Media Information

Conservation Efforts

Conservation matters at the Aquarium. South Carolina is one of the most bio-diverse states in the nation, and our conservation initiatives help to protect the denizens of our streams and rivers, wetlands and marsh, our shoreline and the ocean. Signature programs extend from charismatic species like sea turtles and sharks to less-heralded but vitally important sentinels like freshwater mussels and the rare robust redhorse. Field conservation comes with a cost, and the Aquarium’s commitment to conservation is firmly rooted in partnership. While sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation was not in the original plans upon opening 12 years ago, the Aquarium responded to the call put out by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and launched a critically important hospital and rescue effort. The Aquarium has also tackled the issue of sustainable seafood head on by partnering with local seafood suppliers and restaurants. The robust redhorse initiative includes federal and regional government partners, energy companies and local universities.

South Carolina Aquarium Conservation Facts

    • The Aquarium is currently taking part in 14 conservation projects
    • In 2011 Aquarium staff spent close to 100 days working on conservation projects (exclusive of the year-round Sea Turtle Rescue Program)
    • The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program has successfully treated and released more than 125 sea turtles
    • The Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative currently has 95 partner restaurants across the state of South Carolina

South Carolina Aquarium Conservation Success Story

One of the Aquarium’s most popular and successful conservation programs is the Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The program was developed in 2001 and is designed to promote the use of local and sustainable seafood in the state’s restaurants. The program helps ensure that consumers have fish for the future by teaching our partner chefs about sustainable and local seafood, assessing their menus, and encouraging consumers to dine at one of our partner restaurants. To date, more than 90 restaurants in Charleston and across the state have made the pledge to serve only sustainable seafood. Learn more.


  • The Aquarium recycles cell phones, wine corks, ballasts from fluorescent light fixtures, fluorescent light bulbs, wood pallets, ink cartridges, and plastics #1-7.
  • On average, we recycle 10.44 tons of comingle every year.
  • Mixed paper and cardboard are recycled through Charleston County; on average, we recycle 7.69 tons of mixed paper annually.
  • All guest photos taken by our vendor, Sharpshooter Imaging, are produced on recyclable photo paper.
  • The Aquarium Gift Shop collects used batteries from guests when they purchase replacements and recycles them through the Big Green Box Program.
  • Guests are invited to drop corks, cell phones and batteries at Ollie’s Trading Post, an educational trading post where guests receive points for items that can be used to trade for artifacts like shark teeth.

Energy Efficiency

  • The Aquarium installed exclusively LED lighting in the Madagascar Journey exhibit.
  • The Aquarium’s emergency generator is fueled by bio-diesel.
  • Existing exit signs use LED bulbs.

Air Quality

  • Housekeeping services use microfiber cloths and vacuums with HEPA filters.
  • A CARTA bus stop at the Aquarium conveniently serves the downtown area for mass transit.
  • Aquarium staff requests that visiting bus drivers refrain from running their engines in the Aquarium bus lane.

Water Conservation

  • The Aquarium pulls water from the Charleston Harbor for salt water tank needs.
  • Native landscaping and drip irrigation are used on-site to aid in water conservation.
  • In partnership with Carolina Clear, the Aquarium installed two 55-gallon rain barrels to water front beds and serve as a rain barrel display for our guests.
  • Environmental service staff use a dry carpet cleaning system which uses biodegradable sponges.

Staff Involvement

  • We partner with Ambrose Farms to serve as a drop-off site for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
  • All official Aquarium vehicles contain reusable shopping bags to limit the need for plastic bags.
  • Aquarium staff and volunteers participate in beach sweeps; the Aquarium adopted a section of Folly Beach.
  • Junk mail is documented and recycled; we contact the sources and ask that they limit mailings to the Aquarium.
  • Two staff bicycles are used to run local errands and reduce our carbon footprint.
Visit our About page to view our Senior Leadership, Board of Directors, Director Emeritus, and financial statements.


Planning for the South Carolina Aquarium began in the early 1980’s after Mayor Joseph Riley visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and decided South Carolina should house its very own aquarium.  After choosing Calhoun Park as the location in 1985, and breaking ground ten years later in 1995, the Aquarium opened to the public on May 19, 2000.

