We did it.

We did it.

After more than a decade of dreaming it, and more than three years of building it we finally completed our new facility. The staff, our current patient load of just under 30 turtles and a tribe of over 100 late-hatching babies are officially in residence at our new hospital on Tortuga Lane in Surf City.

Nov. 7 was the big day. And oddly enough Nov. 7 has been an important date in the life of our organization in two other instances: Nov. 7, 1997, was the day we moved the first patients into our hospital in Topsail Beach. And on another Nov. 7 we met with the Town of Surf City to review the final plans for our new hospital. Honestly, things were not specifically planned this way.

We were eager to finally show off our new place to the entire staff, the media and the turtle volunteers up and down the coast who have supported us in so many ways over the years. The invited visitors began arriving a bit before 2 p.m. and took some time to check out the gift shop and wander the great hall. At 2, Jean began her formal welcome, gave a brief history of our journey and thanked everyone for their unwavering support. The entire group, cameras and notepads at the ready, was ushered down the great hall, circled past the medical wing, ICU and staff areas and finally entered our 3,600 square foot main rehabilitation room, Sea Turtle Bay.

Our hospital volunteers, a virtual wall of blue shirts, lined up on the observation deck overlooking the bay while the media oohed and ahhed and set up their equipment for what was yet to come. While we had been entertaining our guests at our new place, our younger and more muscular staff (and other “turtle people”) were completing the really hard work: hefting big critters (many of them several hundred pounds of muscle and attitude) out of their old tanks and into vehicles for their trip up the island and over the bridge. Not all turtles like to hear the words “road trip,” and this trek got a bit hairy when the caravan was stopped in their tracks by a stuck swing bridge!

Nevertheless, within minutes of our guests’ arrival in the bay our garage doors were raised and our patients made their grand entrance, one-by-one, to the welcoming cheers of our very excited crowd. We’ve rehabilitated about four-hundred turtles over the years and our staff is very tuned into the moods and behaviors of these animals. To say that these turtles were overjoyed with their new home is an understatement. Critters that looked so humongous in the old tanks didn’t look quite as imposing in their new, really big tanks. Our floors were drenched from happy flippers slapping and splashing the water. While the bigger guys and gals immediately got busy exploring their new boundaries the babies zoomed around like little rockets, making impossible turns just before their noses banged into the tank wall. We can’t wait to see how they all react to their first session in the therapy pool.

Everyone was given access to all areas of the hospital so they could leisurely explore the ICU, the operating theatre, our new digital radiograph, supply room and staff break area - not that we ever really have time to sit for very long! While things were winding down and our visitors trickled out those hard-working young’uns were moving in and plumbing even more tanks so that we could transport the few turtles remaining at the old hospital to their new home on Nov. 8.

As wonderful as our new hospital is, leaving our old building is bittersweet. So many lives, turtle and human are a part of its history. Millions of garlicky turtle breaths were expelled inside those walls. Hundreds of our patients lived to swim free again, but some didn’t. All of us, human and critter, have left a little piece of ourselves behind.

Hospital schedule

The building is closed while we all settle into our new routines. But we will open the gift shop and the hospital for tours later this month. Building hours are: Nov. 29 from 2 to 4 p.m. and Nov. 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We’re restocking our shelves with even more of our logo and other exclusive hospital designed Ts, including long-sleeved Ts, warm hoodies and sweats, lots of youth and toddler items and an array of locally crafted jewelry and Christmas decorations. We’ll also be opening the gift shop and hospital during selective days in December.

Admission to the sea turtle viewing area is: adults, $5; military and high school students with active IDs and seniors 65 and up, $4; and children, $3. Visitors are always welcome to browse our gift shop, talk with volunteers peek through the window and use the facilities for free. Watch this column and our Facebook page (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center) for holiday shopping hours and any special events.

Get ready for stunning season

We’re taking in refugee late-season hatchlings from beaches all around our area, and there are still a few nests on Topsail that haven’t hatched. The night time temps are dropping into the 40’s and soon the water temps will plunge. It won’t be long until we start to see our first wave of cold-stunned turtles. It usually starts with the little Greens, but any size turtle can quickly fall victim to cold weather.

Our visitors and residents are very important to our hospital and beach program because we can’t be everywhere 24/7. If you come across a hatching nest, hatchlings or any sized turtle on the beach or in the water that appears to be in distress contact our Director, Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800. She will pick up turtle calls no matter what time of the day or night. Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to Jean. She can be reached at: loggrhead@aol.com for non-emergencies.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: flippers@att.net. This column moves to the off-season schedule of publication of every other week with this edition. 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. I’ve been adding everyone who requests the newsletter. The next one will be out around the holidays.


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