Moving on and moving in

sea turtle release

Hundreds of people came out to Topsail Beach June 5 to watch as Volunteers with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center prepared to release 28 juvenile sea turtles back into the ocean. The turtles included 3 species of sea turtles Kemp's Ridleys, Loggerheads and Green turtles, all had been rehabilitated at the center on the Island.

Ken Blevins/StarNews Media
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 02:20 PM.

It’s one of the most anticipated days of the year for the volunteers and turtles at the hospital: the day our rehabilitated patients get their discharge papers and move on. For 28 turtles — one loggerhead, two Kemp’s Ridleys and 25 young greens — that day was last Wednesday. And after a record-breaking year for admits (65) we were all pretty happy to part ways.

As our patients were finishing their breakfast the hospital volunteers were busy making final preparations for the trip to the beach; staging turtles in tanks, soaking towels in water to keep the little guys cool and hydrated on the trip and welcoming the invited press and guests. It was a chance for “turtle people” up and down the coast to reconnect and catch-up, this being one of the few times during the year that we see each other. And it was also an opportunity to reunite with many of our externs who faithfully make the trip each year from all over the country just to see these magnificent creatures fully recovered and headed home. We’re very proud of their accomplishments: many of them are now full-fledged vets, and many others are in grad school or have found jobs in research, conservation or the environment. We train ‘em good during those 12 weeks they spend with us!

During a short ceremony our director, Jean Beasley, assigned each turtle to their escort(s) after which we quickly loaded into vehicles and caravanned to the beach. The crowd of about 400 cheered wildly as we crested the dune access: “Turtles! Turtles! Turtles!” Beth Howard, an art teacher at Dixon prepares signs with each turtle’s name for every release, and children from area schools have the honor of walking just ahead of that turtle as they are carried down the beach and out into the surf. While the crowd waves and snaps pictures during that long walk the turtles remain focused on only one thing: home! Our volunteers had to brave some pretty rough surf, struggling with excited critters to get them out past the breaking waves so they wouldn’t get washed back in. Not one of these turtles turned back with a final wave with their flipper — they were just gone! Our work was done, at least for the moment. Back at the hospital over 30 patients were waiting for us to return and tend to them.

Flipper hugs to everyone who worked to make this a release successful.

And moving in!

For those of you who wondered where this column has been over the past month, well, things have been whipping along so quickly with the new facility that it became an exercise in futility to report the progress with any kind of accuracy. We’re close — real close.

June will not be an easy month for any of us. Not only do we have an ark full of patients large and small but we typically start filling up with new admits as we move into the summer. If you’ve ever toured our hospital you know how much equipment it takes to rehabilitate a sea turtle. Everything will have to move and that’s not going to be easy, or overnight. Will we need help? Absolutely — and we’ll put the word out whenever we do. It’s been a long and often frustrating process but we’re almost there.

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