Are you reading this while drinking your coffee (in a Styrofoam cup), stirring in (with a plastic stirrer) the cream (that came out of a little plastic container)? It’s only one small example of how we can’t seem to navigate through life these days without creating trash.

Are you reading this while drinking your coffee (in a Styrofoam cup), stirring in (with a plastic stirrer) the cream (that came out of a little plastic container)? It’s only one small example of how we can’t seem to navigate through life these days without creating trash. 

In our work with endangered species that spend their lives at sea we are well aware of what happens to most of that trash: It ends up in the oceans. If you live in the ocean, you eat what’s in the ocean. We’ve seen first-hand what turtles find tasty, and it ain’t pretty. It makes them sick, and it makes us sick to think that we are the ones responsible for trashing our beautiful planet.

In our new building we literally have a great hall that we are slowly filling with exhibits, and one of the most striking and fascinating is our wall-mounted “trash turtle.” Several months ago our director, Jean Beasley, asked Ginger Taylor (one of the greenest volunteers we have) and Bonnie Monteleone of Wilmington, the founder of the “Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.” if they could create a turtle sculpture made of trash from local beaches to bring home the plastic story for our visitors. (Bonnie is an accomplished artist, and you can read more about her work, including her amazing plastic wave now on tour on the POP, Inc. website.)

Ginger is a passionate beachcomber, but her treasure for the past six years has been plastic. As her collection accumulated in Bonnie’s storage area they often talked about “someday” creating a turtle made of plastic. Now they had the incentive, a venue and a very tight timeframe in which to bring the concept to life. And they certainly weren’t lacking in material. But how to put it together?

Ginger said they knew it had to be three dimensional, and it was important that the dimensions mirror a real sea turtle. One of our patients at the time, “Hyde,” served as the model, and he sat patiently in his tank while Ginger measured every part of the big guy with tape and calipers. Now with an idea of the size they sorted through mounds of garbage to find things that could best represent a sea turtle. They had lots and lots of sunglasses, flip flops and shovels, and those items became the basis of exhibit. 

They started with the eyes, the “widows to the soul” of every creature. You can see in the eyes of these amazing animals the collective wisdom of millions of years and the story of their continuing struggle to survive. Ginger and Bonnie experimented with many combinations of lenses and finally settled on a three-layer model: dive mask goggles, swim goggles and sunglass lenses, and it’s an eerily similar reproduction of our turtle’s eyes. The head was next, and after several nights of staying up until 1 to 2 a.m., they finally achieved success. 

Now for the body: Shovels were spot-on for the scutes, and those flat flip-flops woven together with straws made for a perfect plastron. The areas between the scutes were filled with bubble wrap, which was sprayed with glue and sprinkled with beach sand. The netting on our critter was plucked from a gyre in the Pacific by Bonnie. That netting was responsible for the deaths of 21 sea lions that became entangled in it. Finally trash turtle was complete and was being mounted on our wall the night before our grand opening in June. Ginger also created two additional pieces (mounted in recycled window panels) on ocean trash and its impact on all of us. Everything in the exhibit has been recycled.

While the turtle and windows are on permanent display, if you want the message from the guru come on Tuesday when Ginger is on site. She’s beyond excited that there’s finally a purpose for all of her efforts. Stop by for some trash talkin’.

Summer releases

If they’re ready to go we send them home, and Canady is still on the short list for a summer release. Watch our Facebook page (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center) for dates and times of any upcoming releases. Details are posted the day before. 

We’re hatching!

Unless we get a lot of last-minute activity it looks like a pretty slow summer with nests hovering around the half-hundred mark. But now through October we move into the “seriously cute” season as those little hatchlings emerge ready to take on their life at sea. Be sure to spend a few minutes with our volunteer manning the nesting display at our hospital to get a glimpse of what’s hiding below those staked off areas on our beaches. Our visitors are more likely than ever to have a close encounter of the sea turtle and Topsail Turtle Project volunteer kind as the summer progresses and those beach walks in the morning expand into nest sitting at night. We continue to rely heavily on our locals and visitors to report any sighting of nesting turtles, hatching nests and any turtles in distress. 

Please report all local sea turtle activity to our Director of Beach Operations Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If unable to reach her you may also contact Director Jean Beasley at: 910-470-2800. The state of N.C. also has a hotline for strandings (injured or sick turtles): 252-241-7367 and the call will be picked up 24/7. 

Hospital visiting hours 

You can’t always trust the Internet. We still have visitors telling us they went to our old location in Topsail Beach because that’s where their computer or smart phone told them to go. Don’t go there looking for the hospital — we moved almost a year ago! And if you try Google Maps you won’t find us because the road (Tortuga Lane) is too new. And a word of advice: If you park on the side of the road, beware of the drop-off into the ditches. And that sand is softer than it looks!

We are open daily except Wednesday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.. General admission is $5; seniors and military are $4; and children are $3. We are located at 302 Tortuga Lane on the mainland in Surf City. Take the turn from N.C. 50/210 onto Charlie Medlin Drive (Shipwreck Point Mini Golf is your landmark for this road.) Follow the road onto the gravel section and through the round-about. We are the only building on Tortuga. Visit our website ( and/or our Facebook page (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center) for updates on patients and other turtle happenings. 

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: This column will resume its weekly schedule this month. To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: Next edition is almost ready. 


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