The $69 million cost of building and opening the Aquarium was committed from the City of Charleston, Charleston County, the State of South Carolina, the Economic Development Administration, an environmental settlement, and numerous private donations. While the City owns the Aquarium building, the facility is leased and operated by the Aquarium Board of Directors as a not-for-profit corporation, led by Ken Seeger, Chairman of the Board of Directors.  The Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) registered private not-for-profit corporation.  As such, the Aquarium relies on the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations to fulfill its mission of education and conservation of the aquatic environments of South Carolina.

The Aquarium, jutting out 200 feet into the Charleston Harbor, offers a state-of-the-art environmental learning center that encompasses the entire spectrum of the Southeast Appalachian Watershed as found in South Carolina: the Mountains, the Piedmont, the Coastal Plain, the Coast, and the Ocean.  The Aquarium’s 93,000-square-foot building includes nine galleries featuring more than 5,000 amazing aquatic animals, from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles and American alligators, within approximately 50 exhibits.  Currently the Aquarium holds 6,243 specimens of animals within 350 species and 12,000 specimens of plants within 215 species.

1986:  Calhoun Park identified as the site for the South Carolina Aquarium.

October 1995: Groundbreaking.

May 19, 2000: The Aquarium opens to the public.

August 2000: First turtle released from the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

Fall 2000: The free Structured School Program begins educating teachers and students from across South Carolina.

October 31, 2000: First ‘Fish or Treat’ Halloween event.

May 2001: Caretta, a female loggerhead sea turtle, becomes a resident of the Great Ocean Tank.

July 18, 2001: The 1 millionth visitor arrives from Laurens, S.C.

September 2001: The Aquarium receives its Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation.

March 2002: UFO (Unbelievable Flying Objects) exhibit opens including two macaws, Marvin, and Joey.

September 2002: Kiawah, the red-tailed hawk, arrives.

October 2002: The Sustainable Seafood Initiative begins to promote wise seafood choices in local restaurants.

November 2002:  First Scuba Do Fundraiser.

February 2003: Pandora, the reticulated python, tries to escape while being transported to the Aquarium.

March 2003: Debut of Name That Tuna, the Aquarium’s first game show dive program.

April 2003: Ace, the baby river otter, is rescued and brought to the Aquarium.

October 2003: The first member’s travel program takes place in the Galapagos.

March 2004: Secrets of the Amazon exhibit opens, the first major exhibit entirely designed and built by Aquarium staff.

June 2004:  Local high school students begin working at the Aquarium as part of the High School Intern Program.

July 2004: Wreckfish Reef, the children’s play area, opens.

Winter 2005: The Aquarium holds its first Group Sleepover. Conservation program, Oyster Time, is launched.

April 2005:  Maya the anteater goes on exhibit.

May 19, 2005: The Aquarium’s Five Year Birthday.

August 22, 2005:  The Aquarium welcomes its three millionth visitor.

Fall 2005: Jetty, a rehabilitated loggerhead, was the Aquarium’s 16th turtle to be released back into the wild.

January 2006: The Aquarium welcomes Kevin Mills as President and CEO.

June 2006: Pablo Pawcasso opens as the Aquarium’s first Animal Art Exhibit.

Summer 2006: Live feed allows the public to observe Sea Turtle Hospital activities.

Fall 2006: The Aquarium receives AZA Diversity Award for the High School Intern Program.

January 2007: A full-time position, devoted completely to the Sea Turtle Rescue Program is created.

Fall 2007: The Aquarium’s eatery, the Sea Turtle Café opens.

March 2007: The Aquarium receives AZA accreditation for the second time.

March 2008: Camp Carolina opens, a major new exhibit located in the Countess Alicia Spaulding-Paolozzi changing exhibit gallery.

February 2009: Expanded Touch Tank experience opens on the Aquarium’s second floor featuring an Atlantic stingray touch pool.

March 2009: Opening of Penguin Planet, a limited-time only experience featuring four Magellanic Penguins.

February 2010: The Aquarium Retires Opening Debt of $11.5 Million.

March 2010: The Aquarium welcomes Alabaster, an extremely rare Albino American Alligator into the completely renovated Blackwater Swamp exhibit.

May 2010: Former Vice President Al Gore is awarded the Legacy Award at the 2010 Environmental Stewardship Award Ceremony.

May 19, 2010: The Aquarium celebrates its Ten Year Birthday.

