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Save the Sea Turtles - New Sea Turtle Recovery at the South Carolina Aquarium

A Kemp's Ridley named Peach is a patient recovering from a monofilament entanglement at the Sea Turtle Recovery.
A Kemp's Ridley named Peach is a patient recovering from a monofilament entanglement at the Sea Turtle Recovery. © 2017 Audra L. Gibson

Save the sea turtles! That's just what the South Carolina Aquarium is trying to do. This type of work isn't a new endeavor for the staff and volunteers at the aquarium, but it's recently reached a whole new level with the opening of the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery. Last week I had the opportunity to visit the recovery for the first time, and, wow, I was impressed!


I had visited the aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital about seven years ago. I won't lie. I geeked out over it then as well, but also saw there was a lot of room for them to grow. The hospital facility, located in the basement of the aquarium, had been a part of rehabilitating hundreds of sea turtles, but the space was limited, and I was disappointed only a small number of guests (the hospital was accessible via a behind the scenes tour) could see the work the aquarium was doing. That's no longer the case.


The new Sea Turtle Recovery not only vastly expands the work the aquarium is able to do for sea turtles, but also makes that work accessible to each and every guest that visits the aquarium. I'm hoping that will not only bring a lot of joy to guests, but greatly increase awareness of the challenges the turtles face and how we can be part of the solution.


During my visit I met a staffer and two high school interns working at the aquarium for the summer. Timothy, one of the high school interns, was walking around the recovery interacting with guests and helping them understand more about the turtles. We played a game were he handed out cards that coincided with a sea turtle's rate of survival getting out of the nest and making it to the ocean. Even though turtle nests may have over 100 hatchlings, the turtles face a lot of obstacles getting out of the nest and into the ocean.


I played the "Will the Hatchling Survive" card game three times. I only made it out of the nest safely once. Hindrances for myself and people taking turtle cards around me included sand that was packed too tight, falling in holes left from sand castle building, being eaten by ghost crabs, and once being eaten by a seagull.


The hatchlings that do make it safely to the ocean face other dangers. They have natural predators in the wild of course, but they also often face man-made obstacles. Timothy held up a glass jar full of sea water and explained that what was floating in the water appeared to be a common meal for some sea turtles - a jelly fish. He explained that it was very difficult for turtles to differentiate between a jelly fish and a plastic bag floating in the water. It was hard for me to tell what was in the jar, so I don't blame the turtles. Swallowing a plastic bag or getting entangled in fishing equipment or soda can rings can obviously greatly endanger a sea turtle, and the South Carolina Aquarium is treating and rehabilitating turtles that have encountered these and other challenges on a regular basis.


Seventeen years after the first turtle was treated by the aquarium, the new Recovery nearly doubles the aquarium's previous treatment space. Not only are they able to help more turtle patients, but larger tanks in the new facility mean they can treat larger turtles like adult loggerheads which can grow to be upwards of 300 pounds.


An improved medical facility, including a CT scanner for diagnostic imaging, and a modern operating room, allows veterinarians to diagnose and treat the stranded turtles with the highest level of care. It is believed the Recovery is the first sea turtle rehabilitation facility in the country to make use of a new continuous current pool in treatment. This special "endless pool" provides exercise and therapy opportunity for the turtles before they are released back into the wild. That last bit, is the most exciting part of all this - sea turtle release.


As of today, the South Carolina Aquarium has released 228 turtles back into the wild. These are turtles that would have had a vastly reduced, if not nonexistent, chance for survival without proper treatment and care, and the South Carolina is filling that gap and helping to educate and include the public in the process.

Sea turtle releases are one of the most rewarding parts of the process for everyone involved in the Sea Turtle Care Center, and these releases have been open to the public for years. Now, thanks to the generosity of the Zucker Family, other donors, and a slew of aquarium staff and volunteers, the public can be a part of seeing the recovery and rehabilitation process as well.


The new Recovery has seven tanks to treat potential sea turtle patients with additional tanks and facilities in the sea turtle hospital. At the time of my visit, the aquarium was treating 16 total patients: 9 loggerheads, 3 green turtles, and 4 Kemp's Ridley turtles. The Recovery space is full of interactive tools to allow guests to see how the turtles are diagnosed and cared for. The highlight of the Recovery seeing the turtles themselves. The tanks are raised for better viewing (and to support an amazing filtration system). In addition, the tanks have one-way viewing glass, so the guests at the aquarium can see the turtles, but the turtles can't see the guests, which provides a very low stress environment. This is yet another step to provide the highest level of rehabilitation and care for the turtles while maintaining a high level of awareness and interaction for guests.


The Sea Turtle Recovery is included as part of a general admission ticket at the South Carolina Aquarium. It is well worth seeing and is sure to inspire many kids (and kids at heart). For more information on the South Carolina Aquarium, click here.


Audra Gibson

Audra Gibson is a Christian, photographer, surfer, and a lover of teriyaki steak bites. She enjoys live music, doesn't like to be cold, and she's a bit of a cheese snob. Traveling Ink was her little brain child and she's very happy that you're here. She'd be oh so happy to recommend her favorite tours and attractions in town, help you with a team building event, or organize a day (or week) of fun for you and your group.


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