By Karen Sota
We often use the term “sweet” when we talk about our patients. Although some of them may have a bad day every once in a while, there are many times when our turtles are literally sweet.
We’re always searching for ways to improve our rehabilitation protocols, especially when it comes to wound care. Years ago we started using honey on wounds that were resistant to the normal topical creams and ointments. Although we were not sure it would actually help it did. In fact, it worked wonders. The turtles could get a little sticky but that’s small price to pay for the rapid improvements we see.
So why honey? Maybe the story of recent admit “Pixie Dust” will answer that question. This little 3kg green came in from the Cape Lookout area on December 21 with a bunch of other cold-stuns. And if being almost frozen wasn’t bad enough she also had a large area of deep abrasions in the form of an arc on her plastron and other wounds typical of a shark bite. To add insult to injury, literally, she had sand in her eyes and was toting around a heavy load of barnacles. She was pitiful, and after a slow thaw was placed in the very critical section of Sick Bay.
Her treatment protocol has been long and involved, initially including freshwater soaks to kill the barnacles. She’s been given fluids, vitamins and antibiotics along with betadine bandage soaks. Once stable enough we started honey treatments on that nasty shark bite. Obviously, you can’t just spread honey on a turtle and put it back in a tank of water. For Pixie it meant spending time on her back in a pillow of soft, fluffy towels. Honey was spread on her wounds, and she was off to dreamland (currently for ten minutes) while it worked its magic. With a bit of coaxing she finally started to eat, at which point we knew that the little girl had a future. If you want to see what honey can do for wound healing just look at the pictures of her on the day she came in and now.
So, what makes honey so great, other than its taste? It has three main properties: it's antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It is acidic with a pH of between 3.2-4.5 and when applied to wounds encourages the hemoglobin to release oxygen which is critical to wound healing. It’s a sugar and sugar draws out the water in damaged tissues, reducing swelling. It also draws the water out of any bacterial cells and that keeps them from multiplying. And it’s completely safe for sea turtles.
Pixie Dust will be with us for a while, and the staff love to spoil her. She has a perfect name for a perfect example of the magic we do at our hospital.
We’re still admitting cold stuns like Pixie Dust. We really do rely on our locals and visitors to keep any eye out for victims of cold snaps. So, what do you do if you see a turtle that has washed up on the beach or in our marshy areas or is in the water floating motionlessly? First, don’t assume it is dead. They literally can’t move, maybe not even blink. Whether the turtle is big or small immediately call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. If the turtle is below the high tide line and in danger of washing out move it above the high tide line if you can do so safely. Ideally you should remain with the turtle until our trained volunteers arrive to retrieve it. If that is not possible find a way to indicate the location of the turtle on the beach by drawing large arrows in the sand or placing beach debris nearby. 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 turtles at KBSTRRC and on Topsail Island is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 23ST05.
We are officially closed to the public right now, but have tentative plans to re-open for limited days beginning in March. Check out the Visit page on our website for any updates Our gift shop is open year-round online so you can still find all kinds of cool turtle-themed merchandise, much of it exclusive to us. And if you’re looking for something for those impossible-to-buy-for relatives and friends, consider adopting one of our patients.