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Sea Turtle Hospital Tour & Release

Take the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital Tour in Surf City, North Carolina. We were fortunate to be nearby when they released rehabilitated sea turtles into the Atlantic Ocean.

sea turtle in a blue tub at an animal hospital

Last month we went on vacation to Topsail Island in NC. We rented a great house with friends near the beach. We enjoyed hanging out in the ocean and exploring the area. A highlight was our visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

Sea Turtle Hospital on the Atlantic

The Sea Turtle Rescue Hospital and Rehabilitation Center is located on the mainland of Surf City, North Carolina. The center has its roots in the Topsail Turtle Project, which was a group of volunteers who rescued and provided long-term care for the first rescue named Lucky.

The group evolved into an outdoor facility that was opened in 1997. Not only did they care for injured turtles, but they also monitored sea turtle nests, nesting females, and hatchlings on the 26 miles of coastline on Topsail Island.

The current sea turtle hospital is in a 14,000-square-foot facility, where volunteers can care for more turtles.

woman looking through a hole of a turtle photo op

Turtle Rehabilitation Tour

We booked our tour online about a week before our arrival. Currently, tours are maxed at 13 guests, so book early.

Sea Turtle Hospital Tour Prices

Adults $7
Military/Veterans/Seniors $6
Children $5

We arrived and got checked in just outside the front door by an intern. Our tour began promptly and lasted about 40 minutes.

I was fascinated to learn that sea turtles do not lay eggs until they are 30 years old. In fact, you can not tell the gender of a sea turtle until this time. They can lay eggs up until they’re 90.

Sea Turtle Rehab Center Tour Display

A sea turtle crawls up near the dunes on the beach and digs a hole, laying around 100 eggs. Those eggs incubate for about two months.

The turtle rescue has numerous volunteers who comb the beaches each morning in search of new sea turtle nests. At the time of our visit, there were 34 nests on Topsail Island.

Topsail Island Sea Turtle Nest

Each nest is cordoned off and marked with a sign. A grate is put over the buried nest to protect it from predators.

The rescue center removes one egg from each nest to run DNA tests on.

The weather determines the gender of the turtle. The hatching is called a boil because the sand looks like it is boiling as the turtles are about to emerge.

New turtles are called hatchlings and sadly, only about 1 in 1000 survive until adulthood. That is why centers like the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center are so vital to their existence.

Rescued Sea Turtles

During our tour, we saw several sea turtles in individual tanks. We saw Green, Loggerhead, and Kelp’s Ridley turtles.

Turtle in a pool at the Sea Turtle Hospital

Each year the center follows a theme when naming incoming turtles. Last year was spices and this year is Crayola colors.

A sea turtle named Rosemary

The tour follows a path, so you can only see turtles in tanks along the railing.

The tour ends in the gift shop, which sells all sorts of fun sea turtle-themed items. Several local artisans have donated their creations to help earn money for the center. I purchased some stickers and a bracelet with a carved wooden sea turtle.

Sea Turtle Release

Ten rehabilitated sea turtles were released in the Atlantic Ocean while we were on the island. These releases occur at public access 5, which was two blocks from our rental. It was a scorching morning, but hundreds of people flocked to the beach to see the turtles returning home.

sea turtle on a cart to be released into the Atlantic ocean

Cool Mint and Burnt Sienna, which we saw on our tour the day before, were among the turtles released. If you happen to be on the island for one of these releases, show up at least two hours early to find parking and get a primo viewing spot.

sea turtle being shown to the crowd before being released in the ocean

We highly recommend that you visit and/or support the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. They have several summer camps for kids that might interest you.

Get more information about adopting a sea turtle here. There is a long waitlist to be a volunteer at the center.

loggerback sea turtle being released into the ocean

sea turtle in a pool at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Surf City NC
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