By Michelle Wagner on November 12, 2013
With construction well under way, the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island is expected to debut its new and improved Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center sometime in mid-2014, according to aquarium curator Christian Legner.
The 3,000-square-foot facility is being funded by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and being constructed in partnership with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles.
Aquarium officials say they hope to occupy the STAR facility by January to begin outfitting it for operation. Legner said the facility should be up and running no later than early summer.
The facility will outshine the current turtle rehab center with more space and state-of-the-art exhibits that will engage the public in the rehabilitation process. Currently, aquarium workers and N.E.S.T. volunteers operate out of a small outbuilding at the aquarium site that Legner says is about three times smaller than the building now under construction.
“We just keep taking turtles until we are full to the brim,” Legner said. “Last year, we had more than 70 turtles.”
When the facility becomes overcrowded, turtles are shipped to other rehab centers in the state. The new facility will significantly reduce the need to transport turtles out of the area, which reduces the stress on the animals during their rehabilitation.
The STAR center will include key equipment to allow veterinarians to treat the turtles on-site, more treatment space and increased options for housing the turtles, Legner said. It is being constructed off of the current Operation Sea Turtle Rescue exhibit on the sound side of the aquarium and will include a separate treatment exam room with a large window for public viewing.
LCD screens will also be installed to post information for visitors about current patients.
In addition, the new center will feature technology to enable N.E.S.T. volunteers and aquarium staff to answer questions from visitors as they work on the turtles.
“There will be a lot of new graphics and interactive exhibits for the public,” Legner said.
The aquarium and N.E.S.T. will continue to work together to respond and treat cold-stunned turtles in the winter months and injured or sick turtles throughout the year. Once turtles are treated by a veterinarian, they are transported to the rehab center until they are healthy enough to be released into the ocean.
The new facility will include holding tanks for recuperating turtles, food preparation areas, storage space and a large medical treatment room. An advanced filtration system in the tanks will give care givers the opportunity to provide turtles with better care, according to Legner.
A strong education component will be included in the new facility with the large window and interactive displays.
“Visitors will now get a behind-the-scenes look at us working with the turtles,” Legner said.
N.E.S.T. partners with the aquarium by providing frontline response to turtles in distress as well as funding veterinary bills and volunteering seven days a week at the turtle rehabilitation center. The aquarium foots the bill for room and board as well as some medical expenses and staffing, Legner said.