When Sully Painter was born in March of 2012, his parents had already become involved with sea turtle conservation, both as volunteers with nest protection efforts and as supporters of the Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium. So Sully was able to get an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium from a very early age.
At the age of 2, Sully could tell you all about the nesting habits of sea turtles, and why we don’t use plastic grocery bags because they look like turtles’ food in the ocean. And at 3, when he had his first jellyfish sting, he was comforted knowing that one of his sea turtle friends would “eat dat mean ole jelly!”
On a visit to the South Carolina Aquarium in August of 2016, Sully met a fellow Sully, a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle who was brought to the Sea Turtle Care Center after being trapped behind a rock wall on Sullivan’s Island. Turtle Sully was very sick and was going to require a lot of healing to regain his strength. Boy Sully, age 4 at the time, formed an immediate bond to turtle Sully over their shared name, because he was also named after Sullivan’s Island, where his dad lived when his parents first started dating in 2007.
Sully continued to ask about turtle Sully in the months following their first encounter, and since Sully and his family live in Greenville, SC, he wasn’t able to visit as frequently as he would have liked. But on their next visit in April 2017, Dr. Shane took them on an exclusive tour of the brand new, still under construction Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery and, at Sully’s request, a visit to see his friend Sully the loggerhead who was still being treated in the basement facility.
Fast-forward one month later, the Painters saw the announcement about Sully the loggerhead being released on Wednesday, May 10 and explained to boy Sully that his friend was being released back to his home in the ocean! Immediately, 5-year-old Sully teared up and said, “But I won’t be able to say goodbye to my turtle friend.” Having already anticipated this response, Sully’s mom told him that she’d already made plans for Sully and his 18-month-old sister Seabrook to miss school and make the trip back to Charleston to say farewell and welcome home!
It was a quick turnaround for a last-minute mid-week trip to Charleston, so Sully’s grandmother, a kindergarten teacher in Mount Pleasant, painted cardboard “Sully²” and “Sully + Sully BFF Forever” signs to hold during the release. Aquarium staff made arrangements for boy Sully to walk with turtle Sully down to the ocean. It was an emotional and exciting day for the whole family, and an experience they will never forget!
Sully’s parents, Zac and Sara Painter, are the founders of Loggerhead Apparel, a South Carolina based clothing company that manufactures 100% of its products in the United States and as locally as possible, and donates a portion of each sale to sea turtle conservation efforts. The company has donated over $60,000 to non-profit sea turtle groups, including the South Carolina Aquarium, since its founding in 2011. Sully and his younger sister Seabrook live with their parents in Greenville, SC.