Sea turtle volunteers are careful not to confuse their patients with pets.
"We knew they were not captured turtles, they were going home at some point," said Jean Beasley, director of the Topsail Sea Turtle Project.
But Dare was a different story. Rescued while still very young, Dare survived her 1998 arrival at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Research and Rescue Center only to be trapped in contaminated waters for four days after Hurricane Floyd stranded her tank 27 feet up in a tree.
Dare persevered for the next six years. She died in March, around age 7, to an unknown illness after surgery. Some sea turtles can live upwards of 100 years.
"We couldn't walk in this building without walking past an empty tank and coming to tears," said Beasley.
But Dare's journey wasn't over yet.
Prior to the death of their beloved turtle, Karen Sota, communications coordinator for the Topsail Sea Turtle Project, had noticed an advertisement on TV for an original, if peculiar, alternative to a traditional burial or cremation.
The advertisement was for Eternal Reefs Inc., soon-to-be partners of the turtle project.
"Soon after that, Dare passed away and they contacted us," said Don Brawley, founder of Atlanta-based Eternal Reefs.
After graduating from the University of Georgia in the late 1980s, Brawley and his college roommate, George Frankel, watched as the reef systems located off their favorite Florida beaches deteriorated.
Tired of hearing politicians give lip service to saving the reefs, the two engineers decided to act.
"We wanted to do something a little more concrete," Brawley smiled.
Before long, Brawley and Frankel started the Reef Ball Development Group, and Brawley was building molds in his garage using a variety of specially made and improvised parts.
Three-eights aggregate concrete rated at 4,000 pounds per square inch are poured into four-piece fiberglass shells with a large ocean buoy placed in the middle to make the structure hollow. Tetherballs pock the space between the shell and the buoy, and a layer of sugar water is sprayed between the mold and the concrete to slow the hardening of the outer surface.
After 12 to 24 hours, the mold is removed and the smooth, unhardened concrete on the surface is sprayed off to reveal a craggy exterior.
The result, when hardened, yields a solid, hollow dome-shaped structure filled with concave holes. The rough surface and concave holes, Brawley said, provide a better habitat than flat holes and smooth surfaces.
Admiring Brawley's maritime stewardship, Carleton Glen Palmer, Brawley's father-in-law, asked that his cremated remains be placed in a reef ball when he passed away.
In 1998, Palmer got his wish and Eternal Reefs Inc. was born.
Eternal Reefs began advertising its services, and people were soon, well, dying to have their "cremains" placed in the balls, which range in price from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on their design. A large ball will use one cubic yard of the special cement, Brawley said.
A Carteret County-based ready-mix company quoted a yard of the concrete at $385.
According to the Eternal Reefs Web site, the fee includes a plaque, a GPS mapping of the reef ball's location and transportation of the 350- to 4,000-pound balls.
Loved ones provide their own ashes.
During the pouring, a loved one will pour a mixture of concrete and ashes into the chute of a cement mixer as it fills the reef ball mold. After 30 minutes, mourners may write messages or place handprints into the ball, just as they would a freshly poured sidewalk.
On Tuesday, Sea Turtle Hospital interns got a chance to become part of the Dare legacy.
"It's warm and gushy," Emily Abernathy affirmed after she had scrawled her message into the mortar. The 21-year-old UNC-Wilmington student from Boone, and Jane Allen, an intern who attends Williams College in Massachusetts, were among the last to inscribe their farewells.
"It's not any grosser than cleaning up after sea turtles every day," Allen shrugged.
With the pouring of the Dare reef ball, which will not be placed in the ocean until June 2006, Eternal Reefs and the sea turtle hospital kicked off what both hope to be an enduring partnership. Eternal Reefs already uses sea turtle images in its promotional materials, and hospital volunteers hope to use future reef balls to generate donations while expanding Dare's Reef.
At the official unveiling of Dare's reef ball Wednesday, Jean Beasley read aloud the inscription of the bronze plaque embedded in the ball: "Dare, A sea turtle, 1998-2005, at peace, at home."
"We were trying to think of something, some way that would bring closure to us," Beasley said. "Now nobody can hurt Dare anymore."