The Beginning of a Dream

An interview with Sea Turtle Camp Director – Rick Civelli

What inspired this marine biology summer camp?

The turtles!  Back in 2003 I had the idea for this camp and purchased the domain name.  Since 2001, our surf camps have been bringing people of all ages to the Sea Turtle Hospital to educate them about sea turtles and in turn the sea turtles have actually taught us many things. The look of thank you in a turtle’s eye while you are washing their wounds and the energy your feel from them as you take them back to the ocean is all the inspiration you need to bring to this program.

Jean Beasley and her volunteer crew have also been an inspiration.  Their love, compassion, and hard work are contagious and eye-opening!  Every participant in our overnight WB Surf Camp and Guppy Camp gets a private educational tour of the Sea Turtle Hospital. After a visit our participants leave with a newfound or strengthened sense of understanding. Sea Turtle Camp offers a deeper opportunity for accomplishment and giving back for teens, which hold the future of our world in their hands.

Who do you hope to reach with this camp?

We want the domino effect!  We hope to reach our campers and their family and friends, our partners, and especially our local communities. It would be wonderful if each person shared at least one piece of their newfound knowledge and respect, whether it is about sea turtles or coastal conservation.  Change has to start at the grassroots level.  This is how changes are made, one small step at a time!

What sets this marine biology camp apart from other camps?

Sea Turtle Camp is set apart because of the unique opportunity for the campers to have hands on experience working at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital.  It’s high quality approach is very unique to education and fun. We believe that kids and teens are learning the most when they are having the most fun.  We are very good at having fun! All campers will earn at least fifteen hours of community service and will learn through hands-on, feet-wet educational activities while giving back their time and energy to the environment.

Are there any future plans or goals for other camps or outreach that would affect the world around you?

You may call it a blessing or a curse, but my mind is always running with new ideas. However, future goals will never come at the expense of current quality. We believe that no matter what we are doing, we can always do it better. You can rest assured that our planning pipeline runs deep and that we will always be committed to quality, our students, and coastal conservation.

Do you foresee accepting scholarships or donations from people/ businesses in the near future for this camp?

Sea Turtle Camp has set up an annual membership program for the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital and will help manage this initiative. In all the years of its existence the Sea Turtle Hospital has never had a membership. We know that once it is set up and once people know that it exists, many people will want to be a part and support this amazing organization.

Through Sea Turtle Camp, we are hoping to attract new people and businesses to this membership drive.  Sea Turtle Camp would also welcome donations to provide scholarships for our campers, but our primary focus is to drive funds straight to the hospital and therefore the turtles.

What do you envision this camp progressing to in the future?  Realistic goal? Dream goal?

We dream big and work really hard to try to make all of our goals come to fruition. Our first year, we started with two sessions which quickly went to four sessions because of demand.  We will continue to expand our weeks of camp, offer camps internationally, and offer day programs for a wide variety of ages including young kids and adults.  Although our vision is large, we will only grow if we can maintain our high standards of quality and professionalism. We know that it will take time, but all good things should.  Our ultimate goal is to empower as many people as we can to be stewards of sea turtle conservation and coastal conservation and to continue to support the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital every step of the way.

If you are from out of town, what can you do on your vacation to help
the hospital or the beach?

During the summer, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital is open to the public for tours from 2:00 – 4:00 PM every day except Wednesday and Sunday.  A couple of ideas to help protect the turtles at the beach: organize your own family beach clean-up, do not leave any large holes in the sand (helping our nesting mommies and hatchlings), and keep bright lights off the beach in the evening.  Also visit www.seaturtlecamp.com and buy a membership and become part of the Sea Turtle Hospital Foundation.

What are the details of this membership drive for the hospital?

Sea Turtle Camp set up an annual membership program for the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital.  There are different levels of membership, ranging from student, individual, family, business supporter, and business donor.  100% of all donations go to the non-profit Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital and are tax deductible.  The Sea Turtle Hospital is 100% dependent on donations and powered by volunteers. Currently not one penny goes towards administration…it all goes to food, medicine, and the turtles!  Now that is a worthy non-profit.

The construction of the new hospital is nearing completion and is being built by the donations of all the wonderful sea turtle supporters.  You can literally see your donations at work! Sea Turtle Camp hopes to bring more support to the sea turtle hospital through this membership drive.

I understand that this passion for the hospital is a family affair. How are they involved?

It is definitely a family affair!  For years Jen volunteered every Friday and called it “her day with the angels”.  I have also volunteered and have incorporated financial support to the Sea Turtle Hospital through our family business, Surf Camp Inc. A portion of every Wrightsville Beach Teen Overnight Surf Camp student’s tuition is given to the Sea Turtle Hospital.  Over the past decade we are very proud to have donated $36,500 in cash.

We have passed this passion down to our two boys, Vincent (5) & Dominic (3).  Neither one of them have missed a sea turtle release since their birth. This past release, Vincent was so excited about carrying down the sign with “Onslow’s” name on it as his parents carried Onslow home into the ocean.  He talked about it for days!

So, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you motivated to help the world around you?

Our children! :)   The coastal environment is a huge part of our lives.  We love to surf, fish, and go boating. It is our work, our retreat, and our fun! I would say that over 95% of my life’s paychecks have been derived from the ocean so working hard to protect it is our way of giving back.  Without a clean ocean and clean environment our boys would not be able to enjoy all the beautiful gifts the coastal environment brings us.

What do you think is the ultimate utopia that you can envision for your kids when they reach your age?

The ultimate utopia for us would be to see our kids healthy and happy in what they are doing! We can only hope that it will include enjoying a clean ocean and beach, and teaching their children how to conserve our amazing coastal environment while knowing the importance of giving back for all the blessing that they have received.

What do you think is the future of the sea turtle? I hear they are planning on taking the sea turtle off the endangered list.

There are several different species of sea turtles; some are on the endangered list and some on the threatened list.  The truth is we need to start taking better care of our oceans, our environment, and all the inhabitants.  Without a clean environment, clean ocean, and environmental education all marine life will have a threatened future and we will not have a beach or ocean to enjoy.

Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. What is one small step that someone can do to help the environment/ocean around them?

As full time working parents, we definitely have a lot going on and know the pressures and time restraints of everyday life. Everyone should take the time to at least try to do the small things to minimize their impact.  Reduce – Reuse – Recycle

The little things add up and as Jean Beasley put it best: “If everyone just did one thing to help the planet, to save our home, and as a result save the home for all the other living creatures as well.  Then, it would make a huge impact and it would only grow from there.  Because once people are aware, and once they find out that they can do it, and they can make a difference, and that they will feel good about doing that, then it will change the world!”

We are a beach community.  What do you think that really means?

Beach communities are very special; because everyone has something in common… they love the coastal environment!  This common thread binds people closer together and this is a unique quality that makes beach communities so special.  With this common link, we think people take more ownership in their community and stand together better to take care of it and especially its members.

If this camp would end up being your legacy to the world, what would you hope that you did to make it happen?

If our legacy included educating and empowering people to be stewards of our coastal environment, we would be proud. The results of helping the sea turtle population recover and providing a safe place for people to come together and have fun are truly profound! I believe that we are defined by our actions; how we live our lives and most importantly how we treat other people. This camp teaches so many things, but most importantly it teaches compassion for all living things.


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