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June 30, 2009

Nesting Nights: Rehab Redux

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of six blog posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn’s trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting. The most recent post was about a full loggerhead nesting.

After witnessing our first full loggerhead nesting, we woke up early, drank some much-needed coffee, then drove over to Jean Beasley’s Sea Turtle Hospital on Topsail Island, NC. After visting last year, I was curious to see how things had changed.

When we arrived, Jean and her team of interns were saying a tearful goodbye to a loggerhead sea turtle, Coastie, who died that morning after getting surgery at NC State in Raleigh.

“We can’t save them all, but we do the best we can,” Beasley told the group of solemn students ranging from middle-school to college age.

Currently housing 22 sea turtles, the hospital is getting too big for its britches. Everywhere you look, including the bathroom, are pools with sea turtles in them. A new, much bigger facility is in the works, but Beasley said she’s far from having the funding needed to complete the project. The cause of the 22 turtles’ ailments vary: fishing gear, boat collisions, cold-stunning and hurricanes are a few of the most common. We watched as the interns cleaned the turtle tanks and gave them their morning shots. A few even received their final shots while we looked on.

A few of the patients came from Bald Head’s beaches, including Baldy, a juvenile green turtle who washed up during a hurricane last year, and Marina, who was found – you guessed it – in a marina, covered in barnacles and looking very emaciated.

Another popular turtle in the hospital appeared to be an unusual mix between a loggerhead and a Kemp’s ridley. The hybrid turtle’s name, appropriately, is Prius. As we were leaving the hospital, we watched a line form in the 90+ degree heat and humidity.

The hospital is open for visitors from 2-4 pm most days in the summer, and these visitors were already lining up at 1 p.m. And it’s not just the locals who are curious. The hospital has been in the news quite a bit in the last few months.

In the spring, the BBC and others reported on a Kemp’s ridley that washed ashore in the UK and was flown to Topsail to be rehabbed. The turtle, named Willie, had spent two years in the UK recovering from her detour in cold European waters.

Almost all Kemp’s ridleys hatch on Mexico’s Gulf coast – Willie likely got caught in a storm and was carried by a current across the pond. She, along with 23 others, were released back into the wild earlier this month. The next release is scheduled for September.

Also, one of the many enthusiastic volunteers at the hospital, 11-year-old Casey Sokolovic, was one of Oceana’s nominees for 2009 Ocean Hero. She happened to be visiting Washington, DC last week and stopped by Oceana’s office, so I unfortunately didn’t get to meet her. It was great visiting the hospital again, and I hope Jean and her team are able to raise the rest of the required funding for the new facility.

Don’t forget to check out more sea turtle photos on Flickr.