Solemn ceremony at the sea turtle hospital

Sea Turtle Hospital News
Back in 2006 when we were at our previous location in Topsail Beach one of our very favorite patients, a Kemp’s named “Dare” spent years working toward recovery, but unfortunately lost the fight. We tell every one of turtles when they are admitted that we promise to do our absolute best to make sure they get better and get to go home. Although we couldn’t walk Dare to the surf and watch her swim away we were determined to keep that promise to her. That was the beginning of “Dare’s Reef.”
We contacted Eternal Reefs, a company that specializes in encasing cremated remains in specially designed and formulated reef balls which are then deployed in coastal waters that are permitted and designated as artificial reefs. It’s a burial at sea, and even though that one life has physically ended, their reef ball soon becomes an underwater Garden of Eden for sea creatures. The balls almost immediately attract fish and turtles, and corals and algae establish tenancy within weeks.
It’s been years since we sent Dare home but every April her reef grows larger. Our hospital is the venue for the families who are sending their beloved to sea. The process begins with the casting on a Friday, followed by a viewing on Sunday, normally with military honors for veterans. It’s a very moving moment when the bugler plays “Taps” and the flag is folded and presented to the family. No matter how many people are in attendance you can hear a pin drop during the ceremony. The families are then invited in to tour our facility.
This year, because of the COVID delay, Eternal Reefs brought 17 memorial reef balls; some were for individuals, some for couples and almost all went to sea with their beloved pets. And one of our sweetest patients ever, another Kemp’s named “Mighty Mouse” joined Dare, along with several other deceased turtles and hospital cat “Mama Kitty.” Many of our volunteers took part in mixing their cremains into the “pearl” and decorating the reef ball. Some went on boats with the other families to the reef site to “watch the ball drop” and toss in a miniature memorial reef that they had decorated in their memory.  
Dare’s Reef is not far offshore, almost directly across from our old Topsail Beach hospital. In fact, some of our volunteers have dived it on occasion and reported an abundance of life, some of which startled them as large fish popped out as they were looking inside. What started as a way to keep a promise to a special turtle is now a thriving, living marine habitat. Maybe someday those of us who plan on joining Dare (hopefully not too soon!) will be visited by one or more of the rehabilitated turtles we have sent back to Mother Ocean.
Just a few reminders: Nesting season started May 1 so be on the lookout for any turtle tracks and/or nesting mamas. We’re admitting turtles that have been enchanted by an easy meal and end up getting hooked at our local piers. If you happen to snag one please let the pier operators know; they can assist you in the proper procedure for safely retrieving it. We’ll come to get the unlucky critter and take it from there.  Please report any turtle in any kind of distress to Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 or the hospital at: 910-329-0222 for pick-up and follow-up care at our facility. NC Wildlife Resources also has an Emergency hotline number that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367. And finally, we’re open again for public tours Thursday, Friday and Saturday through May, and we’re planning to open for additional days beginning in June. Please check our website for visiting hours and a new admission process with prepaid on-line ticketing, for a reserved time. No more long lines!