Sponsored by: South Carolina Aquarium
One of South Carolina’s most beloved ocean creatures is the sea turtle. Its likeness adorns everything from jewelry to car stickers. Volunteers happily rise early in the morning to monitor nests after mother turtles have lumbered onto the beach to lay their eggs at night. Crowds gather on the beaches to cheer the release of a rehabilitated sea turtle ready to reclaim its place in the ocean.
The turtles are as much as part of Charleston culture as plantations and sweetgrass baskets. One organization in particular has been instrumental in celebrating the sea turtle while also transforming the treatment of these majestic ocean creatures.
Since the South Carolina Aquarium began its Sea Turtle Rescue Program 15 years ago, it continues to treat and rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles. But this year was especially remarkable as the program admitted a record number of local turtles in the spring.
The start of sea turtle nesting season, May and June, are busy months for the hospital. Previously, the most local strandings that the hospital admitted was six turtles in June 2013. But then in May 2015 alone, 11 new sea turtles were admitted into the hospital.
Most of those new patients were loggerheads weighing 60 to 125 pounds with poor body conditions and carrying a large number of small marine animals like barnacles, tube worms, skeleton shrimp and crabs. These creatures weren’t necessarily hurting the turtles but were contributing to their illness.
Turtles in such poor health take anywhere from two to 10 months to fully recover. So with the increased number of sick turtles and their lengthy hospital stay, the Sea Turtle Hospital found itself at capacity and even had to resort to using temporary holding tanks.
The aquarium is planning a hospital expansion in 2017 along with larger educational experiences throughout the exhibit that showcase the popular sea turtles. The expansion will allow for an increase in the number of turtles that are able to receive care and will boast additional holding tanks. An enrichment and exercise pool will be a marquee addition to help prepare the sea turtles for their release.
“Guests love to visit the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital. The behind-the-scenes tours provide a way for guests to connect with these charismatic animals,” said Kelly Thorvalson, South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue program manager. “The turtles are not only gentle and ancient, but are fighting for their own survival and that of their species. These connections are vital to helping guests understand the greater need for ocean conservation.”