We get a lot of support from turtle lovers all over the world but one of the longest and most unfailing relationships we have is with the Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati, Ohio. And this year intern Maria Woeste comes to us after serving an Aquatic Animal Husbandry internship with them last summer.

Maria says her primary work was caring for the touch tank exhibit of cow nose rays, including distributing their food during public feeding times. And just like some of our patients there was one high-maintenance lady named “Blondie” who had to be fed separately. “Blondie was the biggest ray there and she just liked food way too much!” She also tended to the critters living in the fresh water exhibits.

Maria is a Marine Biology major at Thomas More University and when she was exploring internships her mentor at the aquarium suggested she check into ours. She says that while some of the work is similar to what she was doing there our goal is clearly rehab and release. And the work is much harder, and the days much longer.

At our hospital she once again finds herself spending much of her time with a very special and demanding lady, loggerhead “Snooki.” Not only is Snooki one of our visitors’ favorites she’s the biggest turtle in Sea Turtle Bay. But Snooki is very, very particular about who she allows into her circle of caretakers. She checks out whoever is near her tank and if they’re not on her approved list she rolls her eyes and keeps going with a “see ya” splash from her flipper. Apparently Maria has gotten her stamp of approval as she is the one in charge of Miss Snooki’s feeding and medical treatments. Snooki demands calm and confident undivided attention while in her tank and Maria is the epitome of that.

Although Maria worked at the touch tank at the aquarium and was used to guests hanging out there “I was not prepared for the huge number of visitors we get on tour days! I’ve had to adapt quickly and I will say it has greatly improved my public speaking skills. I love it when someone asks a difficult question because it’s a challenge to answer it in a way that’s not only correct but is informational and inspires a love for all sea turtles.”

In just a few weeks Maria returns to school as a rising junior where she will assume the duties of Social Media Rep for the Marine Biology Club. She’s also active in the school’s Biology Club and the Blue and Green Environmental Club which plans and executes environmental service projects. “This internship has changed my perspective on how I view marine biology as a whole. It’s helped me grow in a lot of ways.” After graduation Maria hopes for a job in conservation and rehab, and envisions a future working with the larger marine animals like dolphins and sharks.

We’re into crossover season and the Topsail Turtle Project volunteers are burning the candle at both ends with nests in the morning and hatchings late into the night. As of this writing we have 156 nests and 8 hatches. Just looking at those numbers is exhausting for turtles and volunteers alike!

Tour schedule: we’re open daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. Lines can be long so prep for your visit by making sure that you are well hydrated and are wearing sunscreen. An umbrella can help provide shade if it’s a hot and sunny day. The tour lasts approximately one hour once you are inside. Come in and talk turtle with us!


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