A 93-pound loggerhead sea turtle is hoisted out of its holding tank onto an examination table. It’s time to clean and checkup on an injury on the rear-right of its shell. The table is rolled into the examination room, where visitors watch the process through a viewing window, listen as the husbandry curator describes the procedure and ask their own questions. This is one of the many activities happening at the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
Caring for sick and injured sea turtles has been a mission of the Aquarium for many years. With the help of our dedicated husbandry staff and the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST) volunteers, many sea turtles are successfully rehabilitated and returned back into the wild each year. This work was previously done behind the scenes, in a small facility with five tanks which could hold a maximum of 12-15 small turtles. During the winter, when there is an influx of sick sea turtles from cold-stunning (extreme hypothermia), space quickly runs out. It was decided that a new facility was needed which could better help us help them.
The STAR Center is a 3,000 square-foot expansion, allowing staff and volunteers to maintain an excellent level of care for the sick and ailing turtles. The facility houses eight tanks and has floor space for portable tanks which can hold up to 25 small turtles. This space along with an examination room, food prep areas and storage greatly improved upon the original rehab center. The turtles are fed depending on their individual needs, with some eating live blue crabs or sea grass. Visitors to the Center have the opportunity to see our turtle patients through viewing windows on the tanks and hear their recovery stories from the people who help them every day.
If you walked into the Center today, you could hear about Barnacle, a loggerhead sea turtle who was seen from Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills, NC. A rope with a plastic bottle attached was wrapped around the turtle and it was unable to dive properly for food. A lifeguard jumped from the pier, swam the turtle to shore and it was brought to the STAR Center to recover. Other turtles have suffered boat strike injuries and been snagged with fishing hooks. Each turtle in our care has individual needs and a unique story. You can hear them all when you visit the STAR Center.
The Center opened to the public on June 27, 2014 and a general Aquarium admission is all you need to visit.
Public Relations Assistant
NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Meanwhile, back at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, our hatchlings continue to grow, and quickly. This week Turtle A is 9.2 cm long and weighs 112.5 grams. Turtle B is 9.4 cm long and weighs 116.6 grams. Not sure what to do with this weight and length? Learn more in our Hatchling to Yearling lesson plan. Have you ever visited a sea turtle hospital? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!