New, larger space for sea turtle rescues opens on NC coast

kcharles@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2014 

  • If you go

    What: The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

    Where: 302 Tortuga Lane, off Charlie Medlin Drive, Surf City.

    Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. every day except Sundays and Wednesdays. For more information, call 910-329-0222. The center is always looking for more volunteers.

— There was a time when the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center had tanks in the bathroom of a 900-square-foot center.

Now, almost 60 tanks fit comfortably in a new 13,000-square-foot facility.

“I know just from the tours that there wasn’t much room,” said Heidi Zynda, a volunteer at the center, about the previous location.

The new facility opens to the public Thursday. It has an observation deck that allows visitors to see the surgery room and sick bay from surrounding windows. Once visitors pass the sick bay, they can go through a door that will give them limited access into sea turtle bay.

Of the new amenities, the chance to care for turtles at the rehab center is the most exciting to Jean Beasley, 78, founder and director.

“We now have the ability to take X-rays and do minor surgeries on the turtles,” she said.

Before the new facility, turtles had to be transported to the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State University, for both minor and major surgeries.

“That round trip over to Raleigh used to be very stressful on the turtles,” Beasley said. “Now we can do the simplest of surgeries, like a minor hook removal, from right here.”

The $1.5 million facility was built from the ground up with private funding. Land, site planning and even the medical equipment inside the center was donated by a number of people and organizations.

“After the real estate crash, the donated land was valued at $225,000, and the site engineering would have cost around $75,000 to $150,000 if the manpower was not donated,” Beasley said. “It’s all funded by fundraisers, like kids with lemonade stands, private donations and our state-approved official sea turtle license plate.”

In sea turtle bay, about 30 tanks fill the room. Some are as small as an infant’s bathtub while others are as large as an inflatable pool that could hold seven people comfortably.

“It’s much nicer than the old facility,” said Zynda, standing next to “Shellie,” one of her favorite turtles.

The sick bay, the part of the center that houses all the turtles in recovery, has at least 25 small tanks and two large tanks that house the bigger turtles in the room. The recovery room also has a large rectangular therapy pool that the turtles swim in.

Last Saturday, the doors to the building were opened to volunteers, interns and donors at a special ribbon-cutting ceremony.

For several days before Thursday’s opening, volunteers packed in 4-by-4 trucks to head to the beach with sea turtles for release into the water. Smaller turtles were wrapped in wet towels and held by volunteers sitting in the back of the trucks. Bigger turtles were placed in a large harness with towels on top.

At Monday’s release, hundreds of people gathered from the sand to the water. Most of the turtles were set free in the water, but a few were released on the sand and were able to walk into the water and swim away.

“I wanted my children to see it,” said Grace Roberts of Surf City. She brought two of her three children to watch the release. “I wanted them to see the major thing our island does.”

Some volunteers began tearing up at the beach.

“We care and make a connection with the turtles,” Beasley said. “And to know that you will not see them anymore can be rough.”

Charles: 919-829-4864

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