CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- June 16 is World Sea Turtle Day, and the South Carolina Aquarium is celebrating coming one step closer to closing the funding gap for sea turtle conservation efforts.

The SC Aquarium, in partnership with the National Aquarium and New England Aquarium, has been working with federal legislators to address the lack of funding given to organizations that provide sea turtle response and rehabilitation.

New legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Cornyn (R-Texas) could be the answer.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act creates a new grant program at the Department of Commerce to fund the rescue and recovery of sea turtles across the United States.

The legislation authorizes an additional $5 million in new funding annually from 2023 through 2028.

“We have a responsibility to protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles that call our waters home,” Sen. Markey said in a press release. “As our sea turtles continue to face greater existential threats, this legislation will help to keep our marine diversity alive. This funding will support rescue and recovery efforts, as well as the study of sea turtles so that future generations can know these animals as friends, not fiction.”

Sea turtle biologists and veterinary staff triage a loggerhead sea turtle at the Sea Turtle Care Center (SC Aquarium)

Officials from the SC Aquarium said the program will “fill a crucial gap in sea turtle conservation by providing much-needed direct support” to groups like the Aquarium’s own Sea Turtle Care Center.

The Sea Turtle Care Center treats sea turtles for a variety of ailments, including debilitated turtle syndrome, predation and boat strike wounds, injuries from interactions with fishing gear, and cold-stun. Officials say it costs an average of $35 per day for each patient’s treatment.

“The South Carolina Aquarium has been dedicated to rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles for over 20 years. Sea turtles are ambassadors for conservation and drive awareness and actionable change for a better tomorrow,” South Carolina Aquarium President and CEO Kevin Mills said. “Their stories are critical to connecting people to water, wildlife and wild places, and we are grateful to work alongside National Aquarium and New England Aquarium in the movement to secure federal financial assistance to continue this meaningful work.” 

To date, the center has successfully rehabilitated and released 355 sea turtles.