The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington, North Carolina aids injured turtles and protects the nests and hatchlings on Topsail Islands. Volunteers work year around to preserve the habitat of the sea turtles and shares the inner workings of the center on public tours. Approximately 20 turtles are housed at the facility at any given time, and are released back into the wild when they become healthy enough to survive on their own.
A small group of like-minded volunteers gathered on Topsail Beach in 1996 with a single goal in mind – saving the sea turtles. Karen Beasley was the driving force behind the establishment of a rescue and rehabilitation center to care for sea turtles on the Cape Fear Coast. After Miss Beasley’s untimely death, her mother Jean, picked up the torch and carried her daughter’s dream into the next century.
Due to the efforts and donations of the Beasley family, community and visitors an organized association was formed. A sea turtle dubbed “Lucky” was the first patient for the burgeoning group of volunteers. After extensive rehabilitation and tender loving care, “Lucky” was finally able to once again roam the ocean. Although the group was overjoyed that “Lucky” was back where he belonged, they wondered where other injured sea turtles would go for care and hopefully an eventual release back into the wild.
The government of Topsail Beach offered to rent the group a Banks Channel area lot to build a permanent care facility. Planning began to garner funds to place a building on the lot, but two back-to-back hurricanes put the plans on hold. In 1997 plans for a care facility resumed. In June of the same year three native North Carolina sea turtles were set to arrive from Sea World Orlando. The group jumped at the opportunity to lend a hand, and began preparing for the new guests. An outdoor rescue and rehabilitation center was created and became the temporary new home of “Corey,” “Huffy” and “Karen.”
Beasley group volunteers continued to comb the seashore monitoring sea turtle nests while ensuring that the new hatchlings made is safely into the water during their nighttime treks. The sounds of hammering drew attention and donations from both vacationers and the community as site preparations for the center got underway. Near the end of 1997, a 900 square foot rescue and rehabilitation center opened its’ doors to both turtles in need and the public. Louis Orr and his children donated his former home to serve as office space and intern housing.
“Casa Tortuga” features a flow through exchange system for water to each turtle tank. During winter months the water pumped in from the nearby sound is heated for the comfort and health of the sea turtles. The center also features a room for examination of the turtles and space for medical instruments and supplies. A wooden footbridge leads out to the water and canopies housing tanks and educational areas.
The staff and volunteers of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center provide educational services in addition to turtle and nest care. The facility is also a learning venue for biology, veterinary and wildlife conservation students. Daily care of about 20 turtles entrails the tank cleaning, water monitoring, meeting the strict dietary needs of the sea creatures and facilitating public tours. College interns spent five and a half days a week caring for the sea turtles and sharing their knowledge with center visitors. Interns also learn how to identify turtle tracks in the sand, documenting hatchling data and how to relocate egg nests if necessary.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles leave the ocean to next up to five times per year. From My through August a female turtle will lay up to 120 eggs per nest. After the 60 day incubation period, the baby turtles instinctively race to the water. Young turtles must seek the cover of see weed for protection from birds and large fish. Only one in every 1,000 hatchlings reach their first birthday.
A transmitter safely attached to the sea turtles shell allows the creature to be tracked after release back into the wild. Information garnered from the transmitter sheds light on not only the location of the turtle, but information diving habits.
Public interactive tours of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center occur every weekday during afternoon hours. Visitors will see both recovering adult turtles and learn about turtle care through hands-on activities. A gift shop offers keepsake items from the visit, with the proceeds going to aid in the care of the turtles and maintenance of the facility. Visitors can even “adopt” a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, providing funds for the creatures continued care. Depending upon the amount donated, adoptive “parents” receive an “adoption certificate,” photo of the turtle, stuffed sea turtle, turtle stickers, a hat or backpack, ecological guide and information car and a monthly newsletter about the ongoing efforts at the “Sea Turtle Hospital.”