As much as the work of the Two Oceans Aquarium Turtle Rehabilitation and Release Programme is about nursing sick or injured sea turtles back to health, it’s also very much about releasing those turtles back into the wild once they are ready. And, considering that all seven species of sea turtles are classified as threatened by the IUCN, each individual returned to its natural habitat means a better fighting chance for the species as a whole. Here, Two Oceans Aquarium Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble explains the release process for turtles that have found their way to us.

The big finale of any successful turtle rehabilitation story is its release. This is what motivates and drives every single feed, every siphon and every medical treatment that a tiny hatchling turtle receives.

The photographs in this post is from a release in November 2016. As summer approached, we prepared these loggerheads for a flight to Durban, where they were released by our friends at uShaka Marine World 
A volunteer shows us how small #11 was when he first arrived at the Aquarium

The Two Oceans Aquarium is a pit stop for these struggling little creatures; a place where weight is gained, wounds are healed and strength is built up in order to stand a better fighting chance in the vast blue ocean.

Hatchlings that are found stranded on Cape beaches are brought to us, and cared for in our quarantine area where they grow strong and healthy for release. Specialist veterinary care ensures their best chances of survival 
Our turtle volunteers handle each individual turtle with utmost care and respect

When are turtles ready for release?

“Ready for release” is a phrase that starts to pass our lips at the turtle rehab and release facility as winter ends and summer approaches. At this point, the hatchlings have gained hundreds of grams, are enthusiastically devouring all food dropped into their tank and are feisty when handled. It is also important that the patient in question has not needed any medical treatment for more than a month.

Every turtle also "grows" a personality and our volunteers can tell you stories about each and every turtle's individual traits
We also have larger turtles at our rehab facility 

We have a checklist for each turtle and make sure that all requirements are met before we deem the hatchling ready for release. Once a turtle has been cleared by the vet, we microchip it and make sure that it has been properly dewormed. These little dinosaurs are now so very close to the ocean they can taste it!

Our animal health coordinators makes sure every turtle is ready to be released
#25: reporting for release!

There are some turtles that don’t check the boxes, who are still a bit poorly or who haven’t gained enough weight yet. We keep these guys for a bit longer and only release them once we are confident that they are the healthiest they could possibly be.

“This is where conservation becomes tangible.”

Where are turtles released?

The Two Oceans Aquarium turtle releases happen in one of two ways. Either they are flown up to Durban, where uShaka Marine World releases them into the warm Aghulas Current for us, or we take them off Cape Point and release them into the retroflecting current (the warm Agulhas Current that has turned around) to cruise back up the coastline.

Each turtle is packed individually in a clear container, with soft sponge and lots of airholes to make the journey as comfortable as possible

The type of release we do is dependent on the summer southeastern wind and the distance of the Agulhas Current from our shoreline. In both cases we pack each turtle up individually in a little container, with soft sponge and lots of airholes to make the journey as comfortable as possible.

Where conservation becomes tangible

The day of release is always a day of heightened emotions. This is where conservation becomes tangible, where the wild population of loggerheads actually increases by the number of turtles we are releasing. That is such a goosebump concept. But it’s also a day where we have to say goodbye.

And then it's time to fly! 
Loaded into the Aquarium bakkie

Goodbye to #23’s crazy-excited backflips when food comes along, to #17’s totally laidback attitude toward life and to #6’s wriggles when he gets weighed.

A last check to make sure all our turtles are in a row. 

These little guys have all made so much progress since their arrival and have needed so much care on a daily basis that you can’t help feeling sad at having to see them go. We don’t know what’s going to happen to them when they embark on this next adventure, but we know we have done everything possible to give them the best fighting chance.

The turtle team handling the November 2016 release, from left: Tracy Whitehead, Talitha Noble, Kevin Spiby, Tersia Greenstone, Tyron Bergh and Catherine Barley

You can help us help turtles

Looking after turtles takes a lot of time, a lot of manpower, and in some cases, a lot of medication as well as a considerable amount of money to ensure that each turtle receives the best care possible for its rehabilitation and ultimate release. Most of all, however, it takes a lot of dedication and hard work by a small group of individuals.

You can help us help turtles by donating to our conservation fund online - a donation of just R500 will enable us to provide comprehensive care for each turtle, including micro-chipping each turtle for individual identification. Fully 100% of donations are used for our conservation projects – check out some of our other projects here.

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