March 18, 2011: The renovated Saltmarsh Aviary opens with the Feed the Stingray experience.

April 2011: Dr. Sylvia Earle is awarded the Legacy Award at the 2011 Environmental Stewardship Award Ceremony.

May 2012: Madagascar Journey, the Aquarium’s largest changing exhibit opens to the public in the Countess Alicia Spaulding-Paolozzi changing exhibit gallery.

December 27, 2012: The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program releases the 100th sea turtle treated and rehabilitated at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital.

April 2013: Ted Turner is awarded the 2013 Environmental Stewardship award.

May 2013: The Aquarium’s Animal Care Exhibit opens to the public.

Structured School Program (SSP)

    • With the help of more than 200 South Carolina educators, the South Carolina Aquarium has developed a standards-based Structured School Program that is offered at no cost to the teachers and students of South Carolina.
    • K-12 teachers participating in the program learn about the Aquarium’s standards-based curriculum through a three hour professional development workshop.
    • Once at the Aquarium, students participate in hands-on activities to reinforce the standards-based concepts introduced in the classroom. Using these methods, a visit to the Aquarium becomes part of an integrated learning experience and not simply a field trip away from school.
    • In 2003, the Structured School Program won a Significant Achievement Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
    • The Aquarium developed the Structured School Program using the recommendations of more than 200 South Carolina teachers and educators. Stemming from these recommendations, the Aquarium has created a statewide network of K-12 educators who serve as Education Leadership Partners.
    • As a part of the Structured School Program, the Aquarium has offered four graduate level courses through the College of Charleston for teachers. During the graduate course, teachers “travel” from the mountains to the sea, learning about the aquatic habitats of South Carolina from educators and scientific experts across the state. In addition to field-based learning, the teachers gain a working knowledge of the Aquarium and develop curriculum resources for use within the Structured School Program.
    • Upon completion of the graduate course, those teachers who have demonstrated excellence are invited to become Education Leadership Partners who serve as resources of information to other teachers from their geographical areas and who facilitate the Aquarium’s teacher workshops.
    • The Aquarium offers two professional development workshops each year for the Education Leadership Partners and maintains regular communication via email and telephone.
    • More than 70 teachers have participated in the graduate course and 16 currently serve as Education Leadership Partners.

The overall goal of the Structured School Program is to set a standard of excellence in education through the creation, implementation, and continual assessment/refinement of standards-based instructional materials and programs that improve the quality of science education for South Carolina students and teachers.

    • To establish a statewide network of educators and Education Leadership Partners, who facilitate effective Aquarium teacher workshops.
    • To develop a program that reinforces the state’s science standards.
    • To serve more than 3,000 South Carolina students each year through the free, standards- based Structured School Program.
    • To provide curriculum resources and training opportunities for teachers to effectively implement the Aquarium’s standards-based science curriculum, while increasing their level of comfort with science concepts.

    • The K-12 web-based curriculum, which was generated and tested by South Carolina’s teachers, provides activities and a framework that are based on South Carolina’s environment and meets state science standards.
    • The curriculum is divided by grade level into K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Each grade level contains three to 10 pre-visit curriculum units, a description of what students will do while at the Aquarium, post visit follow-up activities, and an extensive list of supplementary field sites and resources. The curriculum units are comprehensive and can be viewed online.
    • In 2002, the curriculum won the award of “Distinguished” and “Best in Show” from the Society for Technical Communication (STC) at the state level and won an award for “Excellence” in the international STC competition.

    • The South Carolina Aquarium prepares teachers to bring their students to the Aquarium by requiring that every participating K-12 teacher attend a three-hour training workshop prior to their class visit.
    • During this workshop, teachers are introduced to the Aquarium’s comprehensive, standards-based curriculum; learn about the Aquarium’s web-based distance learning activities available for students; preview the orientation video to the Aquarium; and participate in several of the Aquarium’s curriculum activities that they will conduct for their students prior to their visit. This precedent-setting approach maximizes the likelihood that teachers will implement the curriculum and engage students in the curriculum activities prior to attending the Aquarium.
    • Aquarium staff and the Aquarium’s Education Leadership Partners facilitate up to twelve workshops per year at locations across the state. Each participating teacher will leave the workshop with the resources needed to prepare their students for their Aquarium visit.
    • The South Carolina Aquarium has trained more than 2,800 South Carolina teachers through the teacher workshop component of the Structured School Program.

