Painting the turtle hospital

By the time you read this most of our senior interns will have left us, each taking a different path in their future. The good news for our regular staff is that two of them will be staying on for a bit to help us through the next few months. Of course nobody, other than our turtles, gets to walk out of our doors with just a wave of their flipper. When they were chosen for our program they were told that successful completion of their summer with us would involve a project that could be used for the benefit of the hospital.
One of those projects has been stopping recent visitors in their tracks. After over forty-five hours, much of it spent on her hands and knees Holly Hubing has put the finishing touches on her wall mural of the four species of sea turtles found along the North Carolina coast. It’s been quite an ambitious project and Holly worked closely with Tina Sharpe (mentor for the UNCW Saturday interns for many years) and Lindsey Hull (senior intern mentor) to develop and flesh out the concept. Accurately portraying sea turtles with all their unique characteristics is a challenge. For example, there’s not one scute pattern for every sea turtle. They all have different numbers and placements on their carapace and head. And their heads are shaped differently to accommodate their particular diets. And they are distinctly different in body size, shape, and color.

Holly started by researching various sources for the dimensions of a typical adult in each species. Then she sketched each turtle, making sure that the body proportions and characteristics were correct. She used our patients as her muse: Maddie for the Kemp’s, Jazzberry Jam for the green and Sahara Desert for the loggerhead. A little math and a lot of space planning were required to determine size relationships and final placement on her limited wall surface. Starting with the Kemp’s, the smallest sea turtle (and most endangered) she used a projector to fit Maddie snugly under a window. From there she projected her other drawings onto the wall in order of size, ending at the door with the leatherback.

Once they were sketched onto the wall, she gathered her paints and got to work. Holly found painting on a large vertical surface quite different from working on flat pieces of paper and it took some time to get used to doing so. Her table was loaded with paint jars and some very tiny brushes for all the detail work needed to make these turtles as representative as possible. It was fun for our staff to watch them come to life over the past month. Just when we thought she was done she’d be standing there or crawling on the floor with a paint brush in her hand adding more detail. Holly says she’s a perfectionist and it was a “lot of learning and going back again and again to check details.” When I asked if she was happy with it she said “Yes, but it won’t be done until I’m very, very happy with it.” We’re very, very happy with it. Thank you, Holly. It’s something that will be on our wall years from now when you bring your own kids in to visit.

We’re well into cross-over season on the beach. The mamas are still arriving to nest and our earlier nests are hatching. We can’t tell you where or when it will happen. Honest. Those little critters come out when they’re good and ready and we don’t get advance notice. It’s a matter of luck to be there for a boil. If you miss the hatch you might be able to catch a nest analysis which is done three days after the hatch. Volunteers excavate and analyze the contents which just might include a late rising hatchling or two that missed the alarm. If you spot a nesting mama, see hatchlings emerging or see anything unusual such as an injured or stranded turtle please call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222 . We will take the information and we will send a trained volunteer to meet you to assess the situation. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.

Our public tour schedule has changed for the month of August. August 1-12 we are open Monday- Friday from Noon - 3 PM. August 15 – September 2 we are open Monday-Friday from 11 AM – 2 PM. We are not open on weekends in August. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance through our website: Select the date, time and the number of guests in your party and purchase your tickets. We limit the number of guests for each time to make the experience more enjoyable and safer as we still contend with Covid. Sorry, but we are not able to accommodate walk-ups for tours once we sell out for the day. Please note that if our surrounding counties experience an increase in Covid cases we may require masks for everyone over the age of three, no exceptions. Check the website for current masking requirements when buying your tickets. Traffic continues to be challenging even during the week so plan your arrival accordingly. If you are coming only to our gift shop (not for a tour) you can enter through the single door to the left of the main entrance.