28 January 2015

Follow our turtle release live on Twitter

Every year a number of juvenile loggerhead turtles are washed up on Cape Town beaches. Concerned members of the public bring them to the Two Oceans Aquarium where they are rehabilitated. Once they are ready for release, they are flown to uShaka Sea World in Durban.

Tomorrow, a number of these turtles will be released off the coast of Durban. The release is weather and sea conditions permitting, but we hope to bring you this event live as it happens, via Twitter.

So follow us @2OceansAquarium from about 7.30am to see these little turtles return to the sea.

From left: André Cronje from 50/50 takes video footage as our aquarist Andrea Hindley, uShaka Marine World staff members Riaan Boshoff, Malini Pather and Karin Fivaz, and our other aquarist Kevin Spiby release turtles back in 2010

Dinosaurs of the sea

Being warm-water inhabitants, these turtles were probably swept down from the northern coast of KwaZulu-Natal (where they hatch) by the mighty Agulhas current and washed ashore by stormy seas.

When they arrived at the Aquarium they were weak, having been exposed to cold water, and were invariably suffering from dehydration.

This is an annual occurrence, so the Aquarium is accustomed to receiving the hatchlings.

While loggerheads are the most common species of turtles off the coast of Southern Africa, they are currently listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Data List. This means that they are at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

A juvenile loggerhead turtle, ready for release

Loggerhead turtles feed predominantly on sea urchins, molluscs and hermit crabs, which they crush with their powerful jaws. Females nest on the northern beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and lay 100 to 120 eggs every 15 days during summer.

The temperature of the sand determines the gender of the hatchling turtles. If the temperature is between 20˚C and 24˚C, the hatchlings will mostly be male. If temperatures are 29˚C or higher, the hatchlings will mainly be female.

Males never return to land after having hatched, and only one in a 1 000 hatchlings will survive to maturity. Adults weigh up to 125kg and measure up to 1.2m in length.

Kevin Spiby at one of our previous turtle releases in 2010

Sea turtles are living dinosaurs, having survived some 90-million years, yet all seven species of turtle are threatened with extinction. This is largely due to various human activities and the loss of nesting habitats. Increased human presence on beaches, particularly at night, disrupts nesting females, who may be forced to use less suitable sites or abort egg laying completely. Recreational activities on beaches along with umbrellas, deck chairs, small boats and 4x4 vehicles damage potential nesting sites and even destroy existing nests.

Poaching ranks as another major threat. Nests are raided for the eggs, which provide food for local people.

The ingestion of litter, particularly plastic, has serious and lethal consequences for turtles. All hatchling turtles eat jellyfish and often mistake plastic bags for food. Plastic is not only toxic, but also obstructs the stomach and prevents the turtle from getting nutrition from its food. The result is a lingering death.

Other threats include artificial lighting from buildings and street lights, which disorient hatchlings; the building of sea walls and jetties; beach erosion; beach cleaning; commercial fishing (turtles are accidentally caught up in gill nets); and oil and gas exploration.

Hatchlings are particularly vulnerable to nature’s predators as they make their way from the nest to the sea. Gulls, mongooses, leguans, crabs, and even ants attack the baby turtles. Once in the sea, large fish also prey on them.

More about our turtle rehabilitation below ...

 

See also

Our conservation work is only made possible thanks to the support of our sponsors, and members of the public. If you would like to make a donation to the Two Oceans Aquarium, please visit our shop.

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