The turtle population at Sea Life Orlando aquarium is experiencing a mini-explosion. A new exhibit called Turtle Fest is opening at the International Drive attraction Friday.
Five different species will be spotlighted in an area of Sea Life designed to host animals borrowed from the six other Sea Life outlets in the United States. The turtles are the first visitors since the aquarium opened last year.
The most exotic-looking of the additions is probably the Australian snake-necked turtle, which sports a head that sticks out several inches away from its shell.
“It’s a different-looking turtle,” said Andrew Nerness, displays curator at Sea Life Orlando. “They’re not typical of closing their neck into their shell. They kind of fold it up to protect themselves.”
Nearby, a northern red-bellied cooter turtle appears to pose while sunning himself on a rock. Exhibits are equipped with UVB lamps essential to the cold-blooded animals’ health, Nerness said.
“They need that UVB light in order to use the calcium and the vitamin D from the sun to build their shell,” he said.
Previously, Sea Life had one turtle at its Orlando location, a rescue that was rehabbed but unable to go back to its native habitat. The visiting turtles will be at the I-Drive 360 attraction through at least this summer, Nerness said.
The display also includes educational information about the species, conservation messages and life-size replicas of turtle eggs that human visitors are allowed to handle.
Set just beyond the shark shipwreck area, the new Turtle Fest displays are located in a way to mix in easily with the existing flow of Sea Life traffic. No parts of the attraction were removed to make room.
The aquarium features about 5,000 sea creatures. It opened, along with fellow Merlin Entertainment attractions Orlando Eye and Madame Tussauds, in May 2015.
“We’ve been really pleased with the attendance so far,” Nerness said.
“One thing I really like about Sea Life is that it offers a wide variety of animals without necessarily spending the whole day like at other attractions,” he said.