This year, the Tennessee Aquarium has really — if you’ll forgive the first of many puns — come out of its shell in celebration of turtles.

As the home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America, these charismatic reptiles have long been a key focus for the riverside institution. In honor of the crucial role turtles play in whatever landscape they inhabit and the threats to their survival worldwide, however, the Aquarium has dedicated the whole year to singing turtles’ praises and making the public aware of their importance. For guests visiting the Aquarium in 2020, the Year of the Turtle shell-ebration will offer up plenty of special events and expansions that enhance trips through the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings.

As they explore, guests will find Turtle Trail blazes that point out the many turtle species occupying exhibits in both buildings. Combined with a “trail guide” available at the guest services desk or to download to their mobile devices, guests — particularly younger ones — should have an even deeper understanding and appreciation of these turtle-y awesome animals by the time they leave. In March, the Aquarium will cut the ribbon on Turtles of the World, an all-new gallery focused on exhibiting a wide variety of turtles and showcasing efforts by the Aquarium and its many conservation partners to save turtles worldwide. The fittingly titled gallery specifically highlights the incredible diversity of turtles in the American Southeast and Southeast Asia, both recognized as turtle “hotspots.” In four large exhibits, guests will be able to watch above and below the waterline as turtles from these regions bask, dive and feed.

baby turtleThe highlight of the new gallery, however, undoubtedly is its working turtle “nursery.” Here, guests can watch and interact with Aquarium specialists as they care for dozens of adorable hatchlings, many of them belonging to imperiled species.

In February, adventures through the Aquarium are even more affordable for college students, faculty and staff as well as members of scouting organizations. Through Feb. 29, members of these institutions — as well as the rest of their party — receive a 50-percent discount on admission to the Tennessee Aquarium and to screenings at the IMAX 3D Theater. The discounts apply to Aquarium tickets and 45-minute IMAX films as well as to combo ticket purchases. To receive the Scout and College Days discount, scouts must wear their uniform or sash. Students must present a valid student ID or online transcript to show enrollment at a physical or online institution. College staff and faculty can present a pay stub to enjoy reduced admission. In all cases, the discount applies to everyone in the paying party.

This discount comes at an especially nice time for visitors weary of the plummeting mercury and constant, dour loom of gray clouds on the horizon. Whatever the season, a trip through the Aquarium excites and awakens all the senses, whether it’s the rough, leathery back of a Lake Sturgeon gliding beneath the fingertips, the funny chirrups and howls of Ring-tailed Lemurs or the burbling stream of bubbles chasing Gentoo Penguins as they rocket through the water.

ottersAnd if curiosity were a sixth-sense, it would be just as satisfied after an Aquarium visit. Guests can take advantage of a range of free daily animal programs that offer opportunities to learn even more about a wide variety of animals, from romping River Otters and toothy Sand Tiger Sharks to lightning-tongued Panther Chameleons. These presentations are led by animal care specialists who work with these animals every day and show off unique behaviors and adaptations guests otherwise might miss. A schedule of Daily Animal Programs is available here.

Across the street from the Aquarium, the Year of the Turtle fun grows to massive proportions on the six-story screen of the IMAX 3D Theater. Here guests can catch showings of Turtle Odyssey 3D. With narration by Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe, this remarkable film follows the epic voyage of a Green Sea Turtle hatchling as she embarks on a 1,000-mile journey through the heart of the ocean.

crabThe theater will also be screening stunningly beautiful underwaterscapes in Great Barrier Reef 3D and heart-warming tales of canine heroism and companionship in Superpower Dogs 3D. To view the IMAX screening schedule and purchase tickets, click here.

Throughout the year, there’ll be no end to the fun, whether it’s turtle-y awesome or just plain jaw-some. Guests — particularly families — who are interested in making repeat visits this year should research membership options at