For a rescued turtle, the order of the day is to grow big and strong and healthy so that it can be released! On average it costs the Two Oceans Aquarium about R27 a day to look after a relatively healthy hatchling, but that cost skyrockets the moment a turtle is rescued with a serious injury or a difficult-to-diagnose illness. As you can certainly guess, healthy turtles do not just wash up, so we find ourselves with plenty of "unique" cases.
06:30am: Good morning
The turtles' carers arrive at the rehab centre and greet the little lives in their care. The lights are turned on and the little turtles slowly wake up from their sleep to face a new day. Although the turtles can't smell it, their breakfast is slowly defrosting downstairs in our kitchen.
07:00am: Bath time!
You might think that an animal permanently soaking in the water would always be clean - you'd be wrong! One of the rehab centre staff's first jobs of the day is to siphon up all the poop the little turtles produce overnight and clean off any algae that has grown on the sides of their enclosures.
08:00am: Forage feeds
The green sea turtles in the I&J Ocean Exhibit need some practice in foraging for food so that they don't lose the skills they will need when they are released. They are led into an isolated pool where assorted seaweeds and green vegetables are thrown into the water, which they must forage on for breakfast.
08:30am: Morning doctor visits
Before breakfast, those hatchlings who have additional health concerns get some special treatment. This can include tube feeding for the turtles that are losing weight, or oral medication, injections and topical ointments.
Mondays: Every little hatchling's dream is to grow big and strong enough to be released, so getting weighed on Monday mornings is a big (or little) deal!
Every rescued turtle gets a full blood test when they arrive - one of the most crucial parts of their veterinary care. You can sponsor a rescued turtles blood test with a donation of R1000:
Finally! It's every turtle's favourite time of day!
Tuesdays: The turtle hatchlings get a chance to spread their flippers and fly over to the veterinary clinic where each one gets a health checkup. Their physical exam checks their eyes, mouths, cloacas, skin and shells for any sign of abnormality or infection and gives the Aquarium a chance to update their treatments if needed. The behaviour of turtles is also assessed to see if they are feeding and swimming normally for a turtle their size.
Wednesdays: On Wednesday mornings the turtles get left alone as the rehab team heads out to collect a fresh batch of veggies from our rooftop garden, supplemented by a quick shopping trip to stock up on any other necessities.
01:00pm: Snacks for the big turtles
Before the scuba divers climb into the I&J Ocean Exhibit to feed the animals, the large rehab sea turtles that live in the exhibit are guided to the rooftop medical pool, where they are separated from the fish that they share the water with. Each of the large turtles gets its own special meal, the green turtles get yummy fresh veggies, the loggerheads get to munch on squid and Bob, who is partially blind, gets to eat alone so that his carrots are not stolen by Sandy.
Large turtles that are not in the I&J Ocean Exhibit, but are living in our other rooftop quarantine tanks, also get fed at this time, and each is given a meal specifically formulated to meet their nutritional needs.
All this daytime activity gets the little turtles hungry - it's time for their afternoon meal of yummy, nutritious gel food!
A donation of R300 would cover a week's supply of enriched gel food for five hatclings. Here's how you can help:
2:30pm: Afternoon treatments
The doctor is back! The hatchlings get a second round of medical treatments and checkups as necessary. The big turtles that need special treatment are also visited by the rehab centre staff and, where needed, are given their doses of medicine and topical creams.
3:00pm: Cleaning up turtle messes
Turtles sure are messy! Their little tanks are siphoned to remove any nastiness and to make sure their water is lovely and fresh.
Thursdays: The rehab centre team gets busy preparing gel food for the coming week. This gel food is a gelatinous mixture for blended veggies, seaweed, vitamins and white mussels, specially formulated to contain everything a growing hatchling needs. To us humans, these look like trays of gooey, green tart, but the hatchlings will get to eat small bite-sized cubes.
4:00pm: Winding down
The little hatchlings get excited by all the movement - although their carers are only cleaning up the rehab centre, the hustle and bustle is quite entertaining!
5:00pm: Lights off and sweet dreams
Even energetic little hatchlings need their shut-eye. The rehab centres lights are turned off for the day, and as the sunlight from the windows dims, the little hatchlings tuck their flippers up over their shells, float to the top of their tanks, and drift off to turtle dreamland... Goodnight hatchlings.
Help us help them. Support #ProjectTurtle:
Each rescued sea turtle at the Two Oceans Aquarium is on a unique path to recovery. Our dedicated and committed team of turtle carers are there to hold their little flippers every step of the rehabilitation process, but we need your ongoing support to make this all possible.
Please consider supporting #TurtleProject below, even a small donation goes a long way to achieving this goal.
*In reality, few rescued turtles are "typical" and we deviate from this schedule a lot. From late-night turtle rescues to turtles that need to be X-rayed after eating a meal, to severe illness in incoming hatchlings, the turtle rehab centre staff are ready to take on the diverse multitude of challenges that each turtle presents. Thanks team!