Discover Charleston

SC Aquarium Rides to the Sea-Turtle Rescue

See a program that saved a record-breaking 11 turtles in May and eyes expansion with a new hospital in 2016.

Maybe you’re a kid with a love for ocean life, or maybe you’re a full-grown adult with that same childlike passion. Either way, the South Carolina Aquarium’s quickly growing Sea Turtle Rescue Program is something you’re going to want to check out. An eye-opening experience with a personal, behind-the-scenes vibe, the program’s Sea Turtle Hospital tour, offered twice daily at noon and 2 pm, shows you another side to the Charleston-based aquarium, letting you get face-to-face with sea turtles at varying stages of rehabilitation.

Beginning at the grass roots, the program was born of necessity when a few of the animals were brought injured or malnourished to the facility. It has since grown into a crucial part of the aquarium, receiving a record-breaking 11 turtles this May. Compare that to the previous record of six (last June), and it’s easy to see why the aquarium has plans to expand in 2016 with a new, state-of-the-art hospital on its main floor.

To date, the Sea Turtle Rescue Program has rehabilitated and released more than 160 turtles of four different species back to the ocean, and with all seven species of sea turtles either endangered or threatened, these efforts to foster a sustainable future for such amazing creatures are more important than ever.

SC Aquarium turtle rescue
Aquarium staff deliver a patient to hospital headquarters. (Courtesy SC Aquarium/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Sea Turtle Hospital houses patients with a wide range of issues, from McAdoo, who lost a fin to a shark bite, to Buck, who came to the hospital so debilitated he could do little more than float. Some of the ailments—McAdoo’s, for example—are natural for ocean life, and the Rescue Program’s efforts provide a terrific second chance for the affected turtles.

But some of the health risks these turtles face, aquarium volunteers pointed out, illustrate a deeper problem, one that we humans actually have a lot of power to help. Working to keep our oceans and beaches clean can prevent sea turtles and other sea creatures from getting hurt. By raising awareness and promoting conservation efforts, everyone can help make the rescue program as effective as possible. Aquarium volunteer Elaine Warren offered a great example. “Sea turtles love to eat jellyfish,” she said. “But what do you think that a plastic grocery bag floating in the ocean will look like to a sea turtle?"

The gravity of the issues that the rescue program is addressing might make the Sea Turtle Hospital seem a bit intimidating, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you find yourself standing beside an open tank, with absolutely nothing between you and one of these incredible turtles, you can’t help but smile, especially when you hear that turtle’s story and learn what it is overcoming. The rescue team is doing amazing work with McAdoo, Buck and many others every day to get them back to the open ocean and to help their species grow and thrive again. A sea turtle might stay at the hospital for a year or so before it is fully rehabilitated, but the aquarium staff is committed to giving each one the care that it needs. Besides, that’s not as long of a stay for a sea turtle as it might seem. You may remember that Crush from “Finding Nemo”was “150, Dude, and still young"!

Both McAdoo and Buck, by the way, were released back to the Atlantic on June 8, which coincided with World Oceans Day.

With the loggerhead as South Carolina’s state reptile, the Sea Turtle Rescue Program’s work also is near to the heart in Charleston. On a Sea Turtle Hospital tour, you’ll have the rewarding opportunity to meet some of these turtles for yourself and find out, firsthand, just what’s involved in helping them recover.

For more information on the aquarium and the Sea Turtle Rescue Program, visit

Releasing rehabilitated turtle
Staff prepare another turtle for release to the ocean. (SC Aquarium/Flickr Creative Commons)