The summer has flown by and soon our nine interns will scatter, but not before we meet two of the final four.

Caroline Balch had just graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in General Biology when she signed on as an intern last summer. She had begun applying to vet schools and it looked like she was going to have some time on her hands while waiting to hear about the status of her applications. That’s when fate stepped in. She got a call from our director, Jean asking if she would be interested in coming back to the hospital to help with not only the turtles but a special project that was in the planning stages. Caroline said that “Since I didn’t have a job at the moment I jumped at the chance to come back because I felt that it was where I needed to be. I was kind of depressed after leaving the internship because I had doing something I had wanted to do my whole life and suddenly I wasn’t doing it anymore.” Her whole life? “Yes. I knew since I was about four years old that I was going to become a vet. I even asked my dad where the closest veterinary school was (NC State) and decided that I was going there.” Like many of us Caroline watched Animal Planet, and she fell in love with Steve Irwin. “He was my hero. I just thought he was the most amazing person and couldn’t believe that people got to work with animals the way he did. I was obsessed.”

So Caroline rejoined us in early fall, but when the cold-stuns began arriving by the dozens the special project was put on hold. She worked with the hospital volunteers five and six days a week doing a lot of the heavy lifting (literally, those tanks are heavy!) and staying late into the afternoons to work with Jean on the critical care patients. And when spring rolled around she got the word that she had been accepted into this year’s class at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine. We couldn’t have been prouder of her!

But we weren’t ready to let her go quite yet. We had eight interns on their way to the hospital in May and they needed a leader, somebody who had been through the program who could show them the ropes and wrangle them into cohesive group for the 12 weeks they were going to be with us. At first Caroline “Wasn’t sure I could get used to telling people what to do. I was a bit hesitant but realized that it was a good thing. It was forcing me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I’ve grown not only in my people skills but my confidence level. I think it’s going OK.” For the record it’s going OK – even better than OK.

So in a very few weeks Caroline leaves us for N.C. State, one of the many “Beasley Kids” (former summer interns) who have gone on to graduate from their vet school. “I have such mixed emotions. I love every turtle here and I love all of the hospital volunteers that I’ve worked so closely with for the past year. It will seem kind of strange to be around people my age (Caroline’s nice way of saying that we all have a few wrinkles on our carapaces.) I’m very excited. It’s always been a dream but now it’s a reality.” You go girl!

Tara Lanzer has had her sights set on our internship since she first came through our doors as one of the participants in the local “Sea Turtle Camp” program. She was still in high school then, but four years later this rising junior at Bowling Green State (Ohio) finally made it back. She said that after working with us back then she “Fell in love with the turtles and wanted to come back to help. I became more focused on all things sea turtle and ended up being known as ‘sea turtle girl’ at my high school. And every present I got after that was a sea turtle something.”

Since she had been here as a “camper” she had a very basic idea of the work involved. “But I never expected that we would be running the place! It’s been so much fun working with the other interns and we’ve really come together as a team. And being here every day you get to know the turtles really well.” Her favorite is little green “Sunrise.” Tara: “She struggles but she has such a sassy personality. I’ve spent a lot of time getting her to improve her diet from squid to fish and now she’s starting to eat more veggies and do more diving. She’s made real progress. It’s a privilege to be around these animals every day.” Tara said that it was so rewarding to be part of the three releases we’ve had this summer. “It’s when you can really see that all the hard work is worth it.”

Tara enjoys meeting our visitors during our tours and says that “The kids are really fun because they ask the best questions. It gives me a chance to talk about how important it is for them to keep our oceans clean and safe for not only the turtles but for everybody. The kids will be the ones having the greatest impact on our future environment.”

Tara will soon return to her studies in Marine Biology at Bowling Green and says her time here has been a wonderful learning experience which she hopes will someday help in her plans to go to grad school and then on to a career in sea turtle research.

We’ll continue with our summer tour schedule for the next few months. We are open daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. Lines can be long so bring umbrellas for shade and lots of water to stay hydrated. And please continue to report any sea turtle activity (nestings, strandings, injuries) to Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880, Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800 or the NC Stranding Hotline at 252-241-7367. We will also pick up on our hospital line, 910-329-0222, during regular hours.

 

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