Conservation matters at the Aquarium. South Carolina is one of the most bio-diverse states in the nation, and our conservation initiatives help to protect the denizens of our streams and rivers, wetlands and marsh, our shoreline and the ocean. Signature programs extend from charismatic species like sea turtles and sharks to less-heralded but vitally important sentinels like freshwater mussels and the rare robust redhorse. Field conservation comes with a cost, and the Aquarium’s commitment to conservation is firmly rooted in partnership. While sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation was not in the original plans upon opening 12 years ago, the Aquarium responded to the call put out by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and launched a critically important hospital and rescue effort. The Aquarium has also tackled the issue of sustainable seafood head on by partnering with local seafood suppliers and restaurants. The robust redhorse initiative includes federal and regional government partners, energy companies and local universities.
South Carolina Aquarium Conservation Facts
South Carolina Aquarium Conservation Success Story
One of the Aquarium’s most popular and successful conservation programs is the Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The program was developed in 2001 and is designed to promote the use of local and sustainable seafood in the state’s restaurants. The program helps ensure that consumers have fish for the future by teaching our partner chefs about sustainable and local seafood, assessing their menus, and encouraging consumers to dine at one of our partner restaurants. To date, more than 90 restaurants in Charleston and across the state have made the pledge to serve only sustainable seafood. Learn more.
Planning for the South Carolina Aquarium began in the early 1980’s after Mayor Joseph Riley visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and decided South Carolina should house its very own aquarium. After choosing Calhoun Park as the location in 1985, and breaking ground ten years later in 1995, the Aquarium opened to the public on May 19, 2000.
The $69 million cost of building and opening the Aquarium was committed from the City of Charleston, Charleston County, the State of South Carolina, the Economic Development Administration, an environmental settlement, and numerous private donations. While the City owns the Aquarium building, the facility is leased and operated by the Aquarium Board of Directors as a not-for-profit corporation, led by Ken Seeger, Chairman of the Board of Directors. The Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) registered private not-for-profit corporation. As such, the Aquarium relies on the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations to fulfill its mission of education and conservation of the aquatic environments of South Carolina.
The Aquarium, jutting out 200 feet into the Charleston Harbor, offers a state-of-the-art environmental learning center that encompasses the entire spectrum of the Southeast Appalachian Watershed as found in South Carolina: the Mountains, the Piedmont, the Coastal Plain, the Coast, and the Ocean. The Aquarium’s 93,000-square-foot building includes nine galleries featuring more than 5,000 amazing aquatic animals, from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles and American alligators, within approximately 50 exhibits. Currently the Aquarium holds 6,243 specimens of animals within 350 species and 12,000 specimens of plants within 215 species.
October 1995: Groundbreaking.
May 19, 2000: The Aquarium opens to the public.
August 2000: First turtle released from the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program.
Fall 2000: The free Structured School Program begins educating teachers and students from across South Carolina.
October 31, 2000: First ‘Fish or Treat’ Halloween event.
May 2001: Caretta, a female loggerhead sea turtle, becomes a resident of the Great Ocean Tank.
July 18, 2001: The 1 millionth visitor arrives from Laurens, S.C.
September 2001: The Aquarium receives its Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation.
March 2002: UFO (Unbelievable Flying Objects) exhibit opens including two macaws, Marvin, and Joey.
September 2002: Kiawah, the red-tailed hawk, arrives.
October 2002: The Sustainable Seafood Initiative begins to promote wise seafood choices in local restaurants.
November 2002: First Scuba Do Fundraiser.
February 2003: Pandora, the reticulated python, tries to escape while being transported to the Aquarium.
March 2003: Debut of Name That Tuna, the Aquarium’s first game show dive program.
April 2003: Ace, the baby river otter, is rescued and brought to the Aquarium.
October 2003: The first member’s travel program takes place in the Galapagos.
March 2004: Secrets of the Amazon exhibit opens, the first major exhibit entirely designed and built by Aquarium staff.
June 2004: Local high school students begin working at the Aquarium as part of the High School Intern Program.
July 2004: Wreckfish Reef, the children’s play area, opens.
Winter 2005: The Aquarium holds its first Group Sleepover. Conservation program, Oyster Time, is launched.
April 2005: Maya the anteater goes on exhibit.
May 19, 2005: The Aquarium’s Five Year Birthday.
August 22, 2005: The Aquarium welcomes its three millionth visitor.
Fall 2005: Jetty, a rehabilitated loggerhead, was the Aquarium’s 16th turtle to be released back into the wild.
January 2006: The Aquarium welcomes Kevin Mills as President and CEO.
June 2006: Pablo Pawcasso opens as the Aquarium’s first Animal Art Exhibit.
Summer 2006: Live feed allows the public to observe Sea Turtle Hospital activities.
Fall 2006: The Aquarium receives AZA Diversity Award for the High School Intern Program.
January 2007: A full-time position, devoted completely to the Sea Turtle Rescue Program is created.
Fall 2007: The Aquarium’s eatery, the Sea Turtle Café opens.
March 2007: The Aquarium receives AZA accreditation for the second time.
March 2008: Camp Carolina opens, a major new exhibit located in the Countess Alicia Spaulding-Paolozzi changing exhibit gallery.
February 2009: Expanded Touch Tank experience opens on the Aquarium’s second floor featuring an Atlantic stingray touch pool.
March 2009: Opening of Penguin Planet, a limited-time only experience featuring four Magellanic Penguins.
February 2010: The Aquarium Retires Opening Debt of $11.5 Million.
March 2010: The Aquarium welcomes Alabaster, an extremely rare Albino American Alligator into the completely renovated Blackwater Swamp exhibit.
May 2010: Former Vice President Al Gore is awarded the Legacy Award at the 2010 Environmental Stewardship Award Ceremony.
May 19, 2010: The Aquarium celebrates its Ten Year Birthday.
March 18, 2011: The renovated Saltmarsh Aviary opens with the Feed the Stingray experience.
April 2011: Dr. Sylvia Earle is awarded the Legacy Award at the 2011 Environmental Stewardship Award Ceremony.
May 2012: Madagascar Journey, the Aquarium’s largest changing exhibit opens to the public in the Countess Alicia Spaulding-Paolozzi changing exhibit gallery.
December 27, 2012: The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program releases the 100th sea turtle treated and rehabilitated at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital.
April 2013: Ted Turner is awarded the 2013 Environmental Stewardship award.
May 2013: The Aquarium’s Animal Care Exhibit opens to the public.
Structured School Program (SSP)
The overall goal of the Structured School Program is to set a standard of excellence in education through the creation, implementation, and continual assessment/refinement of standards-based instructional materials and programs that improve the quality of science education for South Carolina students and teachers.
To ensure program success, the following elements have been incorporated into the on-site portion of the Structured School Program:
Aquarium Rovers: Education Outreach Program