April was a mixed month for hospital admits. In the past few days we saw our first wave of Kemp’s who starting dining off our local piers and paid the price by being hooked. But earlier in the month we admitted a handful of turtles that somehow managed to survive cold-stunning at some point and yet make it through the winter months. Now they were too debilitated to keep fighting but were lucky enough to be rescued and brought to us.

Little green “Semmel” is one of these critters with an interesting backstory. Jean, our director, received a frantic call from a young lady who had stumbled on a live sea turtle that had washed up on Masonboro Island. Masonboro, near Wrightsville Beach is accessible only by water so Jean called Nancy Fahey, Director of the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project to see if she had a way to collect this little guy. Nancy hoped that Dr. Brady Semmel who had assisted in a few other of our patient rescues could gas up his wave runner and be ready to head out with Nancy on yet another mission of mercy.

Fighting and rapidly losing to the outgoing tide, by the time they arrived at Masonboro they were forced to put in at a cove near the north end and hike about two miles south to the middle of the island where the turtle and his rescuer were located.

Nancy was alarmed when she saw the state of this little guy. He was clearly in bad shape; barely responsive, unable to raise his head and obviously there were issues with his eyes. She gathered him up and she and Brady retraced their steps to the cove, then hopped on the wave runner and headed back to the dock. Those of us who know Nancy and her dedication to sea turtles also know that once they are in her hands she is ready, willing and able to “outrun the law” if need be to get a sick or injured turtle to us ASAP.

Once at the hospital Jean, Jordan (our returning 2018 intern) and Nancy worked to administer fluids and the initial dose of meds. After that he was settled on a towel in a small tank, covered with screening material and left (hopefully) to begin his recovery in the peace and quiet that descends overnight in our sick bay.

You never know from moment–to-moment what might happen at our hospital. We always do the very best that we can for each and every turtle no matter how many hours or dollars it may take. And we have to thank our visitors who pay admission, shop in our gift shop, adopt our patients and donate generously throughout the year for their support. It’s because of you that we can continue to provide the optimal level of care to turtles like little Semmel.

We always hope and pray for the best outcome because we refuse to seriously entertain the other option. And by the next morning this little fighter was still with us, making it clear that he had no intentions of going anywhere. He was officially christened “Semmel.” Semmel continues to amaze us with his recovery and we can tell from the look in his (now healed) eyes that he can’t wait to go home. But first he’ll get a stern talking-to from Jean about the importance of spending next winter in warmer waters.

If you want to see a lot of turtles and skip the really long lines that form in the summer now is the best time to visit. We’re open for tours on our short schedule of two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. until June. And please contact your local state representatives to ask them to support HB169 that would make our loggerheads the official saltwater reptile of North Carolina.


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