The second season of Holland Lifelong Learning premiered last Wednesday, September 21st, coinciding with another exciting moment in the Aquarium’s history – the groundbreaking of Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™.
Held in the Aquarium’s Great Hall, over 150 guests comprised of community members, Aquarium supporters, business leaders, students and volunteers attended a panel session focusing on the journey from rescue, rehabilitation and release that sea turtle patients experience in the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital.
Kevin Mills, President and CEO of the South Carolina Aquarium, welcomed the audience with a look at the humble beginnings of our sea turtle rescue efforts. What started with the admission of the very first turtle patient in 2000 has resulted in the successful rehabilitation and release of over 200 sea turtles, and a growing number of turtles admitted into our care each year (43 sea turtles in 2016 so far).
Michelle Pate, Coordinator for the SC Marine Turtle Conservation Program at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), started off the panel discussion by providing a series of statistics on the nesting and stranding numbers of sea turtles on South Carolina beaches, and the role of SCDNR and their volunteer networks. “Volunteers make up so much of our efforts,” said Michelle. “Since 1980, nest protection efforts have helped more than 7,005,913 loggerhead hatchlings make it to the ocean.”
One such volunteer is Mary Pringle, a permitted transporter for SCDNR and a longtime volunteer for nest protection and stranding networks. In her presentation, Mary discussed one of her primary roles to ensure that turtles found stranded are transported to the Aquarium in a safe and timely manner; she is one of nine volunteers who does this for SCDNR. “There are times when people have called me directly to come for a turtle, as was the case with Grace, a cold-stunned patient who was recently released,” Mary stated. On the drive to the Aquarium, Mary has to monitor the turtle and keep them safe. “DNR originally gave us kiddie pools to put in our SUVs, but now we use Velcro wrap slings – it can be pretty interesting if the turtles get loose,” she says. Responses have to occur quickly once Mary is called in, and once the turtles make it to the hospital, a new level of urgency begins through medical triage.
Next the audience heard from Whitney Daniel, Veterinary Assistant at the South Carolina Aquarium, who alongside Dr. Shane Boylan takes over once the turtles arrive at the Aquarium. Initial triage involves getting baseline data, determining cause of stranding and administering fluids and antibiotics. “The trend this year was shark bites,” Whitney explained. “Other cases include fishing hooks, impaction, debilitated turtle syndrome, cold-stunning and entanglement.” Luckily, we have had amazing medical technology that has helped us diagnose and treat these turtles. Our radiograph and endoscope machines have helped improve the care tremendously, and with Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™, we will have access to an on-site CT machine (currently, our turtles are transported to West Ashley to undergo CT scans).
Each turtle has a different timeline for when they are eligible for release, and getting them to that point can take months of care and the involvement of many. “It takes a village,” Kelly Thorvalson, the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center™ Manager stated in her closing remarks. “The community has embraced our efforts to help sea turtles. From DNR’s leadership and advisement, to the turtle teams constantly patrolling the beaches, the volunteers working on daily maintenance and care in the hospital, the amazing veterinary experts that work on our turtles pro bono, the regular in-kind contributions we receive for healthy diets, the pilots and companies that donate transportation options and the donors who financially support us – we simply could not do what we do without everyone’s dedication and support.” Releases occur once medical clearance is granted, and when release days come, it is a celebration for the entire community.
Directly following the discussion, guests had the opportunity to take a tour of the current Sea Turtle Hospital, located in the basement of the Aquarium. We are so excited that construction has finally begun on Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™, slated to open May 2017.