Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Hannah Williams
Take a turn onto Tortuga Lane, drive down the path and you will meet dozens of new brave, flippered friends who are waiting to be released back into the wild. Settled in the heart of Surf City, NC, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is making waves in the conservation community. Lead by the infectious enthusiasm of the Beasley family, the Center’s capacity to build public support has allowed this nonprofit to expand and magnify their efforts to preserve all species of marine turtles.
The Beasley family became interested in sea turtles when visiting the North Carolina coast throughout the 1970s at a time when sea turtle preservation was not a major conservation issue. In part inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Executive Director, Jean Beasley, and her family researched about sea turtles and made the most of any helpful information they could find.
As the years passed, they collaborated with wildlife resources and information from Dr. Archie Karr. The family began efforts to save turtle nests with basic yet effective methods such as using fence slats and tape to mark nests and erasing any tracks that led to the nests in order to deter curious visitors from disturbing the nesting environment.
Executive Director Jean Beasley’s daughter, Karen, was extremely involved in turtle rescue efforts. Karen passed away in her late 20’s after a battle with Leukemia. Karen’s determination and passion for sea turtle preservation is the driving force for the nonprofit, and her community has stepped up to ensure that her hopes for preservation of sea turtles remain a lasting legacy.
Public involvement in the cause is what has led the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center to grow and further its mission. When the organization began, there was an apparent need for a place to keep the injured turtles. Topsail Island donated a space that was the size of a two-car garage. By word of mouth, people came to know the center and would bring injured turtles to their door. Jean said they took things “day by day” and always made room for more. Thanks to continued support, the nonprofit was able to build a new facility in 2013 located in Surf City. This new space accommodates dozens of turtle rehab tanks, an ICU unit, and a museum area for tours.
The center focused on rehabilitation efforts in the beginning but now avidly works to rescue and preserve sea turtles while providing treatment to the injured. The team scours the 26-mile coastline every morning in search of new nests that need marking and protecting. They are one phone call away from accepting any injured turtle even if they are unfamiliar with its needs.
Public education has become a focus of the Center. Through tours, educational visits for students, holding public turtle releases and adoption programs, the hospital fulfills their mission goals of educating the community and beyond about the preservation of these creatures. A former teacher, Jean, explained that without public education, their mission is an uphill battle.
Opening their doors to tours allows the center to connect with every visitor, and express the importance of the public’s role in saving sea turtles and teach the ways in which we can help them on an individual level. Through the Center’s adoption program, donors are able to understand the impact of their giving when they see sick and injured turtles that represent the numerous species that are at risk of extinction.
The Center is also home to a comprehensive intern program that accepts students from across the country and is another way the organization generates long-term public support. The benefit of the four ongoing intern programs are two-fold: interns work alongside the team to provide care for turtles while acquiring invaluable skills in their field. The programs provide support to college students as they gain hands on experience and enable them to contribute to the preservation of sea turtles and other wildlife.
Although conservation awareness has grown significantly since the Center’s beginnings, the threat to sea turtles remains a growing concern as low water temperatures, coastal development, pollution, boating accidents and other hazards pose increasing risks to the sea turtle population.
The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is a critically important part of the Carolina coast. A beautiful story of passion and purpose fuels the organization and public around their mission. The Center continues to inspire its community to be involved in supporting sea turtle conservation efforts as it teaches the importance of conservation in their everyday lives. The Beasley family and their team built every aspect of this nonprofit with the needs of turtles in mind and have never turned away a single turtle. When asked how she and her team have been able to grow their efforts and rally their community around this cause she simply answered, “I didn’t do that, a turtle did.”
Hannah Williams is a Masters of International Studies student focusing on nonprofit management and conservation education at NC State University.