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A juvenile Bigheaded Turtle appears to smile for the camera at the Tennessee Aquarium. This species is one of many hatchlings that will be on display in a "turtle nursery" in the Aquarium's Turtles of the World gallery. / Photo by Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium will shell-abrate the opening of a new gallery next month, according to a news release.

The Turtles of the World gallery, opening March 13, will include exhibits featuring species from turtle hotspots like the Southeastern United States and Southeast Asia, as well as a turtle "nursery."

The announcement comes as the Aquarium showcases these reptiles throughout the "The Year of the Turtle."

The nursery will serve as both a working lab and "parade of reptilian cuteness," the release states. Guests will be able to look through an acrylic window to watch and interact with experts as they care for turtle hatchlings, in an experience that is much like visiting the maternity ward of a hospital.

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The finger of a Tennessee Aquarium herpetologist looks positively enormous next to a juvenile Keeled Box Turtle. This species is one of many hatchlings that will be on display in a "turtle nursery" in the Aquarium's Turtles of the World gallery. / Photo by Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium

The gallery was designed to help visitors fall in love with turtles, almost all of which are facing significant challenges in the wild. The nursery will also contribute to the turtles' overall conservation, as the hatchlings will be cared for at the Aquarium until they are old enough to move to other facilities. In some cases, they may eventually be reintroduced to the wild, according to the release.

"The goal of caring for turtles like this is to create what we call 'assurance populations' in zoos and aquariums that are viable, long term," Tennessee Aquarium senior herpetologist Bill Hughes said in the release. "That way, if something happens to the wild populations, the species doesn't disappear. You still have a colony in human care that has genetic diversity."

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Tennessee Aquarium Senior Herpetologist Bill Hughes holds a juvenile Roti Island Snakeneck Turtle. This species is one of many hatchlings that will be on display in a "turtle nursery" in the Aquarium's Turtles of the World gallery. / Photo by Casey Phillips/Tennessee Aquarium

The turtles came to the Aquarium from a wide variety of sources, including their conservation partners like the Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Zoo Knoxville, Zoo Atlanta, other zoological institutions and private holdings. 

"It's hard not to look at a turtle and go, 'Hey, that's a cool animal,'" Hughes said.

Throughout the year, the Tennessee Aquarium and its partnering organizations will continue to share news, host events and highlight conservation programs that acknowledge turtle species worldwide, the release states.

For more information, click here.

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