The South Carolina Aquarium is facing a financial hardship unlike ever before. Although it reopened its doors in May at limited capacity after being closed for 68 days due to the pandemic, it is still on shaky ground. 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 their business. The Aquarium has been operating at limited capacity through these crucial months.
The financial situation has already forced the Aquarium to go through two rounds of layoffs this summer, reducing its workforce by 25%. Several mission-serving programs that benefit the public have been reduced or suspended as a result.
Our World Without is the South Carolina Aquarium’s rescue campaign to save the heart and soul of the Aquarium: Education programming and the Sea Turtle Care Center. The goal of the campaign is to raise $1.6 million by March 31, 2021 to keep these critical programs. The Aquarium’s board of directors and longstanding 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, and whom we aim to serve. 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. “Our screens may turn dark, causing lost connections to thousands of remote learners across the globe. 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. If we cannot return these sentinel species to the wild, we risk detrimental effects to their populations as a whole. Without financial stability, we very well might find ourselves unable to answer those rescue calls, leaving sick and injured sea turtles to their own demise. We are turning to our community to help us stabilize these programs, and together we can succeed. ”
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 focus has been on science-based learnings delivered in an engaging way that connects all people with water, wildlife and wild places. The Aquarium has worked to inspire the scientists, biologists and conservationists of tomorrow. Its Distance Learning program reached 15,000 students in 48 states and 33 countries across the globe last year, connecting them to South Carolina’s natural wonders. With COVID-19, the Aquarium saw the needs change and responded by making distance learning accessible to the greater public, with virtual visits ultimately reaching 700,000+ people.
The Sea Turtle Care Center is the Aquarium’s cornerstone conservation program working to rescue, rehabilitate and release threatened or endangered sea turtle species along the eastern seaboard. 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 rose to action to fill 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 liveliness both within and outside our walls. 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. This Aquarium belongs to all of us. We hope that the community will rally behind us during this very difficult time to help us save the heart and soul of who we are, what we do and how we serve. The time to act is now – we have only just begun to fight.”
As a nonprofit organization, the South Carolina Aquarium relies on the generosity of the public to enable its mission and core programming to continue. Visit Our World Without to learn more about the campaign and how you can help save the South Carolina Aquarium’s education programs and Sea Turtle Care Center.