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Beachy Keen

With three viewing levels and an underwater observation station, embark on a sensory experience watching 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles in the Oklahoma Aquarium’s newest interactive adventure.

Article
Donna Leahey
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
March 29, 2017

Adventure awaits at Sea Turtle Island.
Grab the family and head to the Oklahoma Aquarium’s newest exhibit, which opened in March. The exhibit includes a 56,000 gallon tank surrounded by an oceanfront scene with colorful buildings, benches and palm trees that all come together to make it look like you’re on your way to the beach.

“Sea Turtle Island is the largest expansion to the Oklahoma Aquarium to date,” says Teri Bowers, chief operations officer and executive director of the Aquarium. “It features three viewing levels and an underwater observation station that children [and agile adults] can crawl into and see the sea turtles and fish.”

The denizens of Sea Turtle Island include reef sharks, a collection of Caribbean tropical fish, and, of course, a pair of 300-pound male loggerhead sea turtles.

“They [turtles] were rescued by the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in 1994,” Bowers says. “They were born too late in the year to survive on their own and were eventually deemed unreleasable to the wild.”

The Oklahoma Aquarium was still in its formative years at that time, but did have a tank suitable for the young turtles. “We knew a sea turtle exhibit would work well in our longer-term development plans,” Bowers says. So the turtles moved to the Oklahoma Aquarium to await their new home. The loggerheads do not have official names yet, though Bowers believes that the aquarium will involve the public in naming them now that the turtles are living
in the exhibit.

To keep the animals healthy and happy
the aquarium takes excellent care of their environment. “As with all of our exhibits and animals, we maintain the highest standards of water quality, species compatibility, enrichment and a strict bedtime [lights out], so the turtles always get a good night’s sleep,” explains Bowers.

Sea Turtle Island features three viewing levels and an underwater observation station that children (and agile adults) can crawl into and see the sea turtles and fish.
Sea Turtle Island features three viewing levels and an underwater observation station that children (and agile adults) can crawl into and see the sea turtles and fish.

There are seven species of sea turtles “in the wild”, all of which live in temperate waters. Six of the seven, including loggerheads live in the coastal waters of the United States. Unfortunately, all seven are threatened or endangered.

“The greatest threat they face is man — habitat encroachment, by-catch fishing, ocean debris and other pollution. One
of the largest negative impacts we have on the lives on sea turtles is overuse and waste of plastics,” she says. “Plastic bags look very much like jelly fish to sea turtles and can be extremely harmful when ingested. We can positively impact the lives of sea turtles by recycling and not wasting water.”

Turtles are important in the ecosystem because their powerful jaws crush shells such as clams, crabs, and conch. This helps speed up the rate of the shells disintegration and enriches the nutrients in the ocean floor ecosystems.

The exhibit is still new and establishing its routine, but Bowers expects that before too long, “the top level of the exhibit will be rentable for birthday parties and other gatherings. We will also schedule ‘turtle talks’ with our education staff and have scheduled dives as more of a routine is established.”

The Oklahoma Aquarium was already home to beautiful, exotic aquatic life in educational exhibits even before Sea Turtle Island came along, so once you’ve checked out the sea turtles, make sure to catch the other fantastic exhibits.

Amazing Invertebrates features unique and varied sea life such as sponges, barnacles and sea stars. Extreme Fishes includes a system
of tunnels that allows children to crawl underneath the water to get a good look at some truly unusual adaptations. Aquatic Oklahoma and the Hayes Family Ozark Stream let you learn more about the life found in our Oklahoma waterways like an alligator snapping turtle, the alligator gar, sun fish, and even some mammals like river otters and beavers.

And don’t forget the Shark Adventure, a walk-through tunnel where you can get a good look at the largest bull sharks in captivity as part of one of the most impressive shark collections to be found anywhere.

The Marvels and Mysteries exhibit is filled with strange and beautiful creatures like seahorses, jellyfish, piranhas, and an electric eel that lights up when hunting for food.

After exploring the aquarium, you can enjoy a nice snack at the Coral Reef Cafe and visit the Aquarium Gift Shop to find the perfect souvenir. You can shop for plushies, T-shirts, books, art and more to help you remember your visit and maybe learn a little more as well.

LOCATOR
Oklahoma Aquarium
300 Aquarium Drive | Jenks
918-296-3474
okaquarium.org
Monday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Last admission ticket is sold at 5 p.m.)
Tuesday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Last admission ticket is sold at 8 p.m.)
Wednesday-Sunday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Last admission ticket is sold at 5 p.m.)