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There are 31 turtle species in the Tennessee Aquarium's new Turtles of the World gallery. Many more can be found on the Turtle Trail throughout the Aquarium's two buildings. / Tennessee Aquarium Contributed Photo

The Tennessee Aquarium staff has something to "shell-abrate."

On Friday, March 13, the Aquarium's turtle experts will cut the ribbon on a new Turtles of the World gallery.

Guests exploring this new hall in the River Journey building will encounter more than 30 turtle species and a wealth of fun, interactive elements that show how scientists and homeowners alike are working to preserve these beloved reptiles.

"We want to convey four ideas with this gallery: that turtles are cool, they're in trouble, what we're doing to help them and what you can do," says Jeff Worley, the Aquarium's manager of exhibit services.

Upon entering the new gallery, visitors will see four large exhibits depicting habitats found in the Southeastern U.S. and Southeast Asia. Because of their abundance of species, these regions are described by scientists as "hot spots" of turtle diversity.

The two largest habitats in this first group of exhibits have water features. All of them incorporate enormous glass panels that offer unobstructed views of the turtles within.

Visitors will see an exhibit full of sinuous snake-necked turtles. Only found in Australia and other South Pacific islands, these unusual-looking turtles are keen swimmers and have serpentine necks so long they can't be retracted into their shells.

The centerpiece of the new gallery is a working "turtle nursery," where guests can watch Aquarium herpetologists and animal-care specialists tend to dozens of hatchlings. This huge laboratory features sliding panels so animal experts can interact with guests while they work.

The hatchlings exhibited were confiscated from the turtle trafficking trade or were sent to the Aquarium through a partnership with the South Carolina-based conservation group Turtle Survival Alliance and other partners. Many of these miniature turtles are Southeast Asian species that are endangered and are being kept as "assurance colonies" against the possibility of extinction.

In addition to the obvious cuteness factor, the nursery fulfills an important goal of the new gallery to raise awareness of the many challenges turtles face in the wild, says Dave Collins, the Aquarium's director of forests and animal behavior.

The new gallery is included in regular Tennessee Aquarium admission of $34.95 per adult, $21.95 per child, ages 3-12. Advance tickets may be purchased online here or by phone at 1-800-262-0695.

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