If you’ve ever seen loggerhead sea turtles, you know just how amazing they are. Endearingly shy and gentle, these graceful aquatic creatures have beautiful heart-shaped shells covered with gorgeous markings. No wonder they’re among the most recognized – and best loved – turtles on earth.
They’re also the world’s largest hard-shell turtles. At maturity, they can weigh anywhere from 200 to 450 pounds or more, so they’re pretty hard to miss!
Thanks to their omnivorous diet and penchant for warmer waters, these huge oceanic reptiles flourish right off the NC coast. Here they feast on fish and crustaceans, then come ashore to rest, nest, and lay their eggs.
Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are vulnerable and endangered. Often they’re victims of “bycatch” – accidental capture in fishing nets – which can result in their injury or death. Sometimes they collide with boats or get tangled up in debris. They can even swallow – and choke on – plastic bottles and tar balls.
Enter STAR: the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center
Located right on the coastline, the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island hosts the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center (STAR).
Formerly known as NEST – Network for Endangered Sea Turtles – this vastly expanded program now covers more than 3,000 square feet. Currently it has eight large tanks for mature adult sea turtles plus floor space for portable tanks that can accommodate up to 25 smaller turtles.
Here sick and injured turtles receive intensive care from animal-husbandry experts, student interns, and volunteers. Many turtles are successfully rehabilitated and returned to their ocean habitat.
Open to the Public – a Fascinating Educational Experience
When you visit the Roanoke NC Aquarium, you’ll have a chance to watch as injured sea turtles are fed, examined, and cared for. Anytime between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, you can view the STAR examining room through a special observation window. You’ll listen as the curator describes the entire procedure. And afterward you’ll get to ask all the questions you want.
On any given day, you may see a loggerhead turtle get a checkup on its injured shell… or watch as a desperate turtle is freed from a painful hook. It’s always something different, varying from case to case, day to day, and even season to season.
A Wintertime Lifeline for Loggerheads
In winter loggerheads can be “cold-stunned” by frigid ocean temperatures (50 degrees F and below). This is a form of hypothermia, and it can be fatal for these cold-blooded reptiles. They become lethargic, which can make them easy prey for predators. As their bodies shut down, they will often sicken and die.
NC STAR to the rescue. The center’s trained professionals seek, find, and rescue cold-stunned loggerhead turtles. Back at the aquarium, they immerse these traumatized reptiles in tanks filled with warm, balmy water. Slowly they nurse the turtles back to health, a task that can take several months. Then they release them back into the Gulf Stream, where they can thrive once again and live out their full, long lives (up to 60 years or more!).
Not all sick or injured sea turtles survive, despite STAR’s intensive care. But many do – which is awesome for them and for the ecosystem as well.
An Awesome Educational Opportunity
At the Roanoke Aquarium, every turtle has its own unique story.
Take Barnacle, for instance. This poor, hapless loggerhead turtle managed to get wrapped in a rope with a plastic bottle attached. As you can imagine, this hampered his movements, so he couldn’t dive for his food. Though he was surrounded by plenty of prey, he was starving and struggling for life.
Fortunately, someone spotted him from Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills. A lifeguard dove in, rescued him, and brought him to the NC Aquarium. There he was freed from the rope, properly fed, and lovingly cared for. Today he’s alive and kickin’.
You’ll encounter turtles like Barnacle – and learn their heartwarming stories – when you visit the NC Aquarium.
STAR Is Just for Starters
Of course, there’s much more to the Roanoke Aquarium than sea turtle conservation. This state-of-the-art facility provides carefully managed habitat for stingrays, sharks, alligators, and all kinds of native gamefish.
Special interactive programs let kids and adults alike get “up close and personal” with countless creatures of the deep.
It’s a magical experience. And it’s just one of many thrills that await you at the Outer Banks. These beautiful barrier islands offer sparkling surf, pristine beaches, and an amazing array of recreational opportunities, from sailing, surfing, and jet skiing to kayaking, canoeing, hang gliding, hiking, and birding.
See for yourself. Gather your family today and head to the Outer Banks.