When Marius Scholtz climbed onto the roof of a double story factory in St Francis to install a maritime radio antenna on the afternoon of Thursday 2 April 2020, he did not know he was about to become a turtle rescue hero!
Marius's quick thinking, together with the guidance from our Turtle Rescue Network Coordinator Tracy Whitehead and the team at Port Elizabeth's Bayworld Aquarium, resulted in what has certainly been the most incredible hatchling rescue story we've ever had - and proof that even during the COVID-19 lockdown, everyday heroes get the chance to step up and become turtle rescuers.
Marius recounts his incredible tale: "Hi my name is Marius Scholtz from Ozone Marine Communications. We work out of Cape Town and we service all of the marine sector. I was up in PE and came down to Saint Francis to work at a Company named Balobi, and had to install a base radio for them.
Part of this base radio installation required an antenna to be installed on top of the roof, which was two storeys high. So I climbed up onto the roof and was looking for a path for the cabling when I saw what I first thought was a toy, a little toy of a sea turtle, lying on top of the roof in the sun. I guess this was about 17h00 in the afternoon.
I was just looking at this toy sea turtle, and I saw its head move! It just barely mustered all its strength to lift its head just a few millimetres, but enough for me to see that it wasn't a toy and that it was still alive.
So, very surprised, one of Balobi's workers retrieved it and brought it to me where I was working on the antennas and I saw that it was still alive. Then what I did is, I went down and got someone who had an old ice cream container, got that from them, scooped some seawater in and I put him into that. He was very dried out, obviously dehydrated. Looked like a piece of biltong.
I didn't have much hope for him at all, but he didn't give up. He kept moving his head and I also noticed that his left front flipper had a big chunk out of it on the tip. The only thing I could surmise is that he was dropped onto the roof by a seagull or some bird!
So I scooped some seawater - didn't want to waste time, so I used the water in the harbour there, which isn't the very cleanest, but I thought it was more important to get him hydrated. Not knowing much about taking care of a little sea turtle, I just left him in there and he slowly, but very surely started showing a little more life. Flippers started to move, not just his head, but he was still very lethargic.
I was done for the day and I was going to head down to the beach to go get fresh seawater and maybe some sand to give him the option to be in the water or out of the water, but before I did that when I stopped at the beach, but before I got out, I thought 'let me do a quick Google search'. And I was lucky, within a second link that I clicked on was Two Oceans [Aquarium's] care for baby sea turtles. I came upon their page, it explained to me exactly what to do and to contact the nearest sea turtle rescue person, which I got hold of - Mark, I think he's just south of Saint Francis. Mark told me to call Tracy, I gave Tracy a call and then after that she started guiding me on how to care for the little guy that then got the name 'Roofus' for obvious reasons.
He was then put into a freshwater bath for thirty minutes and he started to show much more life and enthusiasm to survive. A real little fighter! So, at that point I dried him, I kept him in a box as instructed, in a container with a towel. I closed that up and left him, and before I went to bed I gave him another thirty-minute bath, dabbed him dry ever so gently, put him in his box and went to sleep.
This morning when I got up, he didn't want to respond at first. I got a big fright. He was just laying motionless, even though I stroked the top of his shell at the back he did not even more. And then, all of a sudden, he did, but extremely lethargic, almost worse than the day before. So, I remembered Tracy told me that these guys like to sleep a lot. Obviously he'd had quite an eventful day prior and he had to recoup and was in a deep sleep. Slowly, very slowly, over a period of about ten to fifteen minutes, he started to wake up, started moving around. I gave him another thirty-minute freshwater bath - I learned how they process seawater is a strenuous process, so freshwater was better.
After fifteen to twenty minutes he was back to his old lively self. I dabbed him dry again and then set off to PE where he was handed over at the Bayworld Aquarium, where he is now and hopefully will recover and one day be released back into the wild and have a good life - that's my hope for him."
The Turtle Rescue Network is a group of volunteers, coastal communities and organisations that support the conservation work of the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation by enabling everyday members of the public on the Cape's southern coastline to become turtle rescuers, and who work to get rescued turtles to one of the two nearest rehabilitation facilities - either the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town or Bayworld in Port Elizabeth. Together, the conservation teams at these aquariums help to restore the strength of these endangered turtles so that they may be safely returned to the wild as soon as possible.
"It is once again so heart-warming to experience astonishing goodwill and care by people. Roofus is the luckiest turtle alive," said Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation CEO Maryke Musson.
"This little turtle had pretty much no chance of survival or of being found, on a roof, but it sounds as if Marius, who has rescued many other animals before, was at the right place at the right time once again. We are also so grateful for our fantastic Turtle Rescue Network and the willingness by all the coastal municipalities to assist with turtle rescues during lockdown as part of wildlife conservation as an essential service and, of course, our head volunteer and turtle logistics hero, Tracy Whitehead, who tirelessly arranges rescues of turtles all along the coast 24 hours per day. There is always hope and every day seems to bring a positive story in some way or another – and today it is a ‘flying’ and then rescued little sea turtle."
For those of you concerned about turtle rescues being carried out during the South African COVID-19 lockdown, here are the details. Essential nature conservation personnel from CapeNature and SANParks, as well as law enforcement officers, are continuing to make regular patrols along some of our coastline's stranding hotspots. These rescue operations are being supported by local municipalities - City of Cape Town, West Coast Municipality, Overberg Municipality and Knysna - which are all supporting the Turtle Rescue Network and aiding the transport of rescues to Bayworld and the Two Oceans Aquarium.
We are incredibly grateful to SANParks, CapeNature, the municipalities and, of course, the local heroes like Marius, who continue to help our wildlife during this difficult period. Thank you!
Support sea turtle rehabilitation efforts
Inspired by the incredible survival stories of turtles like Bob, and amazing successful rehabilitation and releases stories like that of Yoshi, we've redoubled our turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts. This has culminated in a fully-fledged Turtle Rescue Programme within the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, the non-profit, public benefit partner of the Two Oceans Aquarium. This programme successfully rehabilitates and releases hundreds of endangered sea turtles each year, and works closely with communities and through integrated educational programmes to instil a sense of pride and protection of the ocean in tens of thousands of children yearly.
It costs about R27 per day to rehabilitate the average turtle – but few of them are “average”. From 25g hatchlings to 80kg heavyweights, dehydration to broken shells and picky eaters to energetic rascals, it takes a passionate and dedicated team to provide each turtle with the individual care and treatment it needs.