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A Turtle's Story!

“Southport” Returns Home Following a year of rehabilitation, a sea turtle rescued by workers at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant named Southport, was released back to the Atlantic. Story by Karen J. Williams

The Brunswick Nuclear Plant operation includes responsibility for managing 1,200 acres of land and wetlands. This responsibility includes the plant’s use of water from the Cape Fear River used in the condenser to cool steam created for electrical generation. The cooling system flushes about a million gallons of water a minute through the condenser.

The plant pulls water from the Cape Fear River through a diversion structure, which uses 37 sets of panels to screen out and divert fish, shellfish and other organisms from entry. The intake canal is approximately 300 feet wide and travels about 3 miles to the plant intake structure. At the plant, traveling screens and trash racks collect debris and aquatic organisms and wash them back into a tidal creek. This fish return system, known as the “slide for life,” allows larval, juvenile and adult organisms to return to the estuary system. The river water discharges from the plant and is sent through a 6-mile long canal and is pumped 2,000 feet off-shore at a depth of about 18 feet. The system moves about 1.5 billion gallons of water each day. The process of heating and agitating the brackish water results in foam. Environmental studies at the plant began in 1968 (pre-construction) to understand and monitor the impacts of the plant on the local estuary system. Decades of data demonstrate that the Brunswick plant has no impact to the fish and shellfish populations in the estuary. Improvements at the diversion structure, where water is pulled from the river, have dramatically limited the intake of larger organisms and debris. The intake was once a hazard for turtles that sometimes swim up-river, but since 2014 that hazard has been largely eliminated. The one exception occurred last spring, when the diversion structure was opened for a few minutes to allow the passage of a dredge. In just a few short minutes, two turtles slipped by and entered the intake. One was trapped at the intake and did not survive. The other was rescued by plant workers. The rescued turtle was severely injured and so was transported to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Surf City. Once there, hospital veterinarians determined that the turtle had been attacked by an alligator, losing one of its rear flippers and suffering damage to the other rear flipper and around its head and neck. Had the turtle not been rescued, he likely would have perished from the wounds. The turtle, named “Southport” by hospital staff, spent a year in the hospital recuperating. On June 20, 2018, the Duke Energy technician who saved Southport was able to escort the turtle back to the ocean and send him home.


Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient creatures. The seven species that can be found today have been around for 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs. The sea turtle’s shell, or “carapace” is streamlined for swimming through the water. Unlike other turtles, sea turtles cannot retract their legs and head into their shells. Their color varies between yellow, greenish and black depending on the species. DIET: What sea turtles eat depends on the subspecies, but some common items include jellyfish, seaweed, crabs, shrimp, sponges, snails, algae and mollusks. POPULATION: It is difficult to find population numbers for sea turtles because male and juvenile sea turtles do not return to shore once they hatch and reach the ocean, which makes it hard to keep track of them. RANGE: Green sea turtles can stay under water for as long as five hours even though the length of a feeding dive is usually five minutes or less. Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen: nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats.:Sea turtles are found in all warm and temperate waters throughout the world and migrate hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding grounds. Most sea turtles undergo long migrations, some as far as 1400 miles, between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. BEHAVIOR: Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water, where not much information can be gathered on their behavior. Most of what is known about sea turtle behavior is obtained by observing hatchlings and females that leave the water to lay eggs. Sea turtles, like salmon, will return to the same nesting grounds at which they were born. When females come to the shore they dig out a nest in the ground with their back flippers, bury their clutch of eggs and return to the ocean. After hatching, the young may take as long as a week to dig themselves out of the nest. They emerge at night, move toward the ocean and remain there, solitary, until it is time to mate. REPRODUCTION: Temperature: Temperatures of the sand where the turtles nest determine the sex of the turtle: below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) is predominately male; above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30ºC) is predominately female. Mating Season: March-October depending on the species. Gestation: 6-10 weeks. Clutch size: Between 70-190 eggs depending on the species. When the young hatch out of their eggs, they make their way to the ocean. Few survive to adulthood. source:

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