Two Oceans Aquarium volunteer Evanne Rothwell has come up with a great way to help stranded turtles on Cape beaches, and to assist the members of the public who find them. She has taken the initiative and created “turtle rescue boxes” – used ice cream containers with air holes and a towel.

Evanne and Terry Rothwell

Evanne and her husband, Terry, will have been volunteering at the Two Oceans Aquarium for 11 years this year. Evanne has also been a first-responder for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Fish Hoek for 13 years.

Evanne identified the need for these turtle rescue boxes when she realised that most people are not sure what to do when they find turtles on a beach. “People want to know more about the turtles, how they end up in our waters in False Bay, why are they cold, and why they have to be dry,” says Evanne. “The reason is that these little turtles are washed out of the warm waters of KwaZulu-Natal into our cold waters here, and when they wash up they are dehydrated, tired and cold, so they need to be kept warm and dry so that the Aquarium can collect them and take over from there.”

Evanne's turtle rescue boxes are a safe, dry place for turtle hatchlings to stay until they can get to our rehab facility

Stranded turtles are brought to the Aquarium, where they are rehabilitated around the clock by a dedicated team of volunteers and staff members. Once the rehabilitated turtles are ready for release, we either fly them back up to KwaZulu-Natal where they are put back into warmer waters, or we take them several miles off Cape Point into warmer currents.

“We have achieved a fantastic outcome through our turtle rehabilitation programme, with 76% of all stranded turtles successfully released after rehabilitation over the last six years,” says Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson. “This of course would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts, passion and dedication of our turtle volunteers. Not only do they come in to clean, feed, weigh and love our turtle patients, they also initiate turtle awareness, education and rescue programmes in various locations along our coastline. Through inspiring and educating others we now have a massive network of people who care. This includes organisations such as the NSRI, SharkSpotters, and SANCCOB as well.

Stranded turtles spend time in our rehab facility until they are strong enough to be released back into warmer water

“Evanne’s turtle rescue boxes will make getting compromised turtles to our specialised rehabilitation facility so much faster.”

Evanne has set up a fantastic network of resources, ready to help, in the False Bay area. She has connected with local law enforcement, SharkSpotters and the lifeguards in Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, as well as a 24-7 emergency control centre. “I just felt we needed to put something in place so that people didn’t drop the turtles in a bucket of water, thinking that’s what they need," she says. They need to be kept warm and dry. Now I hope we will be able to save more turtles by keeping then warm and dry until they can get to the Aquarium. That’s why I made these boxes, which include a towel and the necessary contact numbers.”

The boxes have been issued to law enforcement, the lifeguards and SharkSpotters in Kommetjie, Fish Hoek and Muizenberg, as well as to Tears in Kommetjie. If you spot a stranded sea turtle in the False Bay area, keep the turtle dry and take it to SharkSpotters, local law enforcement or the lifeguards. These first-responders will then place the turtles in the rescue box. Alternatively, you can call the emergency control centre on 021 782 0333. Also remember to make a note of where you found the turtle, for our records.

Hatchlings are typically quite weak when they wash up. “If you look at the armpits, where the flippers are, it’s very sunken in and the turtle is probably dehydrated,” says Evanne. “And they’re very lethargic. The eyes are probably closed and they’re droopy, they’re not well-looking turtles.”

We salute Evanne for going the extra nautical mile to help these lost little turtles!

Stranded turtles: What to do

Every year around March or April, the Two Oceans Aquarium starts to receive calls from concerned members of the public who come across stranded juvenile (and occasionally sub-adult) turtles on the beaches of the Western Cape. The turtles you may come across are most likely hatchlings and the size of your hand. They wash up on our beaches, suffering from hypothermia.

Sea turtles, being temperate-water animals, don’t fare well in our icy Cape waters and it is crucial that they get help as quickly as possible. The Two Oceans Aquarium is here to help! Read on to learn more about what you can do should you come across a marine turtle stranded on the beaches around Cape Town.

Please note: This advice is only valid for marine turtle strandings around the Western Cape. Should you come across a turtle elsewhere around the South African coast, please contact the local aquarium or animal rehabilitation centre.

1. Remove the stranded turtle from the water

Once you have found a tiny turtle on the beach around the Cape Town coast, it needs rehabilitation. The first thing to do is to remove the turtle from the beach and place it in a dry container where it cannot drown. Keep it at room temperature to warm up slowly. These turtles are most likely suffering from hypothermia, which makes them weak; in most instances they are so weak that they cannot lift their heads. Turtles breathe air, just like us, and if a turtle cannot lift its head out of the water, it cannot breathe and will drown.

2. Call us (or, if you're in False Bay, go to one of Evanne's resources - SharkSpotters, the lifeguards or local law enforcement)

Call us as soon as you can on +27 (0)21 418 3823. Remember to take note of where the animal was found. It will help us if you could let us know the accurate size and species of the turtle. That way, we can prepare a specific rehabilitation tank for it, before it arrives.

We receive literally hundreds of hatchlings every year - you can help get them to us! 

The turtle species most commonly found stranded around Cape Town is the loggerhead turtle. Occasionally you may find a leatherback turtle and perhaps even a slightly larger sub-adult green sea turtle.

3. How to transport turtles

Simply place the turtle in a suitably sized container that allows the turtle to breathe freely. Keep the turtle at room temperature so that it slowly warms up. Contact us immediately and get the turtle to us as quickly as possible.

Very important: At no stage should the turtle be placed in water as it could drown. The Aquarium has a team of trained aquarists who have lots of experience in caring for stranded turtles.

Other ways to help

Our turtle rehabilitation centre 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.

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