Did you know that sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years? And did you also know that there are seven known species of sea turtles in the world (six in waters off the coast of the U.S., all of which are either threatened or endangered) with four of those species found off the coast of South Carolina?
Those are just a few fun facts I learned on a recent visit to the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital to interview Kelly Thorvalson, the Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager—and now that my interest in sea turtles is peaked, I’m longing to learn more and do more for the plight of the sea turtles! In fact, most people who leave the Sea Turtle Hospital feel the same way—here’s what one person had to say about visiting the Sea Turtle Hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium:
“We love (the aquarium) so much and it has definitely improved over the years. I love every exhibit they have, and the workers and volunteers are so helpful and friendly. They do so much for the sea turtles, too, and a lot of people don’t know this. This was our first time getting to see the hospital for sea turtles and I have to say this was my absolute favorite part of the entire vacation!” (A customer review from TripAdvisor)
During my visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital, I was fortunate enough to interview Kelly about the hospital’s initiative and rescue and rehabilitation efforts for sick and injured sea turtles. Not only does Kelly have extensive knowledge in sea turtle behavior, anatomy, and medical treatments, but she also has a passion for wildlife conservation and getting the community involved in their mission to help sea turtles.
My tour began with a brief overview of the Sea Turtle Hospital, which is a non-profit initiative. Although the South Carolina Aquarium has been assisting sea turtles since 2000, it wasn’t until 2005 that they received a grant to build the official Sea Turtle Hospital, which is located on the basement level of the aquarium (this level was originally used as storage). Since their beginnings in 2000, the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program has successfully rehabilitated and released 94 sea turtles in total.
So how do sea turtles get to the hospital?
From fishermen to beach-goers, and researchers at the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to boat operators, the Charleston community has become extremely active when it comes to saving the sea turtles of South Carolina.
One issue sea turtles face is getting caught in fishermen’s lines or swallowing a fishing hook. When this happens, responsible fishermen will call SCDNR to assist the injured turtle. Once SCDNR takes the patient, he / she is then transported to the Sea Turtle Hospital where he / she will receive immediate medical attention.
Other injuries can occur when sea turtles are bitten by sharks, clipped by boats, ingest foreign materials (such as plastic or helium balloons), or are injured from human behavior.
The turtles admitted to the hospital must take a series of antibiotic injections to prevent or cure a bacterial infections. When humans have an infection or are working to prevent one, they often receive antibiotics that last approximately 10 days. But because sea turtles metabolize medicine slower than humans, they take antibiotics for up to 3 weeks. Once the patient stops taking antibiotics, he / she must remain in the hospital for a minimum of three additional weeks so that the antibiotic is completely eliminated from the turtle’s system. If the turtle is healthy at this point, he / she will be prepared for release back into the wild.
Another interesting tidbit I learned at the hospital is that if a loggerhead sea turtle patient is healthy enough to eat crustaceans, then the hospital will feed that patient at least one live blue crab per day. Because a loggerhead’s natural diet is hard-shell prey, such as crabs, the hospital wants to ensure that the sea turtle can still hunt and metabolize hard-shell prey before being released back into the wild. It is essential to ease turtles back into the wild by reintroducing their natural diet and encouraging them to use their hunting skills.
Next Tuesday’s blog post will introduce you to some of the Sea Turtle Hospital’s patients, as well as discuss how you can help support the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue initiative.
Visit the South Carolina Aquarium website at www.SCAquarium.org
More about the Sea Turtle Hospital: The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program is dedicated to rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles from the coast of South Carolina and beyond. The program supports the Aquarium’s conservation mission not only through sea turtle rehabilitation, but award-winning programs and exhibitory used to educate the public about the threats sea turtles face and actions that can be taken to help. Outreach programs to schools, businesses, clubs, and festivals throughout the state of South Carolina also promote valuable lessons in sea turtle conservation, protection, and education.