Turtles take the spotlight at North Myrtle Beach museum

Sea turtles will fill the big picture for an evening at the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum.

During the “Picture This: Sea Turtles” program, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, three special guests will cover the journeys these reptiles have, from females returning to the Atlantic shore solely to lay eggs, and rescue systems in place to help stranded and injured turtles recover to pick up their place in the circle of marine life.

The presentation is part of “Sea Turtles: Captured in Art and Photography” exhibit, continuing through Saturday at the museum, 799 Second Ave. N., North Myrtle Beach. The museum also will expand its hours to seven days a week as of June 30, when the “ToyTime” exhibit opens.

Besides Julie Bostian, photographer and owner of Splash Studio, who will speak Wednesday about her artworks that focus on documenting sea turtle hatchlings and inventories in the North Myrtle Beach area, the S.C. Aquarium in Charleston will send two representatives for “Picture This”: Kelly Thorvalson, its Sea Turtle Rescue Program manager, outlining the hospital program, and Samantha Mills, development officer, sharing expansion plans for the turtle hospital.

Thorvalson, a mother of two and also known as “the turtle lady,” grew up in Georgetown from second grade and later found the reptiles tugging at her heart.

Question | How often do you get to scoot north for a return home to the Grand Strand, and what else will you have time to do around this visit to North Myrtle Beach’s 14-month-old museum?

Answer | I visit my parents in Georgetown every two to three months, but only get to the Myrtle Beach area probably only once a year, but I will always love it because I grew up there.

Q. | Since the sea turtle hospital opened in 2000, how many rescues have been rehabilitated and ushered back home into the wild in the Atlantic?

A. | As of June 6, we have released 135 sea turtles back into the wild – really an outstanding feat for our small facility.

Q. | Three winters ago, a record 19 turtles were in healing hands in December 2010 at the aquarium. What numbers of incoming turtles occupied the staff this past winter, and how did the two ice storms within three weeks affect operations?

A. | We have never really had much cold stunning in South Carolina, even when temperatures drop as low as they did this winter. We admitted one local cold stunned sea turtle, and for the first time in six years, did not take on cold stuns from out of state. Not that we wouldn’t have; there was simply not a need.

Q. | With seven types of sea turtles swimming the world’s oceans, in what order of frequency are the patients’ types brought in to the hospital, such as Kemp’s ridleys, green seas, and the S.C. state reptile, loggerheads? Any leatherbacks or hawksbills ever attended to in Charleston?

A. | We commonly treat loggerheads, Kemp’s ridleys, and green sea turtles, in order from most frequent to least. These are the three species that occupy near-shore waters on the S.C. coast during warmer months. Being closer to the coast gives them a better chance of stranding alive than the leatherback, which is more commonly found in offshore waters.

Q. | Among the four residents in the hospital as of June 2, how is the newest arrival, Atalaya – a juvenile loggerhead named after the historic home at Huntington Beach State Park – faring in recovery since being rescued May 8 from stranding at the park?

A. | The patients are all doing well. Atalaya came to us in dire straits. She was in critical condition and the prognosis was poor. We are thrilled that she has turned the corner and is doing well. She has a long road ahead, but we are confident that she will be released eventually.

Q. | Looking back through more than a decade at the aquarium, and remembering your studies in marine biology at the College of Charleston, just how much has awareness about sea turtles’ plights increased, and what is the most vital channel to continue that communication?

A. | I believe that people are much more aware of sea turtles, the issues that they face, and are more environmentally conscious as a whole. One of the things the S.C. Aquarium does best is to educate the public on the conservation needs of our state and beyond.

Q. | When does egg laying begin every year along the Grand Strand? Also, besides ensuring that no plastic bags are left on the ground that could wind up back in the ocean, what other easy steps can people take to help sea turtles, especially on the beach, with another nesting season coming up?

A. | Sea turtle season began May 1, and nesting is well underway on S.C. beaches. It is so important for people to leave no trace on our beaches or any wild areas. Plastics are harmful to sea turtles, to the environment, and even to humans. It is not important not only to remove it from beaches and waterways but to use less of it in the first place.

Q. | And what are the temperature variables that affect the gender of sea turtle hatchlings to be?

A. | The gender of sea turtles depends on egg incubation temperature. An easy way to remember it is “hot chicks and cool dudes”: The warmer the temperatures, the more females will be produced; the cooler the temperatures, the more males will be produced.