Although she’s a native of Mechanicsville, Va., Katie Hoffman is not new to the area, or to the turtle hospital. This marine biology major was exploring various internships with her advisor at UNCW and was referred to a program we have offered through that university for many years now: our Saturday internship. During the fall and winter semesters students receive credit for working at our hospital, doing all the things that our regular staff of volunteers do: feeding, bathing and treating turtles, cleaning tanks, participating in tours and anything else that comes along, what’s commonly known as “other duties as assigned.” And every day at the hospital is an experience so you never know what those duties might be until you walk in the door. Katie started out as one of our Saturday interns and was so sad to leave our patients at the end of the semester that she applied for our 12-week summer internship. She says that turtles have been her favorite animals since she “was little” and she found that she “loved it so much I just couldn’t stay away.” In fact she says she’ll be happy to come back in the fall to volunteer on the days when she’s not in class.

When I asked how our summer program and the Saturday internship were different she said that the summer “is more intense. There are more treatments, more types of medications, more interactions with the veterinary staff and more involvement with a full range of hospital activity.” One thing she likes to do is “food prep.” Apparently Katie is proud to sport squid ink and fish scales as a fashion accessory.

Her favorite turtle is “Maz,” one of the cold stuns from our “Star Wars” group. Maz has been a picky eater almost from the time she arrived last winter and Katie took her on as a special project, determined to get some food into her on a regular basis. Maz and Katie have bonded over the months and now they both look forward to breakfast where Katie says she “gets one-on-one time with the turtle, and it’s very relaxing before we start the rest of the work.” Katie notes that working every day with the turtles gives her “a chance to really see not only their individual personalities but the progress they are making.” Katie has been part of several releases, including her first after a stint as a Saturday intern when loggerhead “Coldie” went home. She finds them bittersweet and “super emotional. You’re used to seeing them in their tanks while they’re in rehab and it’s amazing to see them on the beach and swimming away as they go home.”

Tours are a very important part of our mission and Katie says it has really helped her develop confidence in her public speaking. “I used to be really nervous in front of a group. But now it’s great when people say things like, ‘Thank you for what you do; we really appreciate it.’ It makes you realize that what you do, even the little day-to-day stuff, it’s all important.”

Even though our little intern house is far from palatial this year’s group seems to be very close, especially in the kitchen, where they are literally close. It’s a good thing they like each other, or as Katie says, “I love these guys!” She’s played the flute since third grade (she’s minoring in music) and when she’s not out on the beach she sometimes pulls it out and plays for her housemates. Back at UNCW this rising senior plays with the Wind Symphony and Chamber Winds, and is active in Honors Program, Fellows College and Women in Sciences and Engineering which promotes interest in STEM programs.

Katie advises that anyone thinking about applying for our internship should “go for it. It’s an amazing opportunity and gives you a greater appreciation for sea creatures, and the importance of conservation. It’s eye-opening to be that close to sea turtles and very few people have the privilege. It’s my dream work.”

Bon voyage to eight

Eight fully rehabilitated turtles headed out from North Topsail Beach July 21, cheered on by the hundreds of excited visitors who were lucky enough to be on vacation at just the right time. Releases from the north end of the island are rare, but since there are so many nests in that area we figured it was about time to reward the incoming mamas with some outgoing critters. In fact, quite a few of those present at the event were there by happenstance as they were just strolling the beach and decided to see what all the excitement was about. And it was exciting. The eight included our big loggerhead lady “Sewee” whose second chance was a result of successful cataract surgery that restored her vision. Little Kemp’s “Trumpet” was a quick healer but with a big personality in the short time we had him. The other six were little greens that came in during the winter’s cold-stunning events resembling shrunken ice cubes; they left us fat and feisty. Our thanks to the town of North Topsail for hosting us, and flipper hugs to the NTB police and rescue personnel who were so great at crowd control and assisting visitors who had a little too much sun!

Tours keep us hoppin’

We are open for tours through the summer and we’re celebrating our 20th year in operation. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. daily except Wednesdays and Sundays.

Admission is $5 adults; $4 seniors (65+) and active military with ID and $3 for children 13 and over. With the continuing hot weather and accompanying high heat indices we keep Pender 911 on speed dial just in case. It’s a good idea to bring extra water and an umbrella to make your own shade while you’re in line. Although we work as quickly as possible to get you inside we also want to allow enough time for everybody to enjoy their visit. The hospital is located at 302 Tortuga Lane in Surf City. From N.C. 210/50 turn onto Charlie Medlin Drive. (Shipwreck Point Mini Golf is your landmark) and follow it through the roundabout onto Tortuga. Our gift shop is open during tours and we have a lot of exclusive hospital clothing and plush animal merchandise, and lots of sea turtle “stuff.” Come in and meet our turtles, our staff and our interns. We all speak fluent sea turtle.

Nesting mamas are ‘hot on Topsail’

We continue marching to a possible record year with more than 130 nests (at this writing) and over a full month to go in our official nesting season. Although the majority of nests are loggerheads we did have our first ever Kemp’s Ridley nest down on the south end. Turtle tracks are very distinctive and our volunteers, who are easily identified by their white or tan volunteer shirts, are happy to answer any questions. You can keep track of nesting activity on our website:

Even with all the coverage by our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers it’s possible to miss nesting signs for a variety of reasons. That’s why we ask you to be our extra eyes and to report any tracks to Director of Beach Operations Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. And we are still admitting victims of last winter’s cold weather who are only now becoming too debilitated from that trauma to survive without intervention. Please be on the lookout for any turtle in distress, injured (or dead) and call Meyer, Hospital Director Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800 or the State of NC hotline for stranded, sick and injured turtles at 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at This column is on a weekly schedule through the summer.


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