The following blog is adapted from the joint media release of the National Sea Rescue Institute and Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation.
The story of rescue, rehabilitation and release is one that the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation and the NSRI are incredibly proud of.
On Thursday, the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation and the NSRI released some of their shelly friends back into the ocean so that they can begin their journey home in warmer waters.
"It’s been such a treat to release these turtles - a total full circle," said Talitha Noble, Conservation Coordinator of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. "And the thing with circles is that they keep going around. As we say goodbye and good luck to these strong and capable creatures, we busily get prepared for a new season of stranded and weak turtles to help and nurture and protect. You can be apart of that. You can be a turtle rescuer, support us in their rehab and help protect the home they are released into."
The release included:
These turtles were rescued and have been in the care of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation for the past year or so, after being rescued on beaches from around the Western Cape, and we couldn’t be more excited to see them all back in the ocean again.
Most of the turtles that are rescued are loggerhead hatchlings that hatched on the northern beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and then caught the warm Agulhas current down the South African coastline. Once they reach the south coast and the current slows, the turtles can end up in the colder surrounding waters, which can cause the turtles to suffer from cold shock, injury and dehydration. When the turtles become compromised, strong winds and currents expel them on our beaches, between March and July every year.
Once these hatchlings arrive at the Aquarium turtle rehabilitation programme they are admitted as individual patients, and over the following months receive regular medical care, cleaning, daily feeding (twice a day!) and lots of love.
As the end of the year approaches and the turtles are healthy, have gained good weight and are behaving like strong turtles, the vet clears them for release. They receive a microchip and are then released off of Cape Point (about 20-30 nautical miles) back into the warmer water (this is usually between November and March).
Throughout the year (there is no specific season) the NSRI is also involved in the rescue other turtles of varying species and size - green turtles, hawksbills, olive ridleys and loggerheads, which are then taken to the Foundation’s turtle rehabilitation programme for further care.
Their reason for stranding is often quite different and can range from infection to bite injuries, plastic ingestion, boat strike injury and ghost fishing gear, as was the case with Annette back in July 2019. Due to the fact that the reason for stranding is so varied, the duration of rehabilitation can also range from just a few months to many years.
Annette (Annie) (fondly named by the NSRI because she was entangled in a net) was rescued by NSRI Station 26 Kommetjie on Noordhoek beach after having been entangled in fishing gear along with a seal. The seal was successfully released, but Annie was brought to the Foundation’s rehabilitation programme where she became the newest member of the turtle rehab family.
Annie underwent intensive critical care in the months that followed as she was incredibly weak, floating with her bum up and not willing to eat. The rehabbers used all available diagnostic tools to determine what was wrong with her, which included two CT-scans, an ultrasound, endoscopes and x-ray studies to attempt to shed more light on the situation. Alongside this diagnostic work, Annie was fed regularly and was provided with inter-coelomic fluids.
In November 2019, Annie was moved into the I&J Ocean Exhibit with the hope that she would do well with extra space and depth to swim. This proved to be the case as Annie quickly adapted to her new home and started eating a month later (it took her 5 months to start eating).
In the last year, Annie has been a powerful ambassador to all visitors to the Two Oceans Aquarium, teaching them about the dangers of fishing gear and plastic in the ocean. Through visiting Annie, many people have fallen in love with marine life and have been inspired to help protect the oceans.
Despite recovering really well, Annie is still floating at a 45-degree angle, with her bottom up when she rests on the sand. The Aquarium Foundation staff fondly refer to this unique pose as ‘bubble butt’. While it looks a bit awkward, Annie is fully able to do all the things a healthy turtle needs to be able to do. She can swim, dive, feed, breath, chase and rest, and has therefore been cleared for release by the Aquarium Foundation vet. It is hoped that having an ocean of space and loads more depth will help sort out her bubble butt. Staff are also excited to have satellite-tagged her and to be able to track her movements, ensuring all is in order and seeing where she ventures to.
"Releasing these recovered and now healthy and strong sea turtles back into the ocean is always such a treat and really incredibly special. All turtle species are endangered so for these rescued turtles to get a second chance is just magic. What inspires me every year too is the fact that each and every one of these turtles survived because they were rescued by a caring person. People still do good. The NSRI, our friends and ocean partners, has more than a thousand volunteers doing good by saving lives, humans and animals, and thanks to them, Annie, and many of the little hatchlings, were rescued and brought to us. This is a good start to 2021, and we are very excited to follow the oceanic journeys of Annie and Luis who are both satellite-tagged in collaboration with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries," said Maryke Musson, CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation.
Turtles are incredible creatures and natural survivors, from the moment they hatch they are on their own and their knowledge and understanding of how to do things is instinctual. This means that even if they spend years in a rehabilitation environment, they will never unlearn how to hunt, swim, forage and fend for themselves.
“It is the greatest privilege for us to be a part of the story of turtles that are rescued on South African waters and who are brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s rehabilitation centre for a period of time. It was even a greater privilege to release them back into their home, knowing that they are strong and capable and crossing fingers and toes that they live long and happy lives” said Dr Cleeve Robertson, NSRI CEO.
If you'd like to support the ongoing sea turtle rehabilitation work of the Foundation, you can make a small contribution here.