Earle Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award at Annual Conservation Gala
There was a noticeable glint of empathy and understanding in Dr. Sylvia Earle’s eyes as she peered into the rehabilitation tank of Burrata, a green sea turtle patient recovering from a severe lung infection in the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center™.
Earle was in Charleston to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual South Carolina Aquarium Conservation Gala. Earle has achieved an impressive number of firsts: setting the world untethered diving record after descending 1,250 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, serving as the first female chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and as National Geographic’s first female Explorer-in-Residence.
This year’s gala celebrated the many women in science at the Aquarium, many of whom found their calling after drawing inspiration from Earle’s decades-long accolades — including the Aquarium’s own all-female Sea Turtle Care Center team.
When Earle last visited the Aquarium in 2016, all sea turtle rehabilitation efforts were confined to the Aquarium basement, beyond public viewing. With lofty goals to bring this critical conservation work to the forefront for all guests to witness firsthand, the Aquarium spent years fundraising and renovating a portion of the first floor to accommodate Care Center operations and the increasing intake of sea turtle patients. Nearly seven years later, Care Center manager Melissa Ranly and sea turtle biologist Grace Buschiazzo were able to show off this lifechanging expansion, as well as current patients undergoing rehabilitation, to Earle directly.
“I am thrilled to be here at the Aquarium in Charleston. It’s an aquarium with heart,” Earle said. “When I first came here years ago, this didn’t exist. Showing the mountains to the sea really did bring people together, but the turtles, as ambassadors, that really is a touch of genius. And to see the success in taking in turtles that would not have survived if left on their own, bringing them back to good health, I find this just exhilarating and inspiring. Bravo to what you are doing here.”
Along with Burrata, Earle learned the stories of Cheddar, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle recovering from predation and fishing hook injuries; Ricotta, a green sea turtle recuperating from surgery to remove monofilament fishing line; Asiago, a green sea turtle healing from an extensive boat strike wound; and Brie, a loggerhead sea turtle regaining strength from the impacts of debilitated turtle syndrome. With each story, Earle reaffirmed to us the critical importance of sharing these sea turtles’ journeys with the public — to protect the ocean and to inspire action and change.
“There are so many ways to embrace the ocean, even if it is not your career, like someone working in aquariums or with individual species,” Earle explained. “We are sea creatures. We are as dependent on the ocean as the sea turtles. The ocean keeps us alive. Whatever it is you choose to do — become a teacher or a captain of a boat or a car mechanic — whatever it is that makes your heart beat fast, the ocean could and should be a part of your life. Because it is. You are dependent on the ocean, and the ocean is dependent on you because everything that we do, whoever you are, those little things add up.”
The Aquarium expressed gratitude to the 2023 Conservation Gala presenting sponsors — Etto Leisure Cars, Mary and Mason Holland, The InterTech Group, LOWE and Jan Rosenburg and Nina Rumbough — for making it possible to honor Dr. Sylvia Earle and raise $350,000 for conservation, education and animal care at the Aquarium.