When the South Carolina Aquarium accepted its first debilitated loggerhead turtle, Stinky, it had to buy a kiddie pool in order to care for the giant turtle. Since then the aquarium has rescued more than 220 turtles.
On Saturday, the aquarium opens its doors to its new Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery, which operates as both a hospital and an educational exhibit. The sea turtle recovery experience features seven state-of-the-art tanks for rehabilitating the endangered reptiles. The large tanks allow the sea turtle recovery center to treat adult loggerhead turtles, which can grow to more than 300 pounds.
Visitors can follow the inspirational journey of sick or injured sea turtles from rescue to rehabilitation and release. Interactive exhibits allow you weigh a turtle, estimate its age and diagnose what's making it sick. Exhibits also show how water quality, marine debris and plastic consumption affect the sea turtles' health and environment.
Sea turtles often arrive at the aquarium's recovery center suffering from infections, shock from being exposed to cold temperatures or injury from boat strike or shark bite. The staff veterinarians diagnose each turtle and work with staff and volunteers to provide treatment and care. Once healthy, the turtles are released back into the population.
All seven species of sea turtles found in the United States are classified as threatened or endangered species, largely due to coastal development and ocean conservation issues.
The turtle hospital and exhibit is the largest construction project since the aquarium opened 17 years ago.
Jonathan Zucker, the chairman of the aquarium board, said people relate to loggerhead turtles because of their large scale and prehistoric nature. He said the turtles act as a "sentinel, telling us what's wrong with the environment." He hopes people will leave knowing that even small changes, such as picking up straws and using reusable water bottles, can improve the health of the turtles as well as the natural world we share.
If you happen to be in town when a healthy turtle is released, it's an unforgettable experience. Release dates are posted to the South Carolina Aquarium's Facebook page. They usually occur in the late spring and summer when ocean temperatures are warm enough for the turtles.
The South Carolina Aquarium is Charleston's most visited attraction. It juts out 200 feet into the Charleston Harbor and offers fabulous views. The aquarium features a two-story, 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank, where visitors can come face-to-face with sharks and the aquarium's healthy 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta. There also are several opportunities for visitors to touch stingrays, starfish and other sea creatures.