Hospital opens for tours October 20 and 21

Don’t miss this last chance to visit us and our patients at the place where it all began. We’re opening for tours on October 20 and 21 during the Autumn with Topsail festival.

Fifteen years ago we moved into our little hospital here in Topsail Beach. For fifteen years we busted our carapaces rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles, and in our “spare time” raising the funds to support our work in any way we could. Fifteen years later we’re getting ready to pack up and head down the road to our new facility. Next weekend will be the last time we will ever throw open our doors here at “the little building that could,” and did, give more than 350 sea turtles the opportunity to heal and return home.

In addition to meeting some of our patients you can pick up your holiday gifts in our merchandise tent. We’ve stocked up with hospital-exclusive T-shirts (long and short sleeve), hoodies, hats, bags and a whole sea of plush turtles of all sizes and “species.” For those hard-to-shop-for friends and relatives we have our “Adopt-A-Sea-Turtle” program. And we’ve got an entire wall in our 13,000-square-foot building dedicated to displaying the names of our “Family Giving Challenge” donors.

You all share in our success and in our future. We’ve never taken a cent from taxpayers. Our work is privately funded and possible only because of your continuing generosity and belief in what we do, and your love of these magnificent creatures.

We will open our doors as soon as we can on Saturday and Sunday, but our priority remains the care of our turtles. That generally takes the entire morning, depending on patient load and the complexity of their treatments. We have several that are recovering from extensive surgeries and need extra attention. We hope to be open by 1 p.m. on both days, but if we’re not quite there spend some time browsing the festival grounds and then swing back to visit us.


A bright light – intern Alastair McArthur

I’m sure Alastair was thinking that I forgot all about him after reading the bios of his fellow interns over the summer months. But Alastair is not forgettable in any way, and when he chose to extend his stay with us I just decided to hold off a bit on updating his profile. It really is hard to leave this place once you open your heart to these critters.

Alastair arrived in late winter of this year just as one of our other interns was leaving. Our hospital staff consists primarily of mature, smallish (but by no means weak) ladies so we were pretty happy to see some muscle come through our doors. We had an ark full of patients at the time, including more big Loggerheads than we usually have over-wintering with us.

It took about five minutes for Alastair to get the lay of the land and start pitching in. One of the first things we learned about him is that he carries a vast repertoire of music around in his head that comes out in the form of whistling. (I’ve still never forgiven him for the time I spent the entire day with “Chapel of Love” bouncing around my brain!) We’ve observed over the years that sea turtles respond to and have preferences for certain types of music. As Alastair works on these critters he tunes his dial to the appropriate genre for the patient he’s tending to. And they react by calmly enduring their bath or treatment. I swear I heard Loggerhead Monroe humming along with him one day! 

Interns like Alastair who work through the summer experience the entire gamut of sea turtle hospital life: incoming wounded, battling horrific injury and illness, and sometimes losing; the excitement of finding a nest, or a nesting mama; the joy of watching tiny turtles popping out and scurrying to the surf; and of course the tours where we meet and educate about 30,000 visitors who come through our doors June through August. But the most memorable part of his tenure here is his capture of current patient Lea.

We got a call one morning from concerned boaters David and Dee Askins who had noticed a large Loggerhead struggling in the marshy areas behind Lea Island, an area not too far south of Topsail. Our combined first attempt at rescue proved futile because of the deep, murky water and a turtle that had just enough fight left to avoid the humans trying to get to her. The next day, Alastair, hospital volunteer Jennifer and the Askins decided to try again at low tide, hoping shallower water would improve their chances for capture.

While bravely plodding through the muck Alastair thought he saw a shadow and instinctively thrust his arms and body into the abyss and came up hugging a very large sea turtle. Our mud-covered intern slowly carried this weakened, equally muddy and barnacle-clad critter back to the boat. Upon arrival at the hospital both were hosed off before being admitted, but thankfully only Lea needed further treatment after the ordeal.

Although she wasn’t injured this big gal was really, really sick. Alastair became her main caretaker, sitting by her side for hours singing, humming and patting her to calm her, sending her positive vibes and carefully following her treatment protocol. One of the most important steps to recovery is the willingness of a turtle to eat, and Lea has been cooperative and enthusiastic in this regard. Months later she still can never seem to get enough food — seriously — we do give her plenty! She’s full of personality and always seems to have a smile on her face for anyone stopping by to say hey, but she reserves her special grin for Alastair.

Alastair plans to stay with us until he finds a permanent position where he can apply his degree in Biology from Eckard College. If you know of anyone looking for a wildlife specialist who whistles while he works, can carry a tune and never, never complains about anything we have the guy for you!


Hatching nears an end

There is only a handful of nests left to hatch but now that the cooler nighttime weather is here we rely more than ever on you to be our eyes on the beach as we can’t keep watch 24/7. We are prohibited by law from disclosing exact locations of the nest, and we honestly don’t know exactly what night those little hatchlings will pop out. If you happen to be there during a hatch you will need to listen to what our trained volunteers are telling you. Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (hatchings, strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. Terry can be reached at: for non-emergencies. You can also call our Director, Jean Beasley (910-470-2800) or the hospital (910-328-3377) to report activity if you are unable to reach of Terry. All sea turtles are federally protected and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

You can keep track of what’s hatched and other turtle hospital activity by checking our website:


Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list. You can also access the last newsletter from our website. The next issue, “How We Spent Our Year” is in development and will be out before the holidays. This column now appears every other week until next spring, unless we have really exciting news to share!


Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.