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South Carolina Aquarium’s $5.3 million Sea Turtle Recovery exhibit opens Memorial Day


The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston will open its eagerly anticipated Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery exhibit shortly. The new $5.3 million attraction will be both be a highly engaging and interactive draw for aquarium visitors and a vital resource for its developing conservation initiatives.

The exhibit opens on Memorial Day weekend.

Visitors to the new exhibit enter via the viewing area of the aquarium’s two-story Great Ocean Tank. There, they can learn about the four sea turle species found in South Carolina waters and view life-size models of each. I-Pad stations allow them to discover more about the animals and even give them the opportunity to make their own virtual diagnosis on sick patients.

St. Louis based PGAV Destinations was the architect for the project. This included exhibit and graphic design and interpretive and media concept design.

Inside the Sea Turtle Recovery Exhibit

Visitors view the actual medical facility through viewing windows from the public area. From this vantage point they can see real-time surgery and other procedures. They can also learn even more about the activities of the cente via live-steaming from the facility. In addition, visitors can view the recovering sea turtles in the seven tanks.

Senior veterinarian Shane Boylan highlighted the sate-of-the-art technology available to him and his colleagues. These include a research storage freezer for samples and a CT scan facility. The latter means that aquarium staff will no longer have to transport sick or injured animals offsite.

sea turtle recovery exhibit South Carolina Aquarium transporting a turtle
A new turtle arrives at the aquarium

It is hoped that the  expansion to the aquarium will help grow annual attendance from its current level of 450,000.  Although a non-profit, the aquarium needs to both cover its costs and make a good profit so it can contiunue its vital conservation work. Admission fees will increase by $5, to $29.95 for adults, when it opens May 27th.

A conservation movement

When the South Carolina Aquarium opened back in 2000 it had no plans to be involved in turtle rescue. However, when S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologists brought along an injured turtle for surgery it kick-started a movement, the evolution of which has resulted in the new Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery exhibit. Kevin Mills, the aquarium’s CEO says it is “a critical aspect of the facility’s mission”.

leatherback turtle release by South Carolina Aquarium 1
Leatherback turtle release

Volunteer groups grew to help watch turtle nests on the beaches. More and more turtles were rescued and released and the loggerhead turtle eventually became a “beloved ambassador of the coast”. Each release back into the ocean drew a crowd. The aquarium initiated tours of the fledgling turtle rescue facility which, despite being an extra charge, attracted 20,000 people a year.

Thanks to the efforts of the aquarium, local conservation groups and concerned locals the future looks promising for local turtles. Loggerhead turtles made a record 6,444 nests in the coastal dunes last year and the aquarium – which is currently caring for record numbers of turtles – has treated and released over 200.

One challenge faced by zoos and aquaria across the world is to educate the pubic about the grave threats facing our natural world without appearing to preach or be too downbeat. It is easy to succumb to “environmental despair”.  In showcasing the aquarium’s very successful and proactive conservation work, the new Sea Turtle Recovery exhibit should both draw the crowds and help highlight the challenges facing the region’s turtle species. There is a neat touch as visitors leave the exhibit. There, a multi-screen video display shows recent reintroductions of turtles to the sea.

Images kind courtesy South Carolina Aquarium

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Charles Read

Charles is Managing Director at Blooloop. He attends numerous trade shows around the world and frequently speaks about trends and social media for the attractions industry at conferences. Outside of Blooloop his passions are diving, trees and cricket.

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