By Karen Sota
We’re all trying to figure out the best way to move forward during the continuing threat of Covid-19 and it’s presenting an enormous challenge to our hospital in many ways. Since our beginning decades ago, one constant on Topsail was our big release the first week of June. Sometimes we sent a handful of turtles home and other times we had so many ready to boogie that we had to spread it out over several days, or several weeks. Just a week ago we still had over seventy turtles in our care, with almost half of them cleared for blast-off. But how do you follow the Phase 2 rules about crowds and social distancing at an event that attracts hundreds of people?
These critters are just as frustrated being pent-up over the past months as many of us are, and they’re making it perfectly clear that they want out! And we desperately want to make that happen. Solution: “Turtle Flash Mob.” Only our version has less mob but more flash.
You won’t know where or when, even our staff doesn’t have all the details in advance because Jean makes the decision on any given morning based on weather and tides. As soon as we get the list we load up and head to a release point of our choosing. We’re spreading out all over the island, giving more people a chance to experience a release without the typical crowds and ropes. But we’re pretty stealthy so you have to BOLO and be lucky. We’re not showing up in our “dress blues” with the big identifying SEA TURTLE HOSPITAL lettering but it should be obvious that a group of people appearing on the beach fully clothed and wearing masks are not there for sunbathing and surfing. Look again and you’ll see we’re making a beeline to the surf with turtles in hand.
Visitors on the beach are loving it, and we love it. We can slow our walk because the turtles are not overstimulated by the crowds. We can spend a little more time chatting with people, answering their questions. It’s just a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone and it isn’t all over in just one day. If there is one positive thing about this virus it’s that it is forcing us to explore alternatives. This process just might be “our thing” going forward.
We’ll continue our flash mob releases over the summer as more and more patients are cleared by Dr. Harms. Sometimes it might be little ones, the greens or Kemp’s, but we’re sure to throw in a loggerhead or two, like “Lima Bean” who keeps raising her flipper to say “pick me.” Hint: she’s at the top of the list!
The last column mentioned the increasing number of anglers on the island, especially those fishing at the piers. Sure enough three turtles who had been hooked came in that week. If you happen to snag one of these critters who was out for an easy lunch the two most important things to remember are: 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 they have the contact information to ensure that the turtle gets the proper follow-up care at our hospital.
And nesting season continues so please continue to report any sea turtle sightings (nestings, strandings, injuries) to Terry Meyer @ 910-470-2880 or Jean Beasley @ 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.
Finally: when are we going to open again to the public? Not until the governor lifts the restrictions we’re under for the category we are in. So, June is pretty much out of the question. When we do open things will be very different; we will not be able to safely accommodate our “normal” summer attendance of 800-1,000 visitors per day. Stay tuned; watch here on our website and also on our Facebook pages for any updates.