OUTDOORS A STAR IS BORN By Kip Tabb NO ONE THOUGHT HERNANDO,
THE KEMP’S RIDLEY SEA TURTLE, WOULD SURVIVE. When he washed ashore in early spring of this year, he was a very sick turtle. He was weak, he couldn’t eat and he was suffering from what vets and personnel at the Roanoke Island Aquarium suspected was a neurological defect. His chances for survival were not considered very good.
Six months later, on July 31, he swam through the surf at Coquina Beach in Nags Head and back out to sea. “He”, by the way, is being used with caution; Hernando is an immature Kemp’s Ridley and there is no visible difference between males and females until they reach maturity, when the male’s tail becomes noticeably longer.
“We’ve been involved in sea turtle rescue for quite a number of years,” Brian Dorn, Director of Operations and Husbandry at the Aquarium, says.
If there is such a thing as a sea turtle hospital,
there’s one at the Roanoke Island Aquarium—but it’s a cramped space. It’s really no more than a back room filled with oversized tubs where sea turtles are nursed back to health. “We’ve been doing it in a closet,” is Dorn’s description.
That’s about to change. Earlier this year, on June 17, the Aquarium
broke ground on a 3000 square foot rehabilitation center. Named the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center (STAR), when completed the facility will be open to the public and greatly increase the capacity and ability of the Aquarium to nurse sick and injured sea turtles back to health.
“I’m truly excited about our rehabilitation work moving to a facility that is open to the
public,” Christian Legner Aquarium Curator, writes. Legner’s efforts to create a state-of- the-art sea turtle facility at the Aquarium have been a driving force behind the addition. “The opportunity to educate our visitors about sea turtles in a venue where they can view different species and sizes and be exposed to some of the threats that sea turtles face is important.”
There are a surprising number of turtles that wash up on the beaches of the Outer Banks, most of them during the winter when cool air temperatures and cold water combine to shock the turtle’s system. Cold stun is the term for it, and occasionally that backroom hospital is quickly overwhelmed. “During a major event, we’ll have 30 to 40 at one time,” Dorn says.
Luckily the cure for a cold stunned turtle is fairly simple and usually quick. “We bring the body temperature up,” Dorn says, although there are some health issues that do arise. “Especially respiratory,” he notes. “We’ll give them some antibiotics. If they’re injured we’ll keep them until they’re better. The goal is to get them into the wild.”
On the Outer Banks, caring for sea turtles
is an extraordinary collaborative effort. Largely through the efforts of Network for Endangered Sea
Turtles (N.E.S.T.)—an all-volunteer
organization—turtle nests are marked and injured turtles are brought to the Aquarium.
Turtles are first examined by the vets at the
Roanoke Island Animal Clinic and then go to the Aquarium for treatment. The rehab facility is also part of the regular rounds for the NC State resident vets to give them training in marine life treatment.
Just getting the turtles off the beach is often a remarkable feat. The most common turtles
beached on the Outer Banks are Loggerheads, Greens and an occasional Kemp’s Ridley. Loggerheads, which are the largest of all turtles, weigh between 225 and 400 pounds—and larger ones have been recorded; Green turtles weigh up to 300 pounds. Even a Kemp’s Ridley is typically over 100 pounds.
THE NC AQUARIUM BREAKS GROUND ON THE SEA TURTLE ASSISTANCE AND REHABILITATION CENTER
Much of the heavy lifting—literally and figuratively—occurs because of the efforts of N.E.S.T. “It’s all volunteer,” Dorn says. “The dedication to walk miles of beach looking for (beached) turtles or nesting sites is amazing.”
That dedication also includes persistence. Millie Overman, one of the founding members of N.E.S.T. is largely credited with the original vision for the rehab center. In describing the rehab center she says, “I’ve been with N.E.S.T. for 15 years. It’s a pretty cool thing. You have this dream and it’s actually happening.”
MORE FUNDING NEEDED
Funding for the structure itself is adequate to finish the rehab center. However, funds are still needed for operations and some of the equipment required for the facility. Contributions can be made to either N.E.S.T (www. nestonline.org
) or the North Carolina Aquarium Society (www.ncaquariums.com
). In the comment box of the Aquarium Society donation fund, indicate STAR Center Roanoke Island.
ABOUT THE TURTLES
The three turtles referenced in this article—Loggerheads, Atlantic Green sea turtle and Kemp’s Ridley—are all considered endangered. The Kemp’s Ridley is not typically seen in this are and is considered the most critically endangered.
Enjoy our World Famous Seafood Buffet featuring over 70 buffet items.
Christian Legner begins Hernando’s triumphant return to the wild in July.
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