Share in the journey of sea turtles from rescue, rehabilitation to release
CHARLESTON, S.C. — May 17, 2017 — Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery’s opening brings the day-to-day operations of the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital into full view on the first floor. For 17 years, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers have been operating behind-the-scenes in our Sea Turtle Hospital, a space which only enabled a few guests to visit our sick and injured sea turtle patients. Each year, the space became increasingly crowded as awareness of the hospital increased and more turtles needed help. Behind-the-scenes tours were given and were commonly the most popular aspect of visits to the Aquarium.
Now, due to the dedication of staff and volunteers, supportive donors who gave through the Aquarium’s Watershed Campaign, as well as a generous donation by the Zucker family, we are able to expand the Sea Turtle Hospital and shed light on the awe-inspiring process of turtle rehabilitation.
Both a hospital and a guest experience, Sea Turtle Recovery makes the real-life rehabilitation of sick and injured sea turtles visible to every guest who visits the Aquarium. Interactive stations further enable you to learn the causes of sea turtle stranding and to practice diagnosing a mock patient. Tablets next to each patient’s tank share that turtle’s story with guests and detail its progress. A classroom and theater provide a glimpse into what happens before and after a turtle’s time in recovery.
Seventeen years ago, an ailing sea turtle was rushed to the South Carolina Aquarium. Horribly thin, visibly weak and dehydrated, the 94-pound loggerhead was near death. At the time, Aquarium staff did not have a plan of action for the arrival of sea turtles in peril. In fact, the Aquarium was not equipped to oversee the rehabilitation of sea turtles at all. In the basement of the South Carolina Aquarium, around a table supporting a sick loggerhead, that all changed. This loggerhead, lovingly named Stinky, was the inspiration for the current Sea Turtle Care Center.
During the early years, the hospital was an amazing - as well as a strange - sight. It was filled with children’s plastic swimming pools, each one the temporary home of a sick or wounded sea turtle. Hospital equipment was makeshift, the tanks were slapdash, but the love, compassion and care these animals received was whole and complete. The Sea Turtle Care Center staff began returning more and more healthy turtles to the sea.
Eventually, as coastal turtle teams spread the word about releasing rehabilitated turtles back into the ocean, crowds grew and gathered to cheer them on their journey home. Large tanks gradually replaced the kiddie pools. Volunteers began pouring in, scrubbing down facilities, maintaining the tanks, and freeing up time for the hospital staff to focus solely on rescue, rehabilitation and release. In the years that followed, it became more apparent that each turtle saved had a unique adventure – a gladdening story defeating the odds with dedication, determination, lots of love, and support from the community.
Now, 17 years since the arrival of Stinky and more than 200 patients later, the South Carolina Aquarium is counting down the days until the opening of its biggest undertaking to date: Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery.
A Closer Look at Recovery
Here’s what to expect when Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery opens on May 27:
- Upgraded Tanks. The opening of Recovery nearly doubles our patient capacity. Not only are we able to help more turtles, but we also have adequate space to properly treat large turtles like adult loggerheads, which can grow to more than 300 pounds.
The floor of the tank area is elevated about 2 feet off the ground, which not only helps you come face-to-face with the turtles but also provides space for the plumbing and water filtration systems for life support systems. Guests will be able to see the turtles clearly through the one-way glass, but they will not be able to see guests – helping to ensure a minimum of stress as they recover.
A special “endless pool” with a continuous current provides exercise and therapy opportunities for turtles as they approach their release back into the wild. Recovery is believed to be the first sea turtle rehabilitation facility in the U.S. to implement this groundbreaking technology.
- Improved Medical Facility. Behind the walls of Recovery lies a fully renovated medical facility that enables our experts to provide world-class animal care.
A new CT scanner provides superior diagnostic images, helping our veterinary staff view not only a turtle’s skeleton, but also its internal organs, to diagnose conditions in the lungs or intestines. This technology on-site prevents staff from having to transport the turtle patients to outside offices for scans and keeps their stress at a minimum.
A modern operating room is the perfect space for our veterinarian to perform surgical procedures, benefiting turtle patients as well as the Aquarium’s permanent animal residents. At times, guests will even see a medical operation in progress through the room’s viewing window!
- Interactive Mock Medical Stations. Augmented reality technology enables guests to test their veterinary skills with mock sea turtle patients. Guests may follow the same steps performed by our triage team, taking vital signs and diagnosing the condition of synthetic turtles modeled after the species and injuries that we encounter most frequently in our hospital.
At another station, guests may learn about eight of the most common ailments that affect turtles in the hospital and discover how we treat them with hands-on activities.
- Classroom and Object Theater. A 40-seat classroom and theater hosts daily programs and features video that showcases a sea turtles’ journey from rescue to rehabilitation to release. To immerse viewers in the sea turtle’s point of view, the space will come to life using light and sound elements to accentuate the context of the video
McNair Center for Sea Turtle Research and Conservation
The new McNair Center will serve as the Aquarium’s in-house research facility especially for sea turtle knowledge. Although Recovery is new, Aquarium staff have been rehabilitating turtles since 2000, compiling more than 16 years of data to analyze.
The McNair Center will also enable us to partner with additional groups that help sea turtles, including colleges, veterinary offices, public research agencies, and other turtle rescue facilities. Working through the McNair Center, we will publish research specifically highlighting healing techniques used at the South Carolina Aquarium, such as our new exercise pool and CT scanner. The sharing of these findings will empower our partners to provide better care too and improve the overall health of sea turtles everywhere.
About the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center:
In partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center works to rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles that strand along the South Carolina coast. Located in the Aquarium, the Care Center admits 20 to 30 sea turtles each year. Many of these animals are in critical condition and some are too sick to save.
According to SCDNR, during the past 10 years the average number of sea turtle standings on South Carolina beaches each year is 128. Of these, roughly 10 percent are alive and successfully transported to the Sea Turtle Hospital. To date, the South Carolina Aquarium has successfully rehabilitated and released 221 sea turtles and is currently treating 17 patients. The average cost for each patient’s treatment is $35 per day with the average length of stay reaching nine months.
About the South Carolina Aquarium:
The South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston’s most visited attraction, features thousands of amazing aquatic animals from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles in more than 60 exhibits representing the rich biodiversity of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. Dedicated to promoting education and conservation, the Aquarium also presents fabulous views of Charleston harbor and interactive exhibits and programs for visitors of all ages.
The South Carolina Aquarium, a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Aquarium is closed Thanksgiving Day, half day Dec. 24 (open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Dec. 25. Admission prices are: Toddlers (2 and under) free; Youth (3-12) $17.95; Adults (13+) $24.95. For more information call 843-720-1990 or visit scaquarium.org. Memberships are available by calling 843-577-FISH.