Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 3: Turtles Inside and Out

We continued our journey on Day 3, this time welcoming the fishy scent of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. The twelve of us stored our belongings into lockers, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reunite with the turtles from yesterday. 

As in days past, we split into groups to attend to the turtles in both the Sick Bay and the Turtle Bay. With a different set of volunteers assisting at the hospital, we quickly made new friends and adapted to their unique perspectives on how to best care for the turtles. The volunteers each had their favorite turtle and taught us about the backgrounds of many of the hospital's patients. 

While cleaning the tanks, feeding and bathing the turtles, and applying their ointments and medications, the volunteers informed us of each turtle's story and individual personality. One turtle, Valor, had been burned by chemicals, which damaged his carapace and allowed a pocket of air to form near his tail. The bubble kept floating him to the surface, a condition which precluded his release into the wild. Despite his condition, Valor greeted us every morning with an enthusiastic flap of his flippers and a lap around the tank. His resilience, matched by many of the other turtles in the hospital, instills the hope that all the volunteers share for the turtles' eventual healing and release. 

Following a busy morning at the sea turtle hospital, we scarfed down our lunches and once again mounted our minivans to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW), where we were fortunate enough to have the honor of observing a sea turtle necropsy. This involved dissecting a green sea turtle to determine her cause of death and examine her anatomy.

The procedure was carried out by Sarah, an experienced sea turtle rescuer and researcher who sends many turtles to our friends at the sea turtle hospital. Each necropsy performed contributed to research studies on sea turtles. One such study sought to examine the bone formation to help determine the turtle's age. Another study on the gastrointestinal tract sought to determine the effects of microplastics on sea turtle digestion and overall health. During the dissection, Sarah excised anatomical systems, explaining the functions of each part. We learned that the cause of death of this turtle was pneumonia, which had inflamed the turtle's lungs. Each of us got hands-on experience to solidify our knowledge of sea turtle anatomy and threats to their survival. Thousands of turtles experienced a mass cold stunning event this winter due to abnormally warm temperatures in December, followed by a sharp drop in January. The turtles did not migrate in time for the plummeting temperatures, which left them vulnerable to frostbite, hypothermia, and infection. Cold- stunned turtles face severe danger because their immobility leads to their being struck by boats, eaten by predators, or eventual starvation. Many of the turtles currently in the sick bay were impacted by this mass cold stunning in January, and understanding the physiological basis of cold stunning gives us a more informed perspective to help the turtles. 

We returned on our noble minivans from the houses of Dodge and Kia, oddly craving breakfast. To everyone's delight, our chefs Emma and Ashley whipped up a hearty meal of eggs with blueberry, strawberry, and chocolate chip pancakes, supplemented by Danny's expertly prepared bacon and sausage. Dinner was on point. I hope we have dinner for breakfast tomorrow (jokes, we're having more cereal).

Following breakfast for dinner, we launched into a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of service and the impact an individual can make. One famous story associated with service involves a man who hurled starfish into the sea. When questioned as to why he did so, he replied that every single starfish he saved made a difference. In rebuttal, another author claimed that the starfish story oversimplified the more subtle ecological and community nuances in service. We debated the relative importance of individual impact and sociopolitical factors as it pertains to our environmental service experience. We also began discussing topics to prepare to teach local elementary school children about turtles and environmental conservation on Thursday. During our discussion, we fell into a fit of laughter as everyone, including our staff advisor, predicted potential questions from the children: "Is Nemo friends with all the turtles?"

What a happy end to a happy night. Stay tuned for more epic adventures with #THTSquad2016.

Good night,
John & Tiffany

P.S. Out of respect for the turtles in the hospital and at the necropsy, the staff have requested that we refrain from taking pictures of the turtles. That's why there are no pictures of turtles. For your viewing pleasure, we have included the following figures below.
Figure 1. Ashley makes pancakes as part of the breakfast for dinner meal.
Figure 2. Emma, one co-chef for tonight, cooked a delicious meal of scrambled eggs. 
Figure 3. Ashley and Danny cook pancakes and bacon, respectively.

Figure 4a. In maintaining the positive spirit of our Alternative Breaks experience, our fearless leader Mitchell Rock expressed his anxiety at the apparent shortage of pancakes. 

Figure 4b. This is the only plate of pancakes Mitch saw initially. Alas, four pancakes would not fill the stomachs of 12 hungry people.

Figure 5. It turns out we actually had enough pancakes. And scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage.
Figure 6. Our fearless experience leaders, Nicole Moy and Mitchell Rock (left and right) clean up after dinner.
Figure 7. The beautiful sunset dazzled the skies as we enjoyed our breakfast for dinner.

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