By Karen Sota
Ready or not, we’re about to march into the summer just hoping for the best. At the hospital we’re moving into a trifecta of sorts, dealing with three important aspects of our mission pretty much at the same time.
Our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers report that the nesting mamas have officially arrived with the first two nests of 2020 being laid on North Topsail. Since sea turtle ladies do not generally nest every year, there’s really no way to predict this year’s activity based on last year’s spectacular season. It’s very early in the game, with nesting continuing through August, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited about seeing these magnificent gals returning to our beaches. Keep your eyes peeled for turtle tracks, and if you’re lucky for an actual sighting of mom. Just remember to “social distance” from her, respect the process and marvel that there’s still something to celebrate in this world gone mad. And please, please do not dig cavernous holes in our beaches. Not only can they entrap sea turtles and break bones if somebody falls into them, but they erode the sand that has just been restored after the devastation caused by hurricane Flo and normal storm erosion.
Just as our staff was beginning to recover from a winter of record-breaking triple digit number of turtles under our care, we’re reminded that it ain’t over till it’s over. We continue to admit these pitiful critters, recently with five arriving in a matter of a few days. Most of these are little greens, but we did get in two beautiful, large loggerheads that unfortunately did not make it even with our exceptional efforts. Losing these large turtles is especially heartbreaking; they survived incredible odds just to get to that point in their lives. One thing we do is never give up on any turtle, but sometimes the turtle makes the decision.
And now that the island is opening up again the piers are filling with anglers ready to get back to fishing. And where there’s bait there are hungry turtles looking for an easy lunch. And for some reason, it’s always those darn the Kemp’s. Once the word gets out that there’s easy pickings they start to come in fast and furious. Last year they were being snagged so quickly that we no sooner got one in, “de-hooked” and settled in a tank than we’re getting another phone call with one or more en-route. Veteran anglers pretty much know the drill by now, but if it’s your first close-up with a hooked turtle 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.
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.
Now, what you really want to know: when can you visit. Short answer is we just don’t know yet. Our governor has just now moved us into a modified Phase 2 so everybody is trying to sort out just what that means. We will open for tours when we can meet all the requirements and be sure that we can do it safely for staff and visitors. 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 on our Facebook pages for any updates.