Phew! The first ever Turtle Road Trip is over! From 1 to 7 March 2018, the turtally awesome women of the Two Oceans Aquarium conservation team hit the road - stopping in Southern Cape communities where most sea turtle hatchlings are stranded, establishing network points and instilling knowledge in the communities about what to do in the event of finding such a turtle.
So, how was our experience?
We were amazed by the incredible turnout and community support that we received. The main goal of this road trip was to visit the network points and cement the relationships that we were forming with these organisations along the way. What we did not anticipate was how fully the communities visited would embrace us.
Two Oceans Aquarium Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble had this to say:
The big highlight for me was seeing how enthusiastic and passionate people were to become future turtle rescuers. So many are wanting to help save turtles and make a difference through changes in their lifestyles and communities.
It was great to see such a big turnout of people, there were far more people involved than expected - it kind of blew me away!
It is lovely to see what is happening along our coast. There are so many beautiful places along our coastline with thriving communities all pulling together for the good of the environment - amazing to see!
Turtles are fabulous animals and this road trip allowed us to share that with people. These incredible creatures have won the hearts of many and it is really cool to know that we are establishing a whole network of passionate people along our coast who want to be part of rescuing them!
WWF Intern Inge Adams, part of our conservation team, shares her experience:
The Turtle Road Trip was an amazing experience - when Talitha told me that I would be joining I was really excited!
When we arrived at the first presentation in Muizenberg I was really nervous, because I had no idea what the turnout would be like. I was pleasantly surprised when so many people turned up to support us! The presentation went well and it set the tone for the rest of our trip.
At the following presentations, I spoke about my first turtle release season, my experiences and the emotions that went along with that. Some of those emotions even creeped back up during one presentation! It was amazing to see the support this initiative had - even in relatively small coastal towns. It was great to be surrounded by people who have the same love for the environment that you do. I feel positive that this initiative will be even bigger and better in the future!
Many interns don't get the opportunity to be involved in such an amazing initiative. I feel so lucky that I was able to be a part of this team. It was a great learning experience and got us thinking of the upcoming turtle season!
Two Oceans Aquarium volunteer Tracy Whitehead, who joined the Turtle Road Trip in Knysna had this to add:
Watching the turtle conservation team at work on the Turtle Road Trip, as well as watching the expressions of the people attending, the dawning of realization on their faces, the appreciation and emotion and just the sheer enthusiasm for the work done by the team, was inspiring.
Knowing that through this Road Trip's effort, we will be able to rescue many more hatchlings this year and in the years to come, gives us a real sense of pride and achievement as well as the energy to take another leap forward. I am thrilled to be part of this team!
What was our message?
A key message to the public was what YOU can do to save a stranded turtle hatchling. We'll summarize:
- DO NOT PUT IT BACK IN THE WATER!
- Keep it dry, put it in a container with a soft towel.
- Deliver it to the Aquarium or an official drop-off location as soon as possible.
"What kind of ocean are we releasing these turtles back into?" asked Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Campaigner Hayley McLellan. By rethinking the single-use, disposable plastic items that you use daily, and by choosing to replace them with reusable alternatives, you can help save sea turtles on the 364 days of the year when you don't encounter a stranded one on a beach. Here are some of the main things you can do:
- Cigarette filters are the item most commonly found littering coasts - they aren't biodegradable, so if you are a smoker please bin your butts!
- Ditch disposable shopping bags and get some reusable ones (and save money in the process).
- Items that can form nooses, like plastic wrap, box straps, hair elastics, etc. should be cut up before being disposed of.
- Consider getting yourself a reusable drinking straw, water bottle and coffee cup and skip the single-use versions.
- Support local beach cleanups.
If you'd like to see the presentation for yourself:
Where are the official turtle drop-off points?
- Bring the turtle directly to the Two Oceans Aquarium
- Shark Spotters in Muizenberg
- Shark Conservancy in Hermanus
- African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary in Gansbaai
- NSRI Station 30 in Struisbaai
- Lower Breede River Conservancy in Witsand
- Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex in Mossel Bay
- SANParks at Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp, Wilderness
- SANParks Thesen Island Offices in Knysna
- Tenikwa Wildlife Centre in Plettenberg Bay
Any turtle hatchlings dropped off at one of these sites will be transported directly to the Two Oceans Aquarium's rehabilitation centre, where they will be nourished and have their health assessed in preparation for their eventual release.
Tubs and towels
Right before we left on the Turtle Road Trip, we were profoundly blessed by a large consignment of ice cream tubs