The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (History + How to Visit)

Last Updated on November 18, 2022

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The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is one of the most special places to visit in North Carolina. If you’ve never spent time here, we highly recommend you make plans.

One thing to remember is that this center near Topsail Island is more of a working sea turtle hospital than a tourist attraction. However, visitors are welcome throughout parts of the year.

The organization behind the rescue works hard to conserve and protect sea turtles while also educating the public about the very real dangers facing these marine animals.

We think this place belongs on your NC bucket list and our guide will explain why. Because there is a lot behind the story about the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, we’ve organized the guide into the following sections:

You can skip ahead to any of the above-mentioned sections or keep reading about how to find the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

Read More: Eastern North Carolina (and 100+ Awesome Places to Visit)

Where is the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center?

Address: 302 Tortuga Ln, Surf City, NC

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is in Surf City, on the mainland side of the Pender County town. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Jacksonville and about 40 minutes from Wilmington.

Some of NC’s biggest cities are within a longer drive, including the following:

You can visually plan your trip to the Sea Turtle Rescue and elsewhere around Topsail Island with our Eastern North Carolina Map.

Read More: The North Carolina Travel Map (with 1000+ Great Places Included!)

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center History

“Every single turtle is in our hearts forever and that’s just the bottom line.” – Jean Beasley.

The Topsail Turtle Project (Karen Beasley)

Before there was a Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Karen Beasley started the Topsail Turtle Project. This was one of the first programs established in North Carolina to help young sea turtles survive.

The program monitored sea turtle nests, nesting females, and the turtle hatchlings along Topsail Island’s shores.

In 1991, Karen Beasley passed away from leukemia at the age of 29. Her mother, Jean Beasley, took over the organization to preserve the nests but soon realized there were plenty of injured sea turtles that needed care, too. 

Jean Beasley

It started with a loggerhead turtle named Lucky. Jean found Lucky on the beach. She noticed he had suffered from severe injuries throughout his shell.

Jean took this as an opportunity to help.

She traveled with Lucky to North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital. Even after treatment, Lucky required permanent rehabilitation.

Jean saw this need for Lucky and many other turtles and thus started the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

After years of working out of a 900-square-foot space, the organization opened a new 13,000-square-foot facility opened in November 2013. This was the result of years of fundraising and the generosity of so many people.

Today’s Sea Turtle Rescue

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital turtle snookie

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center cares for injured sea turtles from around the United States.

Patients usually sustain injuries from boat propellers, debris from the shoreline, predator attacks, water temperatures changing, or even guild nets from commercial fishermen.

Veterinarians from the NC State Veterinary Hospital are the primary help. The pet doctors and volunteers ensure each turtle receives personal physical therapy, medicine, and specially formulated diets that are “hands-free feeding” to ensure turtles will not be dependent on humans upon releasement. 

The establishment rescues all marine sea turtles but here are a few species that the sea turtle rescue commonly helps:

  • Loggerhead Turtles
  • Green Kemp Ridley Turtles
  • There have been rare sightings of both Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles. These species are on the critically endangered list

The Sea Turtle Rescue keeps an updated (and detailed) list of patients here.

How to Visit (Hospital Visitation Hours)

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital water tanks

The Sea Turtle Rescue typically closes during winter (November to February), but otherwise, public tours are offered throughout the year.

Here’s a breakdown of ticket prices before sales tax and additional fees:

  • Ages 13 to 61: $7.00 General Admission
  • Military or Active Duty Service Member or Veteran: $6.00
  • Seniors Ages 62 and Older: $6.00
  • Children Ages 3 to 12: $5.00
  • Babies and Toddlers Ages 0 to 2: FREE but tickets are still required

Reservations are required before visiting the hospital. Cancellations are accepted 24 hours before the reservation.

Before You Visit (Things to Know)

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital tanks and hospital

Since it is more of a working hospital than a tourist attraction, here are a few things to do keep in mind when planning a visit to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center:

  • Sometimes there are more turtle patients and other times, only a few. This depends on how many have been released back to the ocean, which is a great thing!
  • Keep in mind that public tours are limited to smaller groups.
  • NO shouting or loud noises.
  • No pets are allowed indoors in the active sea turtle hospital. They do not recommend leaving dogs or other animals in cars alone.
  • The hospital does provide a shaded outdoor exercise area for dogs.

How You Can Help

Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center Adopt a Sea Turtle

The organization is non-profit, completely run by unpaid volunteers. Donations go toward medical supplies, equipment, and food.

The Sea Turtle Rescue accepts help by volunteering time or donating money towards the turtle’s needs.

You can donate directly to the organization by buying merchandise through the gift shop, purchasing tickets for a tour, or by “adopting a turtle”, special adoption levels they create for individual turtles that require more help.

For additional information about adopting a sea turtle visit their adoption page

Read More: How to Explore the NC Oyster Trail (10+ Adventurous Ways!)

Ready to Visit this Amazing Sea Turtle Rescue?

If you have a soft spot for turtles, then you will fall in love with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. We certainly did, after walking through this special place.

The stories of Karen Beasley and her mother Jean Beasley will hopefully never be forgotten, and we will always recommend the center named after them as long as it’s in operation.

Have you ever visited the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center? We’d love to know what you thought of this place.

Don’t forget to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.

More Things to Do Near the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (Surf City and Topsail Island)

Topsail Beach 1

Beyond the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, there are some great things to do in Surf City and on Topsail Island.

  • Another place to go on the mainland side of Surf City is the Salty Turtle Beer Company. This local brewery serves amazing craft beer, offering live music, food trucks, and more!
  • Surf City Ocean Pier was first built in 1948, and it still offers amazing views out into the ocean and back at the beach. You’ll also find plenty of anglers here hoping to snag a nibble.
  • The Missiles and More Museum in Topsail Beach is another worthwhile stop. Popular exhibits touch upon Operation Bumblebee, piracy, and more! 
  • The beaches of Topsail Island are excellent, but we highly recommend you find Serenity Point at the southern end. Hang out on the sound side where the water is calm, or walk to the very tip where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Intracoastal Waterway. 

Read More: 25 Wonderful Weekend Getaways in North Carolina

More Animal-Focused Non-Profit Organizations in North Carolina

Carolina Tiger Rescue Tiger

We support the Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited places like Sylvan Heights Bird Park, the North Carolina Zoo, and the North Carolina Aquariums (Fort Fisher for example).

However, we do understand the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is solely focused on rescue and returning turtles to the wild.

Here are some more North Carolina-based organizations with a similar mission:

Do you have an animal-friendly organization that you’d like to mention? Let us know here in the comments or by email!

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