On Wednesday 5th June at about midday, I received a call from Darrell Anders of Oceans and Coasts (formerly Marine and Coastal Management) about a large green turtle that a member of the public had reported, washed up at Noordhoek.
Darrell was on his way there with a colleague, and was enquiring if we would be able to look after the animal and see what we could do to help it regain its health. Darrell is an ex-Two Oceans Aquarium employee, so he was only asking out of politeness because he knows well that we would certainly accept the animal, as we have always done. What is different this time and is that we now have a full-time vet at the Aquarium (Dr Georgina Cole, who started in May), so we are well-placed to do everything possible to help this animal.
We have a very active turtle rehabilitation programme at the Aquarium, which has been running for many years but it generally involves rehydrating and feeding tiny loggerhead turtles that have been blown into False Bay by strong south-easterly winds. These little turtles are buoyant, so they are prone to being moved around by the wind. Other than being very cold, they don’t generally need very much from us, so we have had a very high success rate with them over the years.
Larger turtles, on the other hand (say, greater then 40cm carapace length), have been an entirely different story. At this size they are no longer buoyant, and feed and rest mostly on the bottom, and thus are not prone to being moved about by the wind. As a result, when they wash up it is generally because they are very ill. Without a vet we have found it very hard to help them even though, from a conservation perspective, an adult animal is far more valuable than a newly hatched juvenile because it has already managed to survive the most dangerous years of its life and therefore demonstrated a Darwinian fitness that is worth saving. It’s still a great feeling to help the little ones; don’t get me wrong.
Back to the large green turtle that came in on Wednesday. Georgina, and the other Aquarium staff, Maresia and Michelle, made her a lifejacket on Wednesday evening so that she wouldn’t drown in the warm freshwater bath we put her in. The warmth (20ºC) they need for their system to function, and the freshwater helps them to slowly rehydrate. On Thursday, Georgina, aquarist Kevin Spiby and I took her in the back of the bakkie to Vetpoint Veterinary Clinic in Sea Point, where Dr Rena Cotton was waiting for us. At the clinic we were able to X-ray the turtle and perform a batch of blood tests, which have given Georgina an idea of where to start in trying to help her recover. We are all holding thumbs at the moment because she is very ill, and extremely weak.