Picture Sea Turtles Swimming Free

October 2, 2014 – Surf City, North Carolina


Those of you who follow “Picture The South” may recall our July 2014 visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City, North Carolina.


We were amazed by that trip on so many levels!  Obviously by the beautiful and impressive animals which are under treatment and rehabilitative care in this facility; but even more so by the team of incredible volunteers who make it all happen!

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Sadly, there are some animals at the Beasley Center who have been too badly injured to ever again survive in the wild.  The over-riding goal of this (and any wildlife rehabilitation center) is to treat and eventually return as many animals as possible into their native habitat.   After being saddened to see so many of these beautiful and endangered creatures injured due to human activities; we have hoped for an opportunity to see some of them return home.

So I was pretty excited to see a “tweet” around lunchtime today that not one, but TWO turtles were scheduled to be returned to the sea around 4pm.  If I ever needed an excuse to “play hooky” from work, this was it! (sorry boss, I owe you one!)  I wrapped up a couple of open work items, grabbed my camera, and headed toward Surf City.

I arrived at about 3:30pm.  Even though this release had only been announced a few hours earlier, a crowd was already starting to gather at the release point.  Tall and short, young and old, thick and thin, dark and pale – a diverse group of people coming together to share in the joyous event of these beautiful creatures going home.



A number of people were spending this early Autumn afternoon fishing – either on the Surf City Pier, or set up fishing in the surf.  I hope they all filled their coolers!  Soon, we will also be doing our part to contribute to the bait shop’s bottom line.


While we waited for the “guests of honor” we enjoyed some aerial entertainment; courtesy of a flock of modern-day pterodactyls, or Brown Pelicans.


We were also treated to a beach side fly-by, courtesy of our US Marine Corps neighbors to the north at Camp Lejeune North Caroline.    There was a pair of these birds and a V-22 Osprey trailing, but the others were practically lost in the haze offshore.

DSCN7017As 4pm came and went, the crowd was starting to get a bit anxious.  “Has the release been cancelled”?  “Was there a problem transporting the turtles from the Rehab Center to the release point”?

Just in case anyone got any strange ideas about “turtle soup”; there were plenty of Center volunteers to keep the turtles safe!  And backed up with the local constabulary.  But the assembled crowd was well-behaved, and our chaperons seemed to be having a good time too!

DSCN7035About 4:30pm, a rush of excitement rippled through the gathered crowd.  The turtles are coming!  When Jean Beasley, Executive Director of the Rehabilitation Center, makes her appearance – you know something good is about to happen!



First up, is “Nova”, a Green sea turtle  (Chelonia mydas).   Nova became a patient at the Beasley Center in January 2014, after being injured by fishing gear.





Nova is obviously just as juvenile, as Green Sea Turtles can grow to 5 feet across, and weigh up to 700 pounds!  “Greenies” are more herbivorous than most sea turtles,  though juveniles will often eat crab, sponges and jellyfish.  Perhaps this is why she mistook a fish-hook for dinner?

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Green Sea Turtles are found worldwide, in an area approximately 25 degrees both north and south of the equator, and are known to nest in this area.   Warm waters of the Gulf Stream occasionally entices them further north toward Europe as well.

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While Nova appears to be enjoying the attention from the crowd cheering her on, she is also a bit impatient to get back home, to the open waters of the Atlantic.


Fare thee well, Nova!   Swim safely across the waters, and come back to visit us when it is time for you to nest!


After we had sent Nova on her way, it was time for “Caswell” to make his appearance!   Caswell is a Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), who has been at the Beasley Center since May 2014.  Caswell also fell victim to fishing gear.  (are you starting to see a sad pattern here?)

DSCN7129Kemp’s Ridley’s are among the smallest of the sea turtles, averaging about 2 feet across and up to 70 pounds upon reaching adulthood.   So Caswell is probably not quite grown, but getting there!


Kemp’s Ridley’s are also among the most endangered of our remaining sea turtles.  Some studies estimate there are perhaps fewer than 1000 breeding females left.  So it is especially satisfying to see this one rehabilitated, and on its way home!  It was also heartwarming to see the fascination in the faces of both young and young at heart.

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Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles prefer shallow waters, and are found in the Gulf of Mexico, up the US coastline to Nova Scotia; and from North Africa to Europe across the Atlantic.   They subsist primarily on crabs and shellfish, but occasionally will eat jellyfish and opportunistic prey.  They’ll have a little seaweed salad on occasion as well.

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I don’t know the young man on the right – but I know that look!  I was about that same age when I started to become fascinated with wildlife in general, and reptiles in particular.  I hope he never loses that sense of wonder for the natural world around him.

But Caswell has had his moment of fame, and now it is time for him to go home!   He looks as if he is ready to fly toward the waves, and freedom.

DSCN7178With a final wave of his flipper to the appreciative crowd, Caswell returns to the Atlantic.  Swim fast, swim free!

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By my estimation, approximately 300 people were on hand to witness the release of these two magnificent marine reptiles.   After Caswell was gently placed in the waves, the crowd started to disperse – but slowly!  Many of us were watching the waves; hoping for one last “flipper wave goodbye” before these denizens of the deep moved off to find their place in their ocean home.

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As expected, the volunteer staff of the Beasley Center were among the last to leave.  Including Executive Director, Jean Beasley – who was still coordinating activities with her staff and greeting friends.  It is clear from her look that these occasions are both joyful and bittersweet.   We thank you Jean, for all that you do on behalf of these beloved animals!

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Would you like to help the sea turtles?


Here are a few quick, easy and inexpensive ways you can help!

Fishermen – keep track of your gear!  “Ghost nets”, clumps of lost/discarded line, and other fishing waste is one of the leading causes of sea turtle injury and death.

Boaters – watch out for turtles!   Hull impact and propeller damage is another major cause of sea turtle mortality.

Everyone else?  Please pick up your garbage!  Common beach and water garbage such as balloons, plastic bags and other trash may be mistaken for jellyfish or other food items.  Many of the turtles in the Beasley Center are there for this reason.

Provide financial support!

If you register a motor vehicle in North Carolina, you can get a specialized “Save the Sea Turtles” license plate.  $10 from each of these goes to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

We all shop at Amazon from time to time.  Go to www.smiles.amazon.com; and register your account there.  Amazon will then donate a portion of your purchase to a number of worthy charities you can choose from. Including the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue Center.

Visit the Beasley Center when you are in the Surf City – Topsail Island area.  Check their website (link below) for hours.  This facility is fully staffed by volunteers.  All funds collected from tours and profit from the gift shop go directly into funding operational costs.

If you can’t visit the center to meet these magnificent animals in person – make a donation!  It’s fully tax-deductible as a 501c3 charity.  Details on the Beasley website.

Can You Picture These Turtles Swimming Free?



Learn more about Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.   Plan your own visit, or just make a contribution to this worthy cause!

Begin your own research on sea turtles here

More about Green Sea Turtles here

More about Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles here

NOAA Sea Turtle Program – Atlantic Region

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