‘Tis the season, even though you couldn’t tell it by the weather around here, for spring break. While that may mean travelling for some fun in the sun for many students there are others who made very different plans for spending their time off. Luckily for us we had that second group: A dozen students (and their two program advisors) from the Integrated Life Sciences Honors Program at the University of Maryland trekked down to help us out at the hospital for an entire week. After a long winter tending to 58 patients, our volunteers are definitely showing signs of wear and tear. So when these energetic and strong freshmen and sophomores showed up to help us do whatever we needed done, we welcomed them with open arms.


‘Tis the season, even though you couldn’t tell it by the weather around here, for spring break. While that may mean travelling for some fun in the sun for many students there are others who made very different plans for spending their time off. Luckily for us we had that second group: A dozen students (and their two program advisors) from the Integrated Life Sciences Honors Program at the University of Maryland trekked down to help us out at the hospital for an entire week. After a long winter tending to 58 patients, our volunteers are definitely showing signs of wear and tear. So when these energetic and strong freshmen and sophomores showed up to help us do whatever we needed done, we welcomed them with open arms.



These guys and gals (biology, biochemistry and other life sciences majors) really wanted to be here and went through a thorough vetting before they were able to pack up and head south to Topsail. Several of them attended the recent International Sea Turtle Society Symposium, and they were all required to know the basic sea turtle facts and make a presentation to their advisors. The program is 40-percent educational and 60-percent service. The acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) provides the guiding principles. Back at the university the participants are required to work in the community in such areas as tutoring, food banks and environmental conservation.



Sometimes we’re a bit skeptical when we hear “do whatever you need done” (the reality of sea turtle rehab not being the glamour job that everyone thinks it is), but this group definitely walked the talk. They worked mornings at the hospital feeding, cleaning tanks, giving turtle baths and taking care of housekeeping issues. After a quick lunch they hauled their carapaces over to the new building, picked up tools of various kinds and set to work until almost sunset. To conserve our hard-earned, privately donated funds, we are trying to put the finishing touches on the new facility with as much volunteer labor as we can find. One of the really back-breaking jobs is landscaping, not only around the building but also around the entire perimeter of our four-acre home site. We’ve been stockpiling bargains from the Lowe’s “scratch and dent” racks and supplementing them with donated native plantings. But as any gardener knows, the key to “Yard of the Month” lies in the preparation and finishing; the raking and mulching that makes the flora come to life. After a week of nonstop landscaping, we look “mahvelous.” Even the area surrounding the dumpster looks lovely after being fenced in by these young’uns.



Program advisor “Boots” stressed that every evening included a period of “reflection” and that she was hopeful that their work here at the hospital would make the students “mindful, to the point where conservation becomes part of a new lifestyle.” The students had various goals for themselves: Eric loves working with marine animals and felt that a sea turtle would be a bit less threatening because “they don’t attack you.”  He learned just how aggressive a hungry turtle can be, though, when he was tasked with feeding them breakfast! Helen thought it was “important to have the conservation component. Humans can impact the world around us in a bad way and this is one of the ways we can do something about it; we can make a difference in the world of sea turtles.”



This is the inaugural year at our hospital for this group from U of M, but not their last. Next year’s plan is to return with another group, along with two of this year’s participants acting as leaders. They’ve even come up with a preliminary tagline and are working on a logo (and of course an official T-shirt): “Terps Helping Turtles.” Flipper hugs from the turtles and staff to our new friends “the terps.”



Topsail Turtle Project training



Nesting season will be here before we know it — and hopefully the warm weather will come even sooner! If you are able to commit to walking a one-mile stretch of beach one (or more) mornings a week May 1 through August, we have the perfect opportunity for you. Two training sessions are scheduled for Topsail Turtle Project volunteers at the Surf City Welcome Center, 102 N. Shore Drive in Surf City: April 9th from 1 to 3 p.m. and April 17 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. You’ll see a short video, lots of cools pics and get handouts with sea turtle facts. It’s a chance to meet and talk to the area coordinators and other volunteers. And of course we have official Topsail Turtle Project team gear, a specially designed T-shirt that you can purchase for a nominal charge when you sign up.



Training is optional for returning volunteers but is encouraged because you just never know what surprises Terry might have up her sleeve. We’re always learning something new from the increased interest in and research on the secret lives of these magnificent creatures.



For more information contact Terry at: 910-470-2880 or via e-mail at: topsailseaturtle@aol.com.



Betsy’s Reef Ball



Longtime hospital and Topsail Turtle Project volunteer Betsy Kautz’s memorial reef ball will be cast on April 12 and deployed (along with five others) at Dare’s Reef on April 15. Contact your area (beach) coordinator or hospital team leader for details. This is the last chance for those of you who knew and loved Betsy to bid her farewell. We hope you can join us for the casting and/or memorial viewing before she leaves us forever to be with Dare just off the Topsail coast.



‘Stunning’ weather is getting old



It looks like we’re in for an extended period of way-below-average temperatures, so we’re asking you to continue to keep your eyes peeled for any turtles you see stranded on the beach, in the grasses along the shore and in the water. If it’s not moving don’t assume it is dead. It might be cold-stunned, and when rescued in time the prognosis for these critters is excellent.



If you come across a stunned turtle carefully pick it up and place it in a protected but not overly warm area (a garage, car or laundry room would work well.) DO NOT place the turtle in warm water; a sudden change in temperature will send it into shock and possibly kill it. Immediately call the Wildlife Resources Commission’s sea turtle emergency hotline number at: 252-241-7367. Someone is available 24/7 to pick up calls. Locally you can call Terry (910-470-2880) or Jean (910-470-2800).



Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to Director of Beach Operations Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. Terry can be reached at topsailseaturtle@aol.com for non-emergencies. All sea turtles are federally protected and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.



Gift shop open Tuesdays



But the time to shop at our gift shop “annex” on Tuesdays is drawing to a close because we’ll soon be moving our “stuff” to our new building. Until further notice you can knock on our hospital door between 9 and 11 a.m. any Tuesday and tell us you’re there to shop. We can only accept cash and checks at the annex at this time, but you can use our online ordering service at your convenience because our website never closes: seaturtlehospital.org. You can also link to our “Adopt-A-Sea-Turtle” program to help support our high maintenance patients who need all the financial and moral support you can provide. There’s still time to add your family’s name to our wall of fame with the “Family Giving Challenge.” 



Questions, comments, suggestions?



Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: flippers@att.net. To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: flippers@att.net. If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list. We’re holding publication of the next issue until after we make the move to the new facility — hopefully sometime in late April/May.



 



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