Turtles are an amazing example of biological adaptability and endurance. They've roamed Earth through the ages, filled almost every ecological nook and cranny on the planet, outlived dinosaurs and survived ice ages. In the process, they carved out niches in practically every habitat on Earth, from oceanic depths and tropical rain forests to punishingly hot deserts.
That incredible adaptability is the reason the Tennessee Aquarium has always featured so many turtle species; but in the new year, these reptiles will be celebrated with the Year of the Turtle.
Guests will be invited to explore the Aquarium's Turtle Trail, discovering species from the mountains to the sea.
"There is something about the way a turtle looks," says Dave Collins, the Aquarium's director of forests and animal behavior.
"They are like little living sculptures. The more I got to know turtles and began working with them, the more interesting they became."
Turtles are long-lived and much-loved. They are admired the world over for their unique beauty and held up as symbols of wisdom, tranquility and steadfast perseverance. Turtles are often underappreciated for the vital role they play in the environment. Wherever found, these amazing animals are pillars of entire ecosystems on which many other animals depend for survival. There are countless examples of how the existence of multitudes of wildlife and plants would be jeopardized without the presence of turtles.
Collins has dedicated his career to studying turtles, working with other experts to bolster populations of threatened and endangered turtle species and, of course, caring for an amazingly diverse gathering of turtles at the Tennessee Aquarium. He has been working with the entire team to create an exciting new viewpoint on the Aquarium's turtle trail that will showcase many of these incredible creatures and the collaborative efforts to save turtles from extinction.
NEW AT THE AQUARIUM FOR THE YEAR OF THE TURTLE
* A new Turtles of the World gallery will open on March 1. Through a series of four, large exhibits, guests will encounter turtles from two of the world's biodiversity hotspots: Southeast United States and Southeast Asia.
* After exploring these habitats, visitors will see a new turtle nursery. For the first time, the Aquarium's efforts to hatch and raise baby turtles of threatened and endangered species will be brought into a public space. Alongside the species that Aquarium experts have been rearing will be hatchlings from around the world on loan from the Turtle Survival Alliance.
* Kids of all ages will enjoy a series of interactive exhibits that introduce some turtle superheroes who are working to save turtles from around the world. Children will also be able to pose for "shell-fies" as turtle hatchlings themselves in an oversized turtle nest.
* Guests can dive into "Turtle Odyssey 3D" at Imax. This new giant-screen adventure, opening Feb. 14, introduces audiences to an Australian green sea turtle named Bunji. The film follows her incredible journey across the open ocean, documenting her life from a hatchling into adulthood as she swims thousands of miles, meets other sea creatures and has some truly wild encounters.
Those who wish to take a deeper dive into learning about sea turtles, like the Aquarium's green sea turtles Stewie and Oscar, can download the "Turtle Odyssey 3D Film Guide" for educators. This suite of educational materials was produced by the Tennessee Aquarium's Education Department.
* Throughout 2020, the Aquarium will host a series of Year of the Turtle special events. On Feb. 4, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore will be at the Imax to deliver a presentation about "The Photo Ark."
Sartore has documented nearly 10,000 of the world's rarest creatures over the past 15 years in a groundbreaking effort to inspire wonder, appreciation and conservation action for wildlife. Sartore has been to the Tennessee Aquarium several times in the past to photograph endangered turtles and other animals.
* Until these events begin, Aquarium visitors are invited to attend "Swamped With Turtles," held daily at 2:30 p.m. in the River Journey Building, level 3.
For more information: www.tnaqua.org.