On 19 September 2017, an injured sub-adult green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) was rescued at Koeberg Nature Reserve and quickly brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium’s sea turtle rehabilitation-and-release centre for veterinary treatment.

Endangered green turtles do not live on South African shores, so the fact that this one approached this close to Koeberg on the West Coast is an indication that something was wrong. Young turtles that drift away from their usual currents are unable to regulate their body temperature and are at risk of hypothermia. In her* weakened state, this turtle was pulled into a coolant intake pipe at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, where Eskom staff were able to detect and rescue her (Eskom employs dedicated nature conservationists at the Koeberg Nature Reserve).

Two Oceans Aquarium Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble gives Nanuk a quick inspection to ensure she was not harmed during the road trip to the Aquarium.

Nanuk arrived at the Aquarium cold and dehydrated, but she was quick to regain her energy and appetite, soon swimming about in the small observation pool that she was placed in.

Safe in our veterinary clinic, Nanuk is checked by Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson.

Unfortunately, it was clear that her shell had been damaged – there was a large crack in the tail section of her carapace, possibly from where she became wedged in the cooling pipe. This crack did not seem to cause any immediate health risks, but we knew that as she grew, misalignment of the shell segments could create health problems. It was time for a creative solution!

Placing a towel over Nanuk's eyes to keep her calm, Talitha disinfects her injuries.

Our animal health team is currently experimenting with a set of braces for her shell, small hooks epoxied onto the shell with strong wires between them to pull her shell into the correct alignment. Although similar sets of braces have been used before to repair shells of terrestrial turtles, we are still finding a solution that will be strong enough to slowly bend her shell, but won't degrade in sea water. Turtles are slow healers, so there will be plenty of time for our technique to be perfected.

This sea turtle has an interesting history and we have decided to name her “Nanuk”. Other than the obvious "nuke" pun, her name also means “master of bears” in Inuit and “ice lolly” in Slovak.

We are happy to welcome Nanuk, the smallest green turtle in our rehab-and-release centre to our family temporarily and wish her a speedy recovery.

How can you help?

Green sea turtles, together with loggerheads, leatherbacks and the occasional hawksbill turtle, are all threatened species that need our help to survive in South Africa's waters. Here are a few ways that you can help them and other animals to have a fighting chance:

  • If you live in the Western Cape, here's what to do if you find a stranded sea turtle.
  • The turtle rehab-and-release centre at the Two Oceans Aquarium requires around-the-clock attention, specialised medical care and many extra man- and woman-hours. To help us do this life-giving work, please consider making a donation online by clicking here.
Cartoon by Turtle Wayne.

*As always, it is near impossible to determine the sex of a sub-adult sea turtle. We've chosen the female pronouns for Nanuk as she is currently bedazzled with "shell jewellery".

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