For the Turtles
Sea Turtle Rescue Training at Ocean Isle Beach Town Hall helped train sea turtle volunteers from Sunset Beach, Holden Beach and Ocean Isle Beach.
On the first full day of spring, groups of sea turtle volunteers gathered at Town Hall in Ocean Isle Beach for stranding and necropsy training. Members of the Sunset Beach Turtle Watch Program (SSBTWP), Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Organization (OIBSTPO) and Holden Beach Turtle Watch (HBTW) were in attendance.
OIBSTPO Island Coordinator Deb Allen began the meeting with news of a statewide event. The groups are planning a North Carolina Sea Turtle Symposium to be held at the Keenan Center in Wilmington in January of 2023. The Center for Marine Science at UNCW is a partner for the event and sea turtle rescue groups from 15 islands will participate.
“That is what’s so great about the symposium — we will get to share ideas and learn from others,” Allen said.
Dr. Karen Clark, citizen science specialist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, additionally announced the launch of a new online resource to track volunteer hours.
“This program should make it easier and quicker for you to log your hours with the organization,” Clark said. Volunteers can go to nc-wild.org/seaturtles to find more information and create an account to record their hours.
When becoming a volunteer, you have several options of how to participate.
You can be a beach walker, part of a group that looks for stranded turtles or new nests by walking the beach daily. You can work on a rescue team that is contacted when a sea turtle is found stranded or injured. Then there are nest parents, volunteers who adopt a nest to watch for hatchlings to appear. There are also volunteers who help with fundraisers and collecting donations in the community. But likely the most important job done by volunteers is educating the community about the preservation of sea turtles.
Dr. Clark continued the meeting with a presentation aimed at volunteers for the area’s rescue teams. She began her Stranding and Necropsy Training with some basics, how to identify the species of the turtle and how to record the information.
The species of a turtle is identified by looking at the number of scales on the head between the eyes. Volunteers also count the number of costal scutes (or large, hard scales) on the back of the shell and the number of inframarginal scutes on the bottom shell, along with assessing the size and the color of the turtle. Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill are the species most commonly found in this area.
Rescue volunteers are also instructed to check stranded or injured turtles for metal or implanted tags on or near their flippers. This is an important step in the external evaluation of the turtle and would determine whether or not it might have any previously recorded history.
As the meeting continued, the necropsy training began with the question, “Why do one?” Dr. Clark said, “Most of us think this process is done to determine the cause of death, but that is only a part of it.” The necropsy of a turtle is also important because it allows people to gather life-history data, confirm the gender of a turtle, discover what a turtle has eaten, determine if it was struck by an object, suggest how far the turtle lived offshore and conclude whether it was sick prior to its death. It is also a learning opportunity for those performing the necropsy to understand more about the sea turtle’s anatomy.
Rescue volunteers moved outside to observe an actual necropsy. Sarah Finn, coastal wildlife diversity biologist with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, was also in attendance. She and Dr. Clark each performed a necropsy and answered questions from volunteers.
This was beneficial training for sea turtle rescue teams. Phil Brattesani, rescue volunteer from Ocean Isle Beach, said, “These animals are endangered, so any training that helps us understand more about them and allows us to save more turtles is valuable.”
Interested in becoming a volunteer?
OIBSTPO Volunteer Coordinator, Kyle McCarthy, firstname.lastname@example.org
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