And they’re off - at least the first group of 12 of our 30-plus rehabilitated patients. At an early assembly of staff and invited guests Jean began the day with a short ceremony that included memories of volunteers we’ve lost in the past year, commemoration of D-Day (more on that in a bit) the awarding of the figurative hospital “key,” (our dress blue shirt) to new volunteers and finally the assignment of escorts for this first group of turtles.
A few months ago we were incredibly honored to host a contingent of international Wounded Warriors who were at Camp Lejeune for the 2018 Marine Corps Trials, an adaptive sports event for recovering service members and veterans. During their visit the Royal Marines of the United Kingdom began telling Jean that their hero was a World War II commander, Lt. Colonel Blondie Hasler. Long story short, they asked if we would consider naming one of our turtles “Blondie” in his honor. No way were we not going to grant them this small favor. So one of the first turtles down the beach on the 74th anniversary of D-Day was Blondie. Blondie was accompanied by turtle “Hutch” who was named in honor of another WWII veteran who was at Omaha Beach that day, one with a special connection to our hospital. Ed Hutchison was the father of volunteer Nancy Fahey and was instrumental in what became an innovative treatment at our hospital – honey. It was the honey from his hives that not only played an important part in patient wound care but also provided the “queen” and her workers for our hospital hives. Blondie and Hutch followed the U.K. and U.S. flags down to the water. And just behind the flags, carried by one of our hospital volunteers who is a veteran was another piece of poignant memorabilia - a baton made from the handle of stretcher used in Afghanistan to carry wounded from the battlefield. After passing under the flags Blondie and Hutch were released to swim strong and free. It was a small but touching commemoration of a pivotal day in the war that unfortunately seems to become further and further removed from our history.
Waiting impatiently in the wings were 10 other turtles, who by that point had smelled and heard the call of Mother Ocean. Rolling along, literally, on our new turtle carts came three big loggerheads: Apollo, Sirius and Sawyer, who scrambled into the water as fast as they were unloaded without so much as a good-bye flipper wave! Next came the procession of little guys, a mix of greens and Kemp’s who were carried out past the breakers before setting flipper to water. Some shot off, and some took their time, possibly slowing down for a snack on the schools of small fish that were everywhere.
It was a picture perfect day with sunny skies, a light breeze, calm waters and a large crowd of well-wishers. And we’ve got a lot more turtles ready to go home, in fact enough for two releases, so check our Facebook page for details on the dates and times. And don’t forget that you can see even more turtles at our hospital. Our summer tour schedule is daily, except Wednesdays and Sundays, from noon to 4 p.m.
Unfortunately we’re still getting turtles, mainly Kemp’s that continue to find the pickings at our local piers irresistible. Please, do not pull out the hook, especially if they appear to have swallowed it; and please leave about two feet of line attached to the hook(s) before cutting away any of your gear. The pier managers can assist you with the process, and have the contact information to ensure that the turtle gets the proper follow-up care at our hospital.
Please continue to report any sea turtle sightings (nestings, strandings, injuries) to Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 or Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line (910-329-0222) if the call comes into us during general hospital hours. The state of NC also has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367.
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.