Behind the Scenes at a Sea Turtle Hospital

Behind the Scenes at a Sea Turtle Hospital

If you've ever wondered what your donations do for Sea Turtles, we've got you the inside scoop. 

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is a 501 C 3 non-profit, dedicated to protecting these endangered animals and inspiring their community to join the mission. 

Kathy Zagzebski, the director of their center on Topsail Island, NC, shared what a normal day is like for her ant the many volunteers. 

Let's dive in! 

A Day at the Sea Turtle Hospital 

"A day in the life starts with preparing food for the sea turtles in our care," says Zagzebski. 

Each sea turtle's diet may include various species of fish, squid, and — for green sea turtles — vegetables such as 

  • lettuce
  • green peppers
  • cucumbers
  • carrots

And precision is the name of the game. 

Zagzebski says, "Each turtle has a perscribed amount of food based on their weight and body condition. Volunteers carefully weigh out the food and cut it up."

Some turtles need special care. 

Lennie, for example, is blind and can't see her good, so delicious squid is fed to her directly. 

Other facility tasks include: 

Cleaning tanks 

Dirty rooms? Not for these star patients. Staff scoops algae and other debris out of the sick may and everyday turtle bay tanks. 

Making salt water 

Yes, the center makes their own in-house salt water! Staff can carefully measure, adjust, and replicate the salt levels that each turtle needs. 

Beach Survey  

Topsail Turtle Project volunteers patrol the island beach, locating, monitoring, and protecting nests + baby hatchings as they scurry towards the water. 

Turtle baths

How Cute?! Turtles love the feeling of a nice shell scrub between tanks. 

Types of Sea Turtle Patients

No day is complete without helping in the sick bay.

Here, turtles receive medical attention, fluids, wound care, physical therapy, and any other treatment needed. 

On a specially-guided tour, visitors can glimpse real-time rehabilitation, learning about everything that goes into sea turtle care. 

Sick and injured sea turtle patients arrive at the rescue hospital for many reasons. 

Boating accident

Motorboats passing through sea turtle habitats can cause life-threatening damage with their fast-moving propellors.

If a sea turtle is feeding in open water, they may not notice an oncoming boat — so it's important for motorists to watch carefully and kill the engine in endangered creatures' habitats! 

Inner injury 

Some turtles may hold air pockets under their shell, causing swimming and eating issues. 

Other injured sea turtles may have a parasite or internal bleeding due to a swallowed foregin object. 

Plastic and pollution damage 

From ingested micro-plastics to tangling trash, human pollution causes both internal and external damage to ocean wildlife. 

But whatever the reason for their visit, from Kemp's Ridley to Loggerhead, all sick and injured sea turtles receive the same amazing rehabilitation care. 

Sea Turtle Care 

When a new patient arrives at the Karen Beasley Center, the first steps involve gathering info and running diagnostic tests so the veterinarian can prescribe treatment. 

Zagzebski describes the current proticols for a hospital admit: 

"The staff will... 

  • Weigh and measure the turtle 
  • Take photographs of its carapace (top shell) and Plastron (bottom shell) 
  • Note any wounds, injuries, or markings
  • Take x-rays to diagnose internal injuries
  • Take a blood sample to run lab tests
  • Administer fluids to rehydrate
  • Administer antibiotics to address infections

Sea Turtle Release 

"Releases are, of course, always a favorite moment," says the director.

"As the turtle gets stronger, we will gradually increase the water level and begin offering food.

Over time, the turtle progresses to swim on its own, eat on its own, and no longer needs medication.

Then we can get ready to release it!" 

Some releases are quick and quiet, to minimize stress on the endangered sea turtle. Other times Zagzebski plans a public release to share with the community. 

"To watch a healthy turtle return to the wild after having been rehabilitated and cared for over months — or even years — is truly a joy!" 

Sea Turtle Support is for Everyone

It takes a village of support to keep conservation efforts running smoothly, from the rehab programs to the daily internal beach patrols to the hours of free community teaching. 

All are welcome:

Community members 

College interns

Passionate conservationists

Rescue center guests


Sea turtle protection is for everyone because the future of sea turtles affects everyone. 

So when it comes to supporting organizations that care for our turtle friends, there is so much more at stake

Want to help?

If you just can't wait to visit the rescue center, you can send the gift of care and conservation directly to sea turtles. 

Donate here! 

Your gift ensures another meal, medication, clean tank, and day closer to release for these beautiful marine creatures.