To ensure program success, the following elements have been incorporated into the on-site portion of the Structured School Program:

    • Emphasis on the quality and integrity of the programming provided – The quantity of students served should certainly be optimized, but not at the expense of the quality of the programs.
    • Student work groups set at a maximum of 15 – This facilitates an open exchange of information among students, encourages students to participate equally, helps students to maintain focus, and helps volunteers and instructors to facilitate learning by reducing the amount of group management required.
    • Programs that are timed according the age of the students: Each program is designed to meet the needs of every age group. Time for reflection is instrumental for students to synthesize what they have been doing in the Aquarium and to place it in a larger context of “the big picture”.
    •  Utilize trained volunteer educators to implement Structured School Programs – Working with smaller group sizes to enhance learning requires a higher staffing level.
    • To establish a statewide network of educators who facilitate effective Aquarium teacher workshops.
    • Seventy teachers have successfully completed the Aquarium’s graduate course, have become Education Leadership Partners and have facilitated effective teacher workshops. In 2009, 99 % of teachers surveyed rated the workshop as effective/highly effective.
    • To develop a program that reinforces the state’s science standards.
    • 100 percent of all public school teachers surveyed found that the Aquarium’s Structured School Program reinforced state science standards.
    • To serve more than 3,000 South Carolina students each year through the free, Structured School Program.
    • From 2000-2012 (12 school program years) the aquarium has served an average of 7,700 students per year.
    • To provide curriculum resources and training opportunities for teachers to implement the Aquarium’s standards-based science curriculum, while increasing their level of comfort with science concepts.
    • Since 2000, the Aquarium has trained more than 2,800 South Carolina teachers through the Structured School Program.

Interpretive Programs

    • Every visit to the Aquarium reveals something new – a glimpse of new animals in exhibits, budding plants, new programs, and more. Themed interpretive programs are presented daily by the education staff, and are informative and fun for all visitors – whether they’re arriving for the first or fourth time.
    • Topics for the interpretive programs vary by season, and are always themed, fun, and highly interactive. Daily dive shows, otter feedings, animal shows, and behind-the-scenes tours are offered throughout the day. During the interactive dive program, divers wear special equipment that allows them to talk to visitors within the 385,000 gallon Great Ocean Exhibit.
    • Interpreters are also available among the exhibits to provide in depth knowledge to visitors and the opportunity to touch and interact with an animal.
    • Special areas such as the Touch Tank and Ollie’s Trading Post are designed to promote hands-on learning where all visitors are encouraged to participate.

Aquarium Rovers: Education Outreach Program

    • Programs designed to expand audience knowledge of South Carolina wildlife and resources through hands-on activities in their classroom, school, day camp, retirement home, library, or facility.
    • School outreach program can be coordinated with South Carolina state curriculum standards and can educate groups of up to 35 participants of all ages.
    • Programs Available vary by age group and include: Air, Food, Water and Shelter – Oh My!; Habitats of the Weird and Wacky; Awesome Adaptations; The Great Watershed Caper; Sea Turtle ER.

Classes and Workshops for Non-School Groups

  • The South Carolina Youth Shadowing program offers young adults a glimpse into the Aquarium world. This program offers the opportunity to observe some of the jobs that keep an Aquarium running—like aquarist, educator, or mammal behaviorist.
  • Students apply to the position, write a 300-word essay, and submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher in order to be eligible for the program.
  • The program cost is free and is available to students in grade 6-12.

  • This award winning program (2006 AZA Diversity Award) is currently in its tenth year and has served more than 200 students throughout the greater Charleston area.
  • The Aquarium’s High School Internship Program provides the opportunity for underserved high school juniors to work in a fun, educational environment with animals and visitors of all ages.
  • Students are chosen for the program based on the student’s application, teacher recommendations, and interview.
  • Interns gain valuable job skills and aquatic science education during the training classes and then get to put that knowledge to use during the paid summer internship.

  • S.C. Teachers receive discounts on membership to the Aquarium.
  • Each member program has an educational theme that is publicized in the member newsletter.
  • Non-members may also participate at an increased rate.
  • Sample member programs include: beach seining, birdhouse building, fishing workshops, toddler times, and other outdoor topics.