end of the play? (inference) Students will likely say that Marco is inspired to write to Mel after seeing Elmar released into the ocean. Marco probably wishes Mel were there since they rescued the turtle together and wants to tell her about it. We know Marco is thinking of Mel at this moment because he repeats what she says at the beginning of the play: Polaroids are “like magic.”

Critical-Thinking Question

  • At the end of Scene 5, Lita says, “You can’t have a glorious sunset . . . without the clouds.” What does this statement mean? How does it apply to Marco and Mel’s friendship? How might it apply to your life? (interpreting text) This statement means that challenges are part of life, and sometimes a good experience wouldn’t be as good without overcoming challenges along the way. This applies to Marco and Mel’s friendship because their strong relationship is currently facing the challenge of Mel moving away. Lita wants Marco to know that his friendship with Mel is still strong even though she moved, and that their friendship might even become stronger because of this challenge. Answers to the last question will vary.
  • Sea Turtle Summer contains many facts, but it is a work of fiction. Why do you think the author chose to write fiction to help readers learn about sea turtles? (fact vs. fiction) Writing an engaging fictional play with facts in it can help readers better absorb information because they get wrapped up in the story. Also, fiction usually encourages readers to feel a connection to the characters of a story and care about their problems, which might be similar to real-life problems. The author probably wants people to learn about the threats sea turtles face and care about sea turtle conservation. If they feel connected to the sea turtle in this story, readers will more likely be concerned and possibly take action to help save sea turtles in real life.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Fact vs. Fiction

  • Distribute the Skill Builder on distinguishing fact from fiction to help students identify facts they can use as they respond to the writing prompt on page 26.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Before reading the play, make sure students understand the difference between fact and fiction. As you read, have students identify the two in the story by highlighting turtle facts in one color, and fictional descriptions of Elmar in another color.

For Advanced Readers

Have students read another story about a sea animal rescue: “How to Save Two Dolphins,” the nonfiction from the November/ December 2015 issue of Storyworks. Compare and contrast that article with the play and discuss the differences in the texts’ genres.

For ELL Students

While Elmar the turtle is the main subject of this play, he doesn’t have any speaking lines. Have students practice expressing thoughts and feelings by writing simple lines for Elmar in each scene, in which he says what he’s thinking or feeling.

For Research

Have students use our Research Kit to explore additional ways that human activity threatens sea turtles. They can then make posters that inform others about these threats and what humans can do to save sea turtles.