A family affair

Hospital volunteers refer to ourselves as “the turtle family,” and our Director, Jean Beasley as “the turtle mom.”  If you read the fine print when you sign on as a volunteer you’ll note there’s an “until death do us part” clause at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, that’s been the case too many times in the past few years. But that’s not what this is about; it’s about families, and legacies.

It starts when a mom, grandma, aunt or sibling begins working as a volunteer. Although you’re not supposed to take your work home with you, your brain just won’t shut down when you walk out the door. You keep reliving the day’s events and can’t wait to share it with someone. Pretty soon your relatives are asking about how they can become involved. The next thing you know they’re showing up as junior or college interns, joining one of the year-round teams at the hospital or walking the beach as part of the Topsail Turtle Project.

And we like it when that happens, because our turtles need all the help they can get. It definitely takes a village to rehabilitate the sick and wounded, and to ensure that our beaches remain a safe haven for nesting mamas and their hatchlings well into the future. We’re finding that our younger volunteers have been learning about sea turtles since they were babes in arms, through books, oral history and a much-loved plush toy. Based on what visitors have told me over the years I’m willing to bet there are thousands of stuffed sea turtles named “Lennie” out there in the world!

An extraordinary model of a sea turtle legacy involves our longest serving intern (junior plus senior stints) Charlie Lynch. Hatched behind our hospital, Charlie has been returning to nest with us every summer through high school and college. When the youngest Lynch boy, Walter, reached junior intern age a few years ago we had our first brother act. We hope that Walter will be progressing through the intern ranks to become one of our seniors in a few summers. While we were always happy to see the smiling faces of the hard-working Lynch brothers, none of us suspected that they were holding out on us; they were keeping middle brother, Harrison, hidden back home in Pennsylvania. So when we heard that another Lynch sibling was enroute most of us reacted with “huh?” Harrison pitched right in and was soon performing like a pro, no doubt due to the, uh, shall we say “mentoring” of his older brother.

Charlie, having graduated from Penn State this June is staying with us for a bit to help out with the turtles, the tours and the move to the new building. Walter and Harrison have returned to school in Pa. — Walter as a junior in high school and Harrison as a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh.

After we settle into our new facility we hope that you’ll consider joining our family. I’ll let you know all about the exciting ways you can volunteer as we move towards the winter months.


Tour the hospital by September 6

Our last day for tours is Thursday, September 6, so if you want to meet Lennie, Boater, NC, Little Ray and Oceans 11 up close you’ll need to pencil it into your date book, now! Note: we will not be open on Labor Day, September 3. The finishing touches on the new building are moving along, and it won’t be long until we load up and head down the road to Surf City. We’ll keep a handful of turtles at our current location so you can visit us for one last time during “Autumn with Topsail” in October.

Thank you to all of our visitors who continued to show up and support us with generous donations, despite the struggling economy. We are ever so grateful to those of you who have dropped cash and checks in our hands, bought your family’s wardrobe in our gift shop, adopted a patient (in some cases multiple patients) and taken our Family Giving Challenge. It’s because of your generosity and belief in what we do that we are able to continue our work.

Tours are held from 2 to 4 p.m. daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays). Our gift shop is also open during those hours and we’ve restocked our inventory with plenty of exclusive turtle hospital merchandise. As the summer wears on the lines get longer, so be prepared with sunscreen, and umbrellas for shade. We can’t do much about the heat, humidity and lines, and we try to be as efficient as we can in getting you all into the hospital in the few hours we’re able to do so. We have water available for $1, and for the first time in many years you will be able to take photos inside the hospital as long as you turn off the flash on your camera. We’ll be at our current location in Topsail Beach (behind the big blue water tower) through September 6.


Nesting wraps up — hatchlings ramp up

August 31 is the official end of nesting season (not that sea turtles keep calendars) and with only 80 nests as of this writing it’s doubtful that we’re going to match 2011’s final number of 110. That doesn’t mean that the work of our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers is done. Somebody has to sit those nests to make sure the babes get from the dune to the surf. Those people huddled around a staked area in the dark of night wearing hopeful expressions and equipped with accessories for getting hatchlings headed in the right direction would be our hard-working, sleep-deprived beach crew.

We’re prohibited by law from disclosing exact locations of the nest, and we really don’t know when they’re going to hatch (really, we don’t, only the turtles know), so please don’t think we’re being deviously evasive if we can’t give you the particulars on a specific location or nest. Being there when it happens is a matter of luck. Just remember that our volunteers are in charge, and since these animals are federally protected you’ll need to listen to what they’re saying.

You can keep track of a large mama (“Lauren”) that visited the north end of the island and was satellite tagged some weeks back by logging on to: www.seaturtle.org. She may return to our area in the near future, or not.

Our visitors and locals play an important part in our work and we rely on you to be our eyes on the beach as we can’t keep watch 24/7. Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (nestings, strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. Terry can be reached at: topsailseaturtle@aol.com for non-emergencies. You can also call our Director, Jean Beasley (910-470-2800) or the hospital (910-328-3377) to report activity if you are unable to reach of Terry. All sea turtles are federally protected and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

For those of you wondering what happened to our Wednesday “Turtle Talks” — it’s on hiatus until we move into the new facility. We’ll be back!


Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions regarding this column to me at flippers@att.net. To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address. If your e-mail address has recently changed, please send me your new one so I can update my master list. You can also access the last newsletter from our website. The next issue, “How Spent Our Summer” is in the works and will be out shortly after we finish tours and settle back into our routine. This column now moves to every other week until next spring, unless we have really exciting news to share!


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