By Karen Sota
It’s been a busy summer with patients of various sizes and species cycling through our hospital. Many of them have been incidental catches from coastal waters and depending on where, or how many hooks were involved they’ve been short-timers ready to go home after a few days of TLC and breakfast.
When a small Kemp’s arrived from Oak Island with a hook in her mouth we thought, dang, another one. Our Director, Kathy Z., easily removed the hook, but “Limeapalooza” looked to be in a bit worse shape than the other turtles who had come and gone. She was on the thin side and dehydrated. She was given subcutaneous fluids and then housed in a tank with lower salinity containing more fresh water than we normally use for our turtles. The water with less salt would be absorbed through her skin and help restore her blood chemistry values to more typical levels. But even after she “plumped up” following hydration therapy she was still too skinny for us to feel comfortable about sending her home too quickly.
Limeapalooza’s initial breakfast was a healthy portion of fish and squid, but typical of our Kemp’s she let us know very quickly that fish was “icky” and only squid was an acceptable menu item. They have a way of training us. So, squid it is, and she was eating like a champ. And after three days she had a surprise for us.
This gal was enjoying her daily swim in the therapy pool when our staff noticed something trailing behind her, something purple. Her swim was rudely interrupted and when she was brought out for an exam it was obvious that all that squid had been effective in moving a balloon, with ribbon, through her tiny digestive tract. If ever our visitors who happened to be there that day wondered where ocean trash goes they got an up-close, very up-close answer. Limeapalooza had her butt exposed to the crowd while Kathy gently tugged to extract as much of this garbage as she could. When she encountered some resistance, the ribbon was cut and taped to Limeaplooza’s carapace to prevent what was coming next from getting tangled. Limeapalooza was served a second helping of squid rings and was moved to a larger tank where more activity would help the remainder of the ribbon pass through without problems. At the end (literally) the balloon and ribbon measured around thirty inches. In the ocean that balloon looked like her favorite food, so she ate it. It might be the reason she was underweight; she didn’t feel hungry because she had a gut full of trash. If it had not passed that little gal may have never eaten again and starved to death. Balloons might be pretty floating through the air. But they eventually land and can be deadly to wildlife. There are other ways to celebrate.
Our hospital has been officially awarded certification as an Ocean Friendly Establishment (OFE). OFEs commit to eco-conscience practices and must demonstrate at least one major way of reducing single-use plastics. We do not offer water and other beverages in plastic bottles and our drinking fountains dispense filtered water for refilling reusable containers. We long ago eliminated plastic bags and Styrofoam for gift shop purchases; we recycle everything that is allowable. Water in Sea Turtle Bay is cleaned and recirculated back to the tanks, and our hospital volunteers participate in beach clean-ups. Topsail Turtle Project volunteers consistently carry a bag to pick up beach trash during their morning walks. And we have a large display in our education hall showing ways that plastic affects all living creatures. We are proud to display our certification seal and encourage you to support the OFEs in our coastal communities. Visit https://www.oceanfriendlyest.com/ for a list of participants.
We’re getting into cross-over season on the beach. The mamas are still arriving to nest but some of our earlier nests are getting close to hatching. We can’t tell you where or when it will happen. 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 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.
Our public tour schedule through the month of July is Mon – Fri, Noon-4; Saturday, 10-2, and Sunday Noon-2. 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. Please keep in mind that summer traffic can be very heavy, especially on the weekends so plan your arrival accordingly. If you are coming only to our gift shop (not for a tour) you can enter through the single door to the left of the main entrance.