Assessment of Sea Turtle Rehabilitation in North Carolina

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As is the case with all sea turtle species, the five species that occur within North Carolina waters are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Due to their endangered/threatened status, rehabilitation efforts are key for their long-term conservation since the release of healthy individuals helps promote more sustainable populations. In order to ensure rehabilitation efforts are concentrated properly and to assess their success rates, in-depth studies must be done on the stranding records available for each rehabilitation facility within the state. While other states such as Florida and Queensland, Australia have conducted studies to determine their rehabilitation characteristics and success rates, a comprehensive study of a similar nature has never been done with the sea turtle rehabilitation records for the state of North Carolina. This study analyzes the rehabilitation records for the state of North Carolina to determine the most common characteristics of sea turtles admitted for rehabilitation as well as the successful release rates over time. Sea turtle rehabilitation efforts and record keeping began at the North Carolina Aquariums back in the mid-1980s which was soon followed by the opening of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in 1997. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island partnered early with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.) which eventually became the Sea Turtle Animal Rescue(STAR) Center in 2014. Both the North Carolina Aquariums and the KBSTRRC largely outsourced any necessary veterinary care through a collaboration with North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine though the North Carolina Aquariums hired its first full-time veterinarian for sea turtle care in 2015. This study reviews the rehabilitation records of North Carolina to date, presented as two datasets taken from the public North Carolina Aquariums and the private, non-profit Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (KBSTRRC). A total of 2707 rehabilitation records were available which was narrowed down to 2594 records for data analysis after a variety of factors including the restriction of the time period used to only include those records from January 1997 to October 2018. Characteristics were determined for the majority of rehabilitation records such as: life stage, sex, stranding causation, stranding location, species, rehabilitation location, rehabilitation outcome, and release location. The successful rate of release was determined and compared against studies done in Florida and Queensland, Australia for comparative purposes. Based on the 2707 records available, both life stage and sex were removed as variables in future data analysis due to skewed proportions for turtles in their juvenile life stage as well as those that did not have their sex determined during rehabilitation. When looking at the restricted 2594 records, the most common sea turtle brought in for rehabilitation in North Carolina was a green sea turtle species, stranded in inshore waters (landward of the Coast Guard’s COLREGS line) due to cold stunning, and successfully released. The most common rehabilitation facility used was the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and its affiliates followed by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, and the North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine based in the Center For Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST). When compared to the other studies looked at, the successful release rate for North Carolina was nearly double the successful release rates seen in both Florida and Queensland, Australia. The results discussed in this study will help rehabilitation facilities in North Carolina better tailor resources and funds to accommodate the most commonly seen characteristics as well as provide a baseline to be compared against for future data analysis within North Carolina, other states, or when looking specifically at one rehabilitation facility.





Stevens, B (2019). Assessment of Sea Turtle Rehabilitation in North Carolina. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.