By Joshua Zalabak for The Island Connection
The South Carolina Aquarium, which closed its doors for 68 days before re-opening in May, is facing a severe financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a typical year, general admission sales and membership make up approximately 80% of its revenue, with the spring and summer months accounting for the majority of its business. The Aquarium has already gone through two rounds of layoffs this summer, reducing its workforce by 25%, and several programs have been reduced or suspended.
In response, the Aquarium has launched a fundraising campaign so it can continue to serve the community, students of all ages, sea turtles and other conservation efforts. The goal of “Our World Without” is to raise $1.6 million by March 31, 2021, to keep these critical programs.
The Aquarium’s board of directors and long-standing donors have already been activated to drive campaign momentum, and now, as never before, the Aquarium will engage its members and the general public in this effort.
“Without a significant infusion of cash, we risk losing the heart and soul of who we are. Our classrooms may go quiet, with us unable to connect to the thousands of learners we impact each year,” said Kevin Mills, president and CEO of the South Carolina Aquarium. “For many, the Aquarium is a child’s first foray into understanding and appreciating the natural world, seeing the waterfront and connecting with native species like our beloved sea turtles. At this rate, we may be forced to turn away these sick and injured sea turtles needing our expertise in rehabilitative care.”
The Aquarium opened 20 years ago with an education plan at the core of its identity. That plan has evolved to expand educational offerings to learners of all ages with a local, state, national and international reach. From free school programs to the High School Intern Program, adult learning and more, the science-based focus has been on delivering knowledge in an engaging way that connects all people with water, wildlife and wild places.
The Sea Turtle Care Center is the Aquarium’s cornerstone conservation program. Since its inception, the Care Center has rescued, rehabilitated and released 310 sea turtles, starting with “Stinky” just shortly after the Aquarium opened in 2000. The Aquarium never intended to rehabilitate sea turtles but filled a void identified by scientists and conservationists alike. Sea turtles are ambassadors for conservation, calling attention to crucial issues impacting all of us – such as plastic pollution and climate change – ultimately bridging the gap between impassive behavior and actionable change.
“We’re on the brink of losing what makes our Aquarium truly special. Our mission has always been to serve our community, but, if we become simply an attraction, we may no longer inspire future generations to care,” Mills commented. “This Aquarium belongs to all of us.”
Visit scaquarium.org/ourworldwithout to learn more about you can help save the South Carolina Aquarium’s education programs and Sea Turtle Care Center.