TOPSAIL BEACH - Dare the sea turtle was a friendly sort.
The Kemp's Ridley always acted like she wanted to come over and say hello to those working at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue in Topsail Beach.
"She would sit right there while we talked to her," said Jean Beasley, executive director of the sea turtle treatment center.
It's not something that normally happens at the Turtle Rescue. They don't normally talk to the turtles.
The facility rehabilitates injured loggerhead, green and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles found up and down the Eastern seaboard.
"We always hope that they can be released," Beasley said.
That's why, those at the facility remind themselves they are working with wild animals - not pets.
Dare was different. Her condition was such that she would never improve to the point she could be released.
"With Dare, we allowed ourselves to become more personally involved with the turtle," Beasley said.
They had thought Dare would be OK, though, that with proper attention she would live out her natural life span of 50 to 65 years at the Turtle Rescue. Then a spot developed on her shell and continued to worsen over time.
After surgery on March 9, Dare slipped into a coma and died the next morning. She was around age 10, Beasley estimated.
"We never dreamed that this situation would come up and she would die, and it's hit us all very, very hard," Beasley said.
Now the volunteers at the Turtle Rescue are planning something special for Dare's cremated remains. They've pooled their money to purchase a memorial reef ball that will be part of an artificial reef that will bear the turtle's name.
"They're going to call the reef 'Dare's Reef'," Beasley said.
Dare did not have an easy life.
She was found in Dare County in June 1999, severely underweight for her age, suffering ulcers and injuries from a boat strike. She was taken to the Turtle Rescue where she recuperated. But just prior to her impending release back into the ocean, Dare was evacuated from Topsail Island because of the approaching Hurricane Floyd.
She was taken to the home of some volunteers who lived several miles inland - volunteers who ended up fleeing from a flood with no choice but to leave Dare and two other turtles behind.
Dare spent four days floating in her tank, filled with contaminated floodwater. The tank was found 27 feet in the air in a tree.
Veterinarians then re-examined Dare and found she had both physical and neurological problems possibly caused by toxins in the floodwater or by a lightning strike.
"She developed seizures," Beasley said.
And those working with her realized she would never in her lifetime be able to go back to her natural ocean home.
Now she can.
"Our volunteer staff has chosen to memorialize Dare as a symbol of all the tens of thousands of sea turtles, and other marine animals, who die each year, many of them as a result of human irresponsibility," Beasley said. "We hope that Dare's reef ball, and the reef that will carry her name, will be a reminder of the value and beauty of our fellow species."
Atlanta-based Eternal Reefs will mix Dare's remains with concrete and cast a reef ball at Topsail Island in June. The reef ball will be one section of Dare's Reef, which will be located 5 to 7 miles offshore between Morehead City and Topsail Island, said Eternal Reefs Spokeswoman Amanda Leesburg.
The company plans for the reef to contain about 20 memorial reef balls, Leesburg said. Anyone interested in memorializing the remains of a loved one or pet may contact Eternal Reefs at http://www.eternalreefs.com/.
Contact Patricia Smith at psmith@ freedomenc.com or (252) 808-2275.