Discover Charleston

South Carolina Aquarium Rides to the Sea-Turtle Rescue

Inside the Sea Turtle Hospital South Carolina: Charleston’s Turtle Rescue

Follow the rescue, rehab, and recovery journey.

The SC Aquarium has a FAQ page about their COVID-19 safety protocols. Charleston is open and ready for your road trip discovery!

The sea turtle hospital is one of the most interesting, must-visit places in Charleston — with a mission of goodness at its core. When the South Carolina Aquarium accepted its first debilitated loggerhead turtle, Stinky, it had to buy a kiddie pool in order to care for the giant turtle. Since then, the aquarium has rescued hundreds of turtles in its famous sea turtle hospital.

The SC Aquarium is a fun thing to do in Charleston in 2021.
North America's deepest aquarium tank at the SC Aquarium (Courtesy South Carolina Aquarium)

In 2017, the aquarium opened its doors to its Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery, which operates as both a hospital and an educational exhibit to help ensure the sea turtle's future. The sea turtle recovery experience features seven state-of-the-art tanks for rehabilitating endangered reptiles. The large tanks allow the sea turtle hospital S.C. to treat adult loggerhead turtles, which can grow to over 300 pounds.

Charleston is open and enforcing Covid-19 safety protocols.
Turtle lovers join in 2019 to celebrate the sea turtles' release at Charleston's beaches. In 2021, the joyous releases will enforce social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. (South Carolina Aquarium/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Visitor Experience

Visitors to the sea turtle hospital SC follow the inspirational journey of sick or injured sea turtles from rescue to rehabilitation and release. Interactive exhibits allow you to weigh a turtle, estimate its age, and diagnose what's making it sick. Exhibits also show how water quality, marine debris, and plastic consumption affect the sea turtles' health and environment.

One of the most worthwhile things to do in Charleston is visit the South Carolina Aquarium.
The Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is the state reptile of South Carolina. (©James Lee/Unsplash)

All seven species of sea turtles found in the United States are classified as threatened or endangered species due to coastal development and ocean conservation conflicts. Eco-conscious citizens rally to protect the ancient darling of the sea, the turtle. From April through November, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, green and leatherback sea turtles visit South Carolina shore waters, nesting from May through October on our beaches. The most common turtle species is the Loggerhead.

Sea turtles often arrive at the aquarium's recovery center suffering from infections, shock from being exposed to cold temperatures, or injury from a boat strike or shark bite. The staff veterinarians diagnose each turtle and work with staff and volunteers to provide treatment and care. Once healthy, they release the turtles back into the population.

A Lasting Impact: The Sea Turtle Hospital S.C.

The sea turtle hospital and exhibit operate both as a guest experience and rehabilitation center. It is the largest construction project for the aquarium since opening its doors in 2000. Working in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the hospital's ultimate goal is to release turtles back to their natural habitat, in hopes that they contribute to the sea turtle population through reproduction.

Jonathan Zucker, the chairman of the aquarium board, said people relate to loggerhead turtles because of their large scale and prehistoric nature. He said the turtles act as a "sentinel, telling us what's wrong with the environment." Zucker hopes people will leave knowing that even minor changes, such as picking up straws and using reusable water bottles, can improve the health of the turtles as well as the natural world we share.

Watching sea turtle releases at the beach is something to do in Charleston SC in 2021.
A feeling of hope resounds when a recovered sea turtle returns to its natural habitat. (Courtesy South Carolina Aquarium)

If you happen to be in town when the sea turtle hospital S.C. releases a healthy turtle, it's an unforgettable experience. Release dates are posted on the South Carolina Aquarium's Facebook page. They occur in the late spring and summer when ocean temperatures are warm enough for the turtles. Want to get more involved? Consider becoming a Sea Turtle Guardian and receive early notification of releases as well as monthly Zoom calls with a sea turtle biologist.

The SC Aquarium is open for something to do in Charleston SC in 2021.
A young turtle takes to the seas after being nursed back to health at the South Carolina Aquarium. (Courtesy South Carolina Aquarium)

The sea turtle hospital S.C. isn’t the only thing to see at the Aquarium. The South Carolina Aquarium is Charleston's most visited attraction. It juts 200 feet into the Charleston harbor, showcasing expansive views and seaport activity. Featuring a two-story, 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank, visitors come face-to-face with sharks and the aquarium's healthy 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta. There also are several opportunities for visitors to touch stingrays, starfish, and other sea creatures — kids love it! 

This sea turtle hospital S.C. and the South Carolina Aquarium are must-go places to see for anyone visiting Charleston. For more information on the aquarium visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program.  

Looking for more ideas about what to do at the South Carolina Aquarium in 2021? Here’s a YouTube video with lots of information about the aquarium and its sea turtle rescue program:

Please be sure to contact each establishment to verify opening hours, reservation policies, health requirements, and any other variations as the months progress.