I’m back from Bald Head Island, NC – but fear not, there’s one last adventure to report. One of my last days down there, I drove to Topsail Island, which is a short drive up the coast, to see Jean Beasley’s famed turtle hospital (named after her daughter Karen).
Beasley, who won Animal Planet’s 2007 hero of the year award, is a teacher-turned-turtle activist whose hospital started as a single injured turtle under a tent in her backyard in the mid-‘90s.
The “hospital” is a small warehouse with about 20 pools of varying sizes and depths, each containing an injured sea turtle. Staffed by around 70 volunteers, (plus 150 helping with nesting on the beach), the hospital currently houses three species of sea turtles – loggerheads, greens, and Kemp’s ridleys. The turtle ward appeared completely full, so when I asked what would happen if another injured turtle was found, she replied, “There’s always room.”
“I’ve never seen this woman turn a turtle away,” added Sandy Sly, a volunteer since the early ‘90s, and a former registered nurse. Their injuries vary, but the most common are from boat strikes and fishing nets, particularly gillnets.
The turtle pictured above, a critically endangered Kemp’s ridley, swallowed a large hook and was also struck by a boat. Beasley spoke passionately against gillnets. “My colleagues in other states ask, ‘why do you get so many turtles?’ My answer? Gillnets,” she said. “It’s a sad thing. There’s a reason other states have gotten rid of gillnets.” At 72, she said she’d love to see them outlawed in her lifetime.
She has several vets on staff, and if surgery is required, the turtle is sent to NC State in Raleigh. But she has no illusions — she knows that the few dozen sea turtles she helps save every year aren’t going to revitalize the entire population. Hers is an educational call to action, and believe me, when you meet her, she’s convincing.
Plus, it’s hard not to be affected when you see these ancient animals — some of them bandaged or missing flippers — come up for a breath less than a few feet from you.
“They have survived millions of years, but they can’t survive what we are doing to the planet today,” she said. “It’s not rehabbers who will save the sea turtles, it is education. The folks who vote, send faxes and letters – that can be their salvation.”
Yes, she means you — help us by taking action today to keep turtles out of fishing nets.