Sweetpea, a loggerhead turtle successfully treated at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre and scheduled for release back into the wild. (Photo: Harry Wilson)
Beasley says the centre and its volunteer staff has saved about 650 turtles to date, all of which were either loggerhead, green or Kemp’s Ridley turtles, the latter the most highly endangered species of sea turtle in the world.
The animals come in with a litany of injuries, many of which are human-related. Some have ingested or become tangled in fishing line. Some have swallowed wickedly barbed fishing hooks or plastic waste such as straws, six-pack rings or swimming goggles. Some have wounds caused by boat propellers or, as Beasley suspects in at least one case, a machete. Other have been exposed to toxic chemicals, which burn away their flesh or damage their lungs, or water that is 10°C or less, a situation known as cold stunning.
Beasley estimates the centre’s recovery rate is about 90 per cent, an incredible number that she attributes to the support of the often more than 1,000 paying visitors a day (an astonishing fact in itself, given the centre is open to the public just 20 hours per week) and the people she works with.
“Tours are the main fundraiser,” says Beasley. “We’ve been so fortunate, because the staff’s hard work means that we don’t have to say ‘That drug’s too expensive, we can’t pay for it.’ We can use the best cutting-edge best methods that there are, which is one of the reasons we have such a great recovery rate.”
Treating and rehabilitating the turtles is a full-time job — one that’s not easy or cheap, but always rewarding.
“Turtles are among the most ancient creatures on the planet,” she says. “They predate dinosaurs. They survived a lot to make it this far, this long. They’re the focal point of our mission, which is to call attention to the fact that it’s not just sea turtles but every living thing on the planet that needs to have a clean environment, a safe environment.”
Then there are those inspired by that mission, namely the centre’s volunteers and interns, who come from across North America get hands-on experience with the turtles.
“You never know who might be that one person who gets turned on and helps save the world,” says Beasley. “My deepest wish for those that might have the opportunity to visit here is that they go away with a new or renewed dedication to the challenge before us all of making the planet a safer place for every living thing, not just people.”
Caring for sea turtles: by the numbers
Here’s a quick look at what it takes to run the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
US$1.5 million: The cost of the new facility, which opened in 2014
US$1,200: The average price of a large tank used to hold a sea turtle
1,200: The weight in pounds of capelin, a soft-boned fish used to feed the turtles, purchased every month
1,000: The weight in pounds of squid purchased every month
5,000: The weight in pounds of salt used to make salt water every month
30,000: The amount in gallons of water used in the sea turtles’ tanks
4: The number of stages of filtration water goes through before going into the tanks
See more from Harry Wilson’s visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre on Twitter.