By Karen Sota
We’re always ready to talk turtle. And during 2022 we had plenty to talk about. Last year we admitted the highest number of turtles in our history – 119. And that number doesn’t include the patients we had on site at the beginning of the year - making a total of 140 turtles cared for in 2022. To say we were exceptionally busy would be an understatement. And although turtles are our focus there’s a lot of public engagement and behind the scenes activity that must happen, too.
Last year our staff devoted countless hours welcoming visitors for tours. We opened early in the year and were open more days than ever before. We now have an attractive portico to keep you all out of the sun and rain. We reworked our education hall exhibits with lots of cool visuals and a variety of videos. We added a “search for the turtles” scavenger hunt and coloring page for kids along with a box of special shells they could pick from upon completion. And the gift shop – just wow! We took it down to the walls and totally rebuilt it not only with display structures but with so much new turtle-themed merchandise it will make your head spin. We focused on keeping with our mission of conservation in selecting products, many of which are exclusive to us and support local artisans.
But we didn’t stop with the hall. In October all on-site patients were temporarily relocated to other areas in the hospital while we undertook a much-needed rehab in Sea Turtle Bay. New energy-efficient lighting, rust repair and mitigation and the resurfacing of floors that were definitely showing signs of a decade of turtle care. The contracted work was completed on schedule and the critical time-consuming job of reconfiguring and replumbing tanks by our life support team began. Little by little the patients were moved back in, with a few of them getting tanks with a million-dollar view – a window. And we added information sheets about each of them along the railings so you can keep track of your photos during your tour.
We have some exciting things planned for 2023, but with almost seventy patients currently in various stages of rehab we can’t really tell you when we’ll be able to open for tours again. The staff arrives in the dark and leaves in the dark. Most of these turtles are cold-stuns and some look like long-term cases. We’re hoping that we don’t get another week like the one that brought all these guys and gals in, but it is still technically winter.
We rely on our locals and visitors to keep any eye our 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 for the year. Depending on our patient load we may be able to open for tours sporadically after the first of the year. 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.