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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, January 10, 2020

It’s a “shell-ebration”


Tennessee Aquarium ‘shell-ebrates’ turtles with new gallery, IMAX film



A group of freshwater turtles congregate just above the waterline on a floating log in the Tennessee Aquarium’s Mississippi Delta Country gallery. - Photographs provided

From King Bowser and Aesop’s tireless tortoise to the brothers Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael, literature and pop culture are awash with famous turtles.

In the real world, however, these shelled reptiles are often overlooked, despite their ecological value and a global decline in turtle populations.

“Turtles are understudied, underrepresented and underappreciated, despite the important role they play,” says Dr. Josh Ennen, an aquatic conservation biologist at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. “I have a strong respect for turtles and I’m deeply appreciative of their resilience.”

Turtles are textbook examples of “living fossils,” predating dinosaurs and outlasting the calamity that wiped them out. Despite a history of surviving whatever nature can throw at them, turtles now face threats such as habitat loss and unsustainable trafficking.

“The international trade in turtles, particularly into Asia, is heavy, but the biggest challenge they face is having a safe place to live,” says Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s director of forests and animal behavior.

“As human communities expand, the threats to turtles grow as well. Turtles need a safe place to live for 20, 30, 40 – even 100 – years. Once their environment has been disrupted, their populations are frequently severely impacted or even lost.”

In light of these threats, turtles could use more attention, Collins says. Fortunately, there are nearly enough species of turtles (360) to celebrate a new one every day for a year.

During 2020, the Aquarium will host a variety of activities, beginning with a new Turtle Trail exhibition that guides guests along a themed path that offers insights about the many turtle species on display.

On Feb. 13, the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater will begin screening “Turtle Odyssey 3D.” The production focuses on the journey undertaken by Green Sea Turtles hatchlings and the scientific efforts to save the species from extinction. The film features narration by Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe.

On March 1, guests will be able to explore an expanded gallery focused on highlighting turtle diversity in Southeast Asia and the Southeastern United States. The gallery will feature several new exhibits, kid-friendly games and a working turtle nursery.

“One of the most important roles the Aquarium has always played – and will continue to play this year – is bringing awareness of turtles to the public,” Collins adds. “Coming here and seeing the diversity of turtles we have on exhibit is a big part of getting people to care.”

Information

Source: Tennessee Aquarium