By Karen Sota
With nesting season officially over, there are no more visits by turtle mamas until next year. From now on, hatchlings and our rehabilitated patients are outbound and headed to their preferred wintering waters.
Recently four turtles were released after undergoing complete examinations by Dr. Harms and the four fourth-year vet students who spent a few weeks with us. Each student was assigned several turtles as their case studies and did everything from help us with food prep, cleaning, and treatments to blood draws and radiographs. In two instances they provided a beauty treatment for Snooki and Lennie. In the ocean, Snooki and Lennie would be chowing down on crustaceans that would keep their beaks from overgrowing. But since we do not have a regular supply of oysters, clams, conch, and other crunchy stuff their beak can get big and raggedy. So how do you fix that? A PVC pipe to keep their mouth open (without biting us) and a Dremel with a grinding bit to smooth out the edges of their beaks. It probably annoys them but does not hurt them in any way.
After every turtle in our hospital was examined from beak to tail scute and scale three greens, Bittersweet, Eggplant, and Key Lime Pearl, and one Kemp’s, Antique Gray, were handed their swimming papers. It’s tradition that we let the vet students be the ones who get to release their patients. On a bright and sunny Thursday, we loaded everybody into our van and headed to a nearby beach access where only a handful of visitors were enjoying their day. By the time we unloaded the last turtle from the van the beach had filled up with about a hundred people who seemed to materialize out of thin air. There is no denying that these critters possess some kind of magic that instinctively draws people to them.
Our volunteers carried the lucky turtles up and down the rows for a final photo op before the three greens were handed off to the vet students who carried them into the surf and set them free. Antique Gray was lowered to the sand where she looked around for a final farewell before putting her flippers into gear and heading for the waves. She was a stunningly beautiful Kemp’s, and her coloring was quite unusual. She was truly antique gray.
Although our patient load is lighter, typical for this time of year, we still have a few more turtles who just missed the cut but should be willing to go before we close for tours in mid-October. Check our Facebook page in the coming weeks for any updates on their release.
Hospital tours ending soon. During September we will be open Thursday through Saturday from 11 AM – 2 PM. October 1st though the 15th tours are Friday and Saturday from 11 AM – 2 PM. You must schedule and purchase your tickets in advance for a specific day and time through our website Visit page. We will be closed October 16th through November 30th for an extensive renovation of our Sea Turtle Bay area and other facility upgrades
Nests are still hatching, and we are still admitting larger turtles for various illnesses and injuries so please continue to be our additional eyes for any hatchings or turtles in distress of any kind. With nests hatching all over the island it would be easy to miss one of the little guys who didn’t hear the alarm clock and leave the nest with his siblings. If you find a hatchling on the beach carefully pick it up and put it in a small container with some sand and a small amount of water - barely cover the flippers. With this continuing heat it’s important that the little critter not bake in the sun for hours. Then call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and one of our area coordinators will meet you to retrieve the hatchling and refer it to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. All conservation work for endangered sea turtle at KBSTRRC and on Topsail Island is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
The second annual Surf to Sound 5K on September 17, 2022 was a tremendous success, welcoming over 500 registrants and raising over $14,000 to help the turtles! We are grateful to the participants, the sponsors, and the organizers. Thank you!
Thank you to our Generous Sponsors!
The Surf to Sound 5K welcomes everyone, from experienced runners, to occasional joggers, to those simply looking for a fun walk across the Surf City Bridge. It's the perfect event to celebrate the landscape, businesses and community that make up Hampstead, Topsail Island, and Surf City. And, know that you are helping to save endangered sea turtles while doing so! Participants start in Soundside Park, then head across the Surf City Bridge and back to the island, while taking in the Topsail Sound and views of the Atlantic Ocean for 3.1 miles.
Stay tuned for the third annual Surf to Sound 5K on September 16, 2023!
For information or to view photos from past events, visit: https://runsignup.com/Race/NC/SurfCity/SurftoSound5K.
By Karen Sota
Nesting season officially ended on August 31st. But even though your chances of seeing a mama nesting are pretty much gone there is another component of the circle of life that’s just as interesting and done early in the evening – a nest analysis.
A minimum of seventy-two hours after the main hatch Topsail Turtle Project volunteers gently begin excavating the nest and removing the contents. So, what’s likely to be in there after the main hatch? Shells of turtles that have successfully hatched; unhatched eggs; live hatchlings (the ones that didn’t hear the alarm and slept through the main hatch or had difficulty making their way out on their own) and sadly, deceased turtles.
Contents are carefully separated and the process of collecting and recording data for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission begins. They count the number of hatched shells, which is different from the emerged number. A hatched shell does not necessarily mean the baby made it out alive. That can happen for several reasons: over-washing or compacting from a heavy rain or high tides or predatory activity by an opportunistic crab. The unhatched shells are examined and candled to see if they might still be viable. If it’s determined that there is a possibility of it hatching
successfully it’s carefully set aside for safe reburial. All remaining contents are returned to the egg chamber and buried.
An analysis is a terrific opportunity for visitors to learn more about our sea turtles and to ask questions in a more relaxed atmosphere and you’re welcome to join the group.
Please continue to be our additional eyes for any very late nesting mamas, hatchings or turtles in distress of any kind. With nests hatching all over the island it would be easy to miss one of the little guys who didn’t hear the alarm clock and leave the nest with his siblings. If you find a hatchling on the beach carefully pick it up and put it in a small container with some sand and a small amount of water - barely cover the flippers. With this continuing heat it’s important that the
little critter not bake in the sun for hours. Then call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and one of our area coordinators will meet you to retrieve the hatchling and refer it to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea
turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
Hospital fall tour schedule. Through October 15th we will be open Thursday through Saturday from 11 AM – 2 PM. You must schedule and purchase your tickets in advance for a specific day and time through the Visit page on our website. Visit us soon, because we will be closed for most of 2022 for extensive facility maintenance in our Sea Turtle Bay area. And many of our patients are completing their rehab and are just waiting for Dr. Harms to issue their release papers.
By Karen Sota
We enjoy all aspects of our work at our hospital. We’re intimately involved with every turtle that comes through our building, whether they’re with a us a few days or several years. But the best part of our work is the day we get to send them home. On an overcast, humid morning three of our fully rehabilitated patients got their second chance at a long and happy turtle life.
Kemp’s ridley “Turtledove” stranded in November of 2021 as one of the colds stuns that frequently get caught off-guard when the waters in New England take a dramatic dip in temperature. Turtledove arrived at our facility along with the other “Twelve Days of Christmas” (named for the second day in that Christmas classic), anemic and weighing barely two pounds. With her healthy appetite and TLC she bulked up to an amazing ten pounds by the time we paraded her in front of a cheering crowd of a thousand turtle fans who lined the beach. Once she was set down she literally put all four flippers in gear and with a little more speed might have managed to get airborne by the time she reached the surf. We have never seen a sea turtle move that fast on land.
Two juvenile loggerheads, both from local waters were on deck waiting not so patiently for their trip down to the shore on our turtle taxi. “Pammie” was rescued 9/28 of last year in Swansboro, suffering from a boat strike. From the start it was obvious that she was a real people turtle. You couldn’t walk past her without her head popping up with a big smile on her face. We realized, of course that she was just hoping that we had food, and with a weight gain of twenty-five pounds during her time with us it appears it was more than just hope. Pammie was carried into the surf where she rocketed away.
Finally it was “Sahara Desert’s” turn. A relative short-timer she was picked up on Topsail by our staff on 6/20 after we received a call that she had ingested a fishhook. If a turtle is lunching on bait we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to check by radiograph to make sure there are not multiple hooks that we don’t know about. Sahara was transported to CMAST in Morehead City for evaluation where the veterinary team removed a hook from her esophagus. She returned to us, appetite intact and on the short-list for release. She was a beauty, and the crowd was very excited to get a few pics when we asked her to slow walk the last few yards to the waves.
Back at the ranch we still have quite a few turtles who are waiting for Dr. Harms’ next visit and those all-important release papers. That’s coming up shortly when he brings arrives with his fourth-year students for an intensive two weeks in all things sea turtle. Mid October will be your last chance to visit us before we close for crucial maintenance and re-configuration In our Sea Turtle Bay area. Check our website for more information.
The turtle mamas are off the clock at the end of August and now the focus in on those babies that have been incubating in the sand over the summer. We can’t tell you where or when a nest will hatch. Honest. Those little critters come out when they’re good and ready and we don’t get advance notice. It’s a matter of luck to be there for a boil. If you miss the hatch you might be able to catch a nest analysis which is done three days after the hatch. Volunteers excavate and analyze the contents which just might include a late rising hatchling or two that missed the alarm. If you spot a nesting mama, see hatchlings emerging or see anything unusual such as an injured or stranded turtle please call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222 . We will take the information and we will send a trained volunteer to meet you to assess the situation. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
Tours during September through mid-October will be Thursday – Saturday from 11 AM – 2 PM. After that we will close through November for facility maintenance. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance through the Visit page on our website. Select the date, time and the number of guests in your party and purchase your tickets. We limit the number of guests for each time to make the experience more enjoyable and safer as we still contend with Covid. Sorry, but we are not able to accommodate walk-ups for tours once we sell out for the day. Please note that if our surrounding counties experience an increase in Covid cases we may require masks for everyone over the age of three, no exceptions. Check the website for current masking requirements when buying your tickets. Construction traffic on Charlie Medlin Drive can sometimes result in delays in getting to our hospital so please plan accordingly. Our gift shop is open to the public during tour hours.