The South Carolina Aquarium hosts around half a million visitors a year, is home to more than 5,000 animals – all of them native to the Palmetto State – and has the deepest tank in all of North America. Its pride and joy, however, is the Sea Turtle Care Center™.
Since the Aquarium opened in 2000, the Care Center has released more than 360 sick and injured sea turtles back into the ocean after successfully treating them for a variety of medical issues, from injuries inflicted by sharks, boats and fishing gear to debilitated turtle syndrome and exposure to dangerously low temperatures.
The Care Center staff, consisting of a director of veterinary care, a veterinarian, a veterinary assistant, the manager of the Care Center, three biologists and volunteers treat their patients with IV fluids, antibiotics, vitamins and other medications. The team has diagnostic equipment available to perform X-rays, CT scans, endoscopies and ultrasounds.
Visitors to the Aquarium can get an up-close look at how the team takes care of their patients in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™. They can also learn more about the rehabilitation process and get information concerning each patient’s story on interactive screens. In addition, the Aquarium hosts the McNair Center for Sea Turtle Conservation and Research, which shares 21 years of experience and expertise with researchers across the globe.
Most of the sick and injured sea turtles the Care Center treats are discovered by boaters in the water or on the beach, and many of them are transported to the Care Center either by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) or in Aquarium vans specially outfitted to safely transport sick and injured sea turtles. The Care Center recommends that people who find a sick or injured turtle should call the SCDNR, which will connect with the Care Center team.
The Care Center treats 30 to 40 sea turtles on average each year, including the four species listed as threatened or endangered that are found in South Carolina: loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, green and leatherback. It can take anywhere from a few months to 2+ years for a sea turtle to be rehabilitated, depending on their admit status, before it is ready to return to its home in the ocean.
The South Carolina Aquarium is well-known for its work with sick and injured sea turtles, but it also is active in an array of projects that include saltmarsh and oyster restoration, declining animal populations, plastic pollution and other field work.
The South Carolina Aquarium’s mission is “to inspire conservation of the natural world by exhibiting and caring for animals, by excelling in education and research and by providing an exceptional visitor experience.”
The centerpiece of the 92,990-square-foot Aquarium is the Great Ocean Tank. Measuring 42 feet deep by 50 feet by 40 feet, it holds 385,000 gallons of water and around 550 animals that represent 40 South Carolina-native species. Caretta, the only loggerhead sea turtle who is a permanent resident of the Aquarium, has never spent time in the Sea Turtle Care Center, but she is “The Queen of the Great Ocean Tank.”
The South Carolina Aquarium is located at 100 Aquarium Wharf on Charleston Harbor. To learn more, visit scaquarium.org.