The Two Oceans Aquarium Turtle Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release programme is about nursing sick or injured sea turtles back to health, and then releasing those turtles back into the wild once they are ready. For Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble, who runs the rehab centre, the recent release of several iconic sea turtles has been a chance to reflect on the lessons learned about, and from, these incredible ocean survivors.
My relationship with the ocean has never been a sentence that ends in a question mark, but rather a long ramble that never quite ends, and carries on with the excited energy of three little ellipses. The ocean has always called me into her embrace. It’s what makes me truly feel excited to be alive - a passion and a calling. I am grateful to feel this way.
The first marine biologist I encountered was the character Kathy in the movie Flipper. Seeing her jump into action when the dolphin was sick was weirdly inspiring - 5-year-old Talitha was hooked. I wanted to live in the ocean and I wanted to care for its inhabitants. That dream led to what is now a full-time job in marine science, working as Conservation Coordinator at the Two Oceans Aquarium and heading up our turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme. It hasn’t been boring!
To have a passion that talks to us at all is a rare privilege - it’s too much to ask that this passion explains itself too. We have to work it out ourselves. This, in my experience at least, can be a bit overwhelming.
So, take some life advice from the rescued turtles that pass through our care, the individual animals that have inspired me on a daily basis.
From the minute they hatch they are 100% committed. Flapping their way down to the sea, they don’t let the bumps in the sand, crabs, birds or the massive ocean ahead deter them from forging ahead with all flippers blazing. Let’s be the same. Let's be very courageous and give every opportunity that we are afforded our absolute best shot. Even if that opportunity seems insignificant or small.
When Moya was rescued a year ago, she had a little injury on the top of her beak. So, every time she lifted her head to breath she looked like she was smiling at us, which made everyone who interacted with her smile as well. It's incredible how something as simple as smiling can spread joy and invoke internal sunshine. Let's smile like Moya!
Then we moved her into the I&J Ocean Exhibit and discovered just how curious Moya could be. She was always exploring little corners, checking out anything new that was added to her home. Curiosity should always be fuelling us. When you are swimming in a tidal pool and see a load of critters that you haven't seen before, it's curiosity that urges you to go and look up what you just experienced. This is science. This is exploring. This is what builds up knowledge and understanding and, on the most fundamental level, empowers you. Let's be curious like Moya.
Be resilient and determined like Sandy
When we welcome a turtle into our rehab, they are at their worst. This was especially true for Sandy. She had undergone incredible physical trauma, every breath must have been the most painful experience for her. She was on the verge of death when she was found stranded on a beach in 2016, and transported on bumpy roads to get to the Aquarium's rehab centre. But Sandy didn't stop breathing. Sandy didn't give up on life.
She didn't give up when we had to poke, prod, wipe, carry and debride her on a daily basis for months after arriving. Sandy was a personal example of resilience to me. When I watched her swimming around the I&J Ocean Exhibit with determination and feistiness, with a shell that had almost completely regrown, I was left in awe. In awe of her strength. It's that strength and determination to survive that is going to be with her as she continues her journey in her ocean home.
So, when we are struggling, when we feel overwhelmed or down or blue, let's think of Sandy, as I have many times. Let's be reminded of her refusal to give up. Let's channel our own inner Sandy.
Be a chilled ambassador like Bob
Bob is an incredibly special turtle. We all know it. Bob loves life, he doesn't care about being as fast or feisty as the other turtles, he just chills and has the best time cruising around the exhibit or scratching himself on a rock. Taking it slow and going with the flow, Bob is a very chilled turtle. Let’s learn from this, let’s take opportunities even if they aren’t the ones we planned for, let’s be flexible and laid back about how we get to where we want to go.
The best thing about Bob is that he is 100% authentically himself all the time.
Bob has become one of the Aquariums most powerful ambassadors. His story, which speaks to plastic pollution, resonates with people because of who Bob is: A turtle who is gentle and calm, who experience such obvious satisfaction from his interactions with other turtles and humans, who is just so happy to hang out. This to me is powerful. As lovers of the ocean, we are all automatically called to be ambassadors. But the most powerful way we can do this is by being completely ourselves. By sharing our real joy, love and passion with our communities. Authenticity cannot be faked and authenticity is potent, it makes an impression that lasts. Let's be ambassadors like Bob.
Noci very often gave me a fright. I'd enter the exhibit and have this large loggerhead right up in my face, completely out of nowhere. He was always curious, assertive and wanting to know what's cooking.
This was a very important lesson - the marine world is always changing. Stay on top of it, know what's going on, be interested and be involved. Go to beach cleanups and free lectures, put yourself into situations where you can meet South Africa's marine scientists. Where people can consistently see your face. Let's be persistent like Nocawe.
We have the privilege of adopting these incredible individuals into our hard-headed, half-shelled family at the Two Oceans Aquarium. From the moment a turtle enters our rehab facility they inspire us. Moya, Noci, Sandy and many of the hatchlings were released back into their real home at the end of 2018. As we sent them off, I could not think of a better way to thank them for their inspiration, and to apologize for the harm that we as a collective species have caused their ocean home, than to learn from them. To take on-board the life lessons they live every day.
Let's go for it like a hatchling.
Let's smile and be optimistic like Moya.
Let's be resilient and determined like Sandy.
Let's be chilled ambassadors like Bob.
Let's be persistent like Noci.
Help spread the hope
The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation are spreading the love of turtles by raising funds for the rehabilitation of stricken sea turtles. Help us reach our goal of R150 000 for this cause - together we can achieve more. Read more about Project Turtle here.