Year of the Turtle

Shell-ebrate 2020 as “The Year of the Turtle” at the Tennessee Aquarium

Year of the Turtle logo Turtles are textbook examples of so-called “living fossils,” predating dinosaurs and outlasting the calamity that wiped them out. They’ve roamed the earth through the ages and have filled almost every ecological nook and cranny on the planet. Unfortunately, despite their much-celebrated endurance, turtles are in trouble. They are the most endangered vertebrates on the planet. In spite of their potentially long lives, turtle populations have been rapidly declining in recent years due to a combination of threats including habitat loss and unsustainable trafficking.

In light of these challenges to their survival, turtles could definitely use a bit more attention. Fortunately, there are nearly enough species — 360 — to celebrate a new one every day for an entire year.

That’s exactly what the Tennessee Aquarium and a variety of zoological institutions and conservation organizations plan to do this year. This ensemble of turtle care experts and fans is officially declaring 2020 to be “The Year of the Turtle.”

This yearlong turtle bonanza will comprise a wide range of turtle-y awesome updates and additions to the Aquarium visitor experience and will train a bigger spotlight on the work being done by conservation groups to study and safeguard turtles around the world.

Since opening its doors in May 1992, the Aquarium has always been a steadfast champion of chelonians and is home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America. Turtles can be found in many of the Aquarium’s habitats, and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute is at the forefront of conservation efforts to study and protect turtle species, especially in the turtle-rich environs of the Southeast.

During 2020, the Aquarium will leverage its turtle expertise to show guests why these reptiles are not only amazing animals but also increasingly in need of help.


The Turtle Trail

As they wind their way from the mountains to the sea in the River Journey building, guests will find a string of themed “trail blazes” that offer interesting insights about many turtle species on display that might otherwise have been overlooked.

New Aquarium Gallery

sketch of new Turtles exhibit

The new “Turtles of the World” gallery will open in March. Through a series of four, large exhibits, guests will encounter turtles from two of the world’s biodiversity hotspots: Southeast U.S. and Southeast Asia. After exploring these dynamic habitats, visitors will see a new turtle nursery. For the first time, the Aquarium’s efforts to raise hatchlings of threatened and endangered species will be brought into a public space. Alongside the species Aquarium experts have been rearing will be baby turtles from around the world on loan from the Turtle Survival Alliance.

Kids of all ages will enjoy a series of interactive exhibits that introduce some turtle superheroes who are working to save turtles from around the world. And they will also be able to pose for “shell-fies” as turtle hatchlings in an over-sized turtle nest.

Turtle Odyssey 3D at IMAX

Turtle Odyssey film poster with sea turtle swimming in the ocean

After exploring the Turtle Trail and new Turtles of the World gallery, guests can dive into Turtle Odyssey 3D at IMAX. This new giant screen adventure, opening Feb. 14, introduces audiences to an Australian Green Sea Turtle named Bunji. The film follows Bunji's incredible journey across the open ocean, documenting her life from a hatchling into adulthood as she swims thousands of miles, meets other amazing sea creatures and has some truly wild encounters. Those who wish to take a deeper dive to learn about sea turtles can download the Turtle Odyssey 3D film guide for educators. This suite of education materials were produced by the Tennessee Aquarium’s education department.

Special Events

Throughout 2020, the Aquarium will be hosting a series of “Year of the Turtle” special events. On Feb. 4, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore will be at IMAX to deliver an inspirational presentation about The Photo Ark. Sartore has documented nearly 10,000 of the world’s rarest creatures over the past 15 years in a groundbreaking effort to inspire wonder, appreciation and conservation action for wildlife. Sartore has been to the Tennessee Aquarium several times in the past to photograph endangered turtles and other animals.