Our patients may not have calendars with “save the date” hanging in their tanks but they all seemed to sense that something special was happening very soon. Our volunteers spent the week prior to June 5 giving them extra pats on their carapaces, maybe sneaking a few extra squid into their breakfasts and saying their goodbyes. Then last Wednesday we loaded up 20 rehabilitated sea turtles and sent them back home to Mother Ocean.

Loggerheads ruled the release with two staff favorites “Big Guy” and “Dutchman” getting a ride down the beach on our turtle taxis along with many of the “Who” loggerheads that came in over the winter. They were followed by a bunch of the “Mayberry” greens who were making it increasingly clear that they were pretty much done with our hospital, and our hospitality. Lone Kemp’s “Kenny” rounded out the group. If that sounds like a lot of turtles it was, but we still have many more at the hospital scheduled to leave us over the next few months. Keep your eyes peeled and you may just find yourself on the beach as we crest a crossover with a turtle or two tucked under our flippers.

This week we spotlight intern Abby Hayes from Lansing, Michigan. Abby first met our director, Jean when she was 13-years-old and visited our hospital with the Surf Camp group. Surf Camp led to Abby enrolling in Sea Turtle Camp — twice. Abby moved from participant to camp counselor last year “because I wanted to experience what it was like to make an impact from that position.” Both programs are owned and operated by long-time hospital volunteer Jen Civelli and her husband, and it was Jen who encouraged Abby to apply for our internship.

Abby says that now she gets to do all the things she used to watch our staff do and especially likes feeding and the medical treatments: “The turtles are so happy to see you when you show up with a bowl of food! And treatments allow me to see the rehab process actually taking place. Every turtle is unique and responds differently.” As an athlete Abby’s had her share of injuries and says she can identify with some of the problems she sees in our patients. She is the main caretaker for Kemp’s “Maverick” who has a litany of serious issues. He’s not only a picky eater but still has a protocol of cold laser treatments, massage and supervised swim time in our therapy pool. Abby: “I’ve gone through a lot of rehab and I know how hard Maverick has had to work to get to where he is. And, Maverick observes everybody!”

Abby enjoys tours, meeting our visitors and talking about our turtles. “I love being able to educate people about how our patients end up here and their journey through rehab. I think people leave with a better respect for these animals and for the work done here at the hospital.” Abby feels strongly that teamwork and putting in lots and lots of hours is what makes our hospital so successful.

When Abby started listing her outside activities my fingers got tired writing them down, but they pretty much all revolve around being in and around the water and beaches. In August she will return to Coastal Carolina University as a rising senior majoring in Marine Science and heading up the Coastal Sea Turtle Club as President. She’s also involved in the Coastal Carolina Saltwater Anglers which promotes sustainable fishing practices and teaches kids how to fish. After graduation she hopes to continue working in rehab, ideally sea turtles, but also has a dream job of becoming a park ranger or game warden.

We’re rolling along on our summer tour schedule: we’re open daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. Lines can be long even early in the summer so prep for your visit by making sure that you are well hydrated and are wearing sunscreen. Many people bring an umbrella for shade if it’s a hot and sunny day. The tour lasts approximately one hour once you are inside. Hope to see you soon!


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