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  • Writer's pictureStar Sota

Sea Turtle Hospital News

Sometimes you’re at the right place at the right time, especially during nesting season here on Topsail. As luck would have it, after my twenty-three years with the hospital I’m fairly fluent in basic sea turtle and I got the interview of the year! I caught up with a mama loggerhead as she finished flinging the last few flippers of sand on her nest. Needing a few minutes to catch her breath before heading back to the ocean she agreed to be interviewed, under an assumed name.

Karen Sota: Madame X, I'm really happy that you're able to spend a few minutes with me. I know you're probably very tired.

Madame X: Just finding my way back here to my natal beach was exhausting, and it gets harder every time.

KS: Why?

MX: First of all, I have to dodge all the sharks and boats. So, I get here, and I'm just stunned-stunned! I'm thinking, "Have I gone way off course? What's with all the buildings, and what happened to all the wide, sandy beaches and great dunes?" I can understand why you humans want to live on the water, but how about sharing! And while I'm venting: why do you turn on spotlights at night? Wouldn't you rather look at the stars?

KS: Wow. You seem quite disturbed, and maybe a little sad. Between development, hurricanes, erosion and our cavalier attitude towards the environment, life gets harder by the minute for you sea turtles. But you still managed to lay quite an impressive nest there.

MX: I'm pretty proud of it. I counted 106 eggs. You know this my second crawl tonight? The first time I started to dig a nest, the dune collapsed on me. So I headed back to the water and swam a few hundred yards up the beach. I finally spotted the perfect place. Good sand, well above the high tide level. But the trip was a nightmare.

KS: What happened?

MX: At 375 pounds, I'm what you might call a "healthy" girl. Dragging all that weight up the beach on flippers is tough work. Just look at how deep my tracks are. But that's not the worst thing. It's really dark tonight and I fell into a hole that somebody dug in the sand. What's the deal with that? Even I know that when I dig a hole I'm supposed to fill it back in so nobody falls and gets hurt. I'm really lucky that I was able to crawl out without the stress and exertion making me lose my eggs.

KS: I'm so sorry that happened to you. But you obviously didn't give up.

MX: I couldn't. There are so few of us mature, dating ladies left out there. You know very well the survival rate for hatchlings: about 1 in 10,000. When you're that "1" you have a lot of responsibility on your carapace. I had to find some nice strong guys, get all my eggs fertilized and get them tucked safely away in the sand, pronto. This is my third, and last, nest this year. I won't be back for another two to three years. So you see, if we ladies just give up, it's bye-bye Caretta caretta. By the way, one of your former patients, Honey, sends his regards. What a hunk!

KS: Yes, he was quite the man, despite the unfortunate name we gave him. Would you mind telling me your age?

MX: Not at all. I'm 39 and proud of it. I've earned every scar on my scutes and every nip on my flippers in my constant fight to survive. See that beauty mark back there? Shark, August 2001- barely escaped that time. I laid my first nest here about seven years ago, and I didn't have my mama holding my flipper telling me what to do. I had to figure it out all by myself.

KS: And once your babies hatch they'll have to do the same thing. They'll get no help from mom. How do you feel about that?

MX: I try not to think about the millions of perils they'll face. As far as never getting to know them, in a way I'm kind of glad. Even if there were a Hallmark store at sea, I certainly don't have the money I'd need to send them all birthday cards. Of course it would be nice to get a present (or two, or three, or 500) on Mother's Day.

KS: I can see you're getting a little dehydrated and probably want to get back home. Any final comments?

MX: Where do I start? First of all, thanks to all the Topsail Turtle Project volunteers who find and mark our nests, keep them safe and sit on the beach at night making sure our kids get to the surf. Thanks to everybody at the hospital. I meet so many turtles that got a second chance because you cared. And even though all our babies are precious, it's the old gals like me who are really valuable. I'm not bragging, but we're the survivors. As long as we can depend on you being there if we get sick or injured I still hold out some hope for our future.

KS: Thanks again Madame X.

MX: Bon voyage. See you in a few years, hope!

Our tour schedule for June and July is seven days a week: Mon – Fri, 12-4; Saturday 11-3 and Sunday 11-2. Tickets must be purchased in advance through our website www.seaturtlehospital.org. You can visit the gift shop during those hours without taking the tour. NOTE: The town is working on Charlie Medlin Drive for the next few months and frankly, it’s a mess. Please plan accordingly so you’re on time for your tour. The road is subject to major flooding and may close during heavy rain. In that case you must access our hospital by an alternate route through the back gate behind the Surf City Community Center. That gate will be open only if Charlie Medlin Dr. is closed.

In addition to hooked and debilitated turtles, keep your eyes peeled for nesting mothers and turtle tracks. If you come across any sick, injured or nesting turtles 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. 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.


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