It’s not easy to ignore the siren song of our patients. Often it starts out with only one volunteer from a family signing on, but quickly a second, third or even more of them are cleaning tanks, treating wounds and educating our visitors during tours. Long-time volunteer Sandy Sly has been working with both our beach program and our hospital since their inception. And it didn’t take long for her late husband Jim to become her wing man, or more accurately her “squid man” — among other things.

The Slys started coming to Topsail in 1974, and Jim’s love of fishing found him on the Surf City Pier for hours. Sandy recalls having him leave the house before sun-up and not coming back until late evening, with Sandy making several food runs during the day so he could continue his unrelenting pursuit for king mackerel from the edge of the pier. Over time Jim and his pals became known as the “king fishermen” — feared by the mackerel but loved by everybody else on the pier who sought and received their guidance and expertise. And when Jim didn’t have a rod in his hand, he was often on a mission to pick up the thousands of pounds of fish and squid we needed to feed our patients. Sometimes Jim popped in by himself, but more often than not it was Jim and Sandy on another errand for the turtles.

A lot of things have changed on Topsail since the 70s, but fishing has always been the island “industry.” As the area’s reputation grew more and more lines went into the water and there were more interactions with the sea turtles who frequent our shores. Jim had seen (both at our hospital and on the pier) what could happen when hook and line meet turtle. Over the decades he was a “first responder” when a turtle was hooked or snagged from the pier, carefully working to get the critter in while instructing anybody watching the process in the correct way to handle the situation. He would explain the dos and don’ts of hook extractions, where to cut the line, how to secure it to the turtle to avoid further damage and just administer general first aid until he could get the turtle into his car and into our care. Jim knew the dangers that discarded fishing gear posed not only for sea turtles but for all marine creatures and shore birds. He spoke plainly and from experience and wore his passion for the ocean proudly.

When Jim died last year the Topsail Turtle Project volunteers who covered the area around the pier found a fitting way to remember his contributions not only to our hospital but to the environment. Led by area coordinator Pam Refosco they purchased a clever little fishing line disposal station that sits near one of Jim’s favorite spots to go after the kings. The station is dedicated to Jim, and Sandy believes that he would be thrilled to know that it’s collected a lot of line that would otherwise have been tossed into the ocean. And we’re sending big flipper hugs to pier owner Edwin Lore for his participation in this memorial to Jim.

Hospital closed for tours

If you missed visiting us the last eight months we were open for tours, well, you missed visiting us because our last day was Dec. 17. A big “Snookie-sized” thank you to all of our friends who came, saw and donated this year. So whether you dropped money into our jars, shopped in our gift shop, signed up for our Family Giving Challenge or Memorial Wall, redirected your birthday or wedding money, made an honor or memorial donation, had a fundraiser or lugged in your pennies in a zip-lock bag, we thank you from every scute on our carapaces.

If you’re looking for hospital or turtle themed gifts you can still browse our website,, year-round for our exclusive hospital T-s and other items.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at This column will appear every other week until spring.


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