RALEIGH — The Thomas L. Quay Wildlife Diversity Award was presented to Jean Beasley, founding director of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s October business meeting in Cherokee.
The Wildlife Commission annually gives the Quay Award to individuals who make outstanding contributions to wildlife diversity in North Carolina. Beasley is the 17th Quay Award recipient.
Executive Director of the Wildlife Commission, Cameron Ingram said, “Since opening the Beasley Center in 1996, over 1,000 sick and injured sea turtles have been rehabilitated and returned to the wild. That incredible work, along with establishing the volunteer-based Topsail Turtle Project and improving conservation measures benefitting sea turtles, makes her most deserving of this distinguished conservationist award.”
Beasley, a native North Carolinian and 1958 graduate of Duke University, first encountered a nesting loggerhead sea turtle while vacationing with her family in Topsail Beach. That experience led to the inception of the Topsail Turtle Project, formed in the 1980s to monitor and protect nesting turtles, incubating eggs and emergent hatchling on Topsail Island.
Following her daughter Karen’s untimely death in 1991, Beasley and her family followed Karen’s wishes to “do something good for the sea turtles” with her life insurance money. Knowing the Beasleys were already protecting sea turtle nests, people soon began bringing sick and injured sea turtles to the family. It quickly became apparent that a facility dedicated to the turtles’ care, rehabilitation and release was needed, prompting the creation of the Beasley Center.
The Beasley Center has served as a model for grassroots sea turtle rescue programs. Beasley was the first volunteer-based program leader elected to the board of directors of the International Sea Turtle Society. She fostered advances in sea turtle medicine and biology and has overseen a community of hundreds of volunteers in the Topsail Island Nest Protection Program and the Sea Turtle Hospital. She managed the growth of the Beasley Center from a 900 square foot facility that opened in 1996 to a 13,000 square foot facility in 2013 that treats over 100 turtles per year. Beasley headed the Center until her retirement at the end of 2021.
Wildlife Commission Chairman Monty Crump introduced the resolution to recognize Beasley with the Quay Award. The award is named after Thomas Quay, who passed away in 2012 and was a professor in NC State’s Department of Zoology for 32 years. A self-described “full-time volunteer, and unpaid environmental activist, Quay was the first recipient of the award in honor of his passion for wildlife, ornithology and teaching. For more about the Quay Award, visit the agency’s website.