One of our first stops in Charleston was to the South Carolina Aquarium. I was so excited to visit this place, because I’d followed their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release wild sea turtles as well as their efforts to educate the public on the dangers of plastic pollution for several years. I studied Environmental & Earth Sciences at the University of Michigan, and I was inspired by growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan to create my own minor in Water Law & Conservation, so seeing so many people passionately sharing ways to help wildlife and improve the environment was simply wonderful to see. All of the creatures that call the aquarium home are rescues who couldn’t survive in the wild, and now help educate the public while living out their days in comfort and safety. The South Carolina Aquarium is a great place to learn about the natural world, and get involved in making a real, measurable difference in nature.
The South Carolina Aquarium
I don’t normally visit aquariums, because often times they are stocked with dolphins, whales, turtles, and exotic fish that are not only not native to that area, but are also kept in subpar conditions, when they should be living in the wild. I was excited to visit the South Carolina Aquarium because it is the exact opposite of the typical aquarium. All of the animals here couldn’t survive in the wild, there are no creatures that wouldn’t be in this region, and their primary focuses are education, rehabilitation, and conservation, which are missions I can support 100%.
The South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center works with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to identify and rescue stranded, injured, or sick sea turtles, including turtles that are stuck in fishing nets or those who have been wounded by fishing hooks. The Sea Turtle Care Center triages the turtles, this means they evaluate the sea turtle’s injuries to determine what sort of care the creature needs, and provides the appropriate care. Without their efforts, these endangered species would almost certainly perish, further decimating their populations.
Usually, the turtles just need to have their wounds tended to or may need antibiotics, but sometimes the turtles require surgery, removal of plastic debris that’s either been ingested or has become wrapped around the turtle. Sometimes, turtles are brought in who need broken bones set & healed. The Sea Turtle Care Center, which can house multiple turtles at once in a variety of tanks for long term care and recovery, then helps the turtles recover from their surgeries or injuries until they are well enough to be released back into the wild.
All seven species of sea turtles that exist in the world are either endangered or listed as threatened by wildlife conservation groups and the United States government’s Fish & Wildlife Services, as a direct result of human activities like coral reef destruction, fishing activities, recreational & commercial boating, as well as plastic & marine pollution. The aquarium’s mission is to mitigate these harmful activities by encouraging mindful consumerism, environmental conservation, corporate responsibility, beach cleanups, and sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Thanks to their work with the help of their volunteers, more than 3,000 sea turtles have been rescued, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild in the last 17 years, which is 177 sea turtles saved per year, or roughly one sea turtle saved every 2 days.
If you’d like to directly help their efforts, there are several ways to help regardless of whether or not you’re local to Charleston. Regardless of where you live, limiting your use of single use plastics, and properly recycling the plastics you do use can make a huge difference to not only sea turtles, but also thousands of other species of wildlife on land and at sea. Using reef safe sunscreens when swimming in the ocean, and properly disposing of toxic materials, household cleaners, paints, oils, automotive liquids, and other liquid pollutants will keep them out of our waterways and prevent them from contaminating bodies of water. Picking up garbage whenever we see it, and participating in beach cleanups can help keep beaches clean for our own enjoyment, and the animals who lay their eggs on the beach, like sea turtles! All living things benefit from a cleaner, healthier environment.
If you’re local to Charleston, the aquarium is always looking for volunteers for various volunteer positions, from cleaning tanks and creating social media content that supports the aquarium, to helping with turtle rehabilitation efforts. If you’re not local to Charleston (and even if you are), making a direct donation helps support their work to improve our waterways and care for injured sea turtles and other aquatic species. Their website will tell you how your donations help directly care for sea turtles in the care center, like how $100 provides antibiotics to sick sea turtles for a full week, and how $500 covers the cost of fishing hook removal surgery for a lucky sea turtle, who can live a long life and go on to help repopulate this endangered species. This is what I plan to ask my family to donate to I my honor if my family wants to “get” me a gift this holiday season!
In addition to numerous turtles and fish, the aquarium is home to around 10,000 other creatures, including an eagle who cannot live in the wild, jellyfish, a giant hermit crab, and several sharks who could not live in the wild. There are activities for all ages here, and the cost of entry helps support their conservation efforts. If we ever moved to the Charleston area, we’d volunteer here as often as we could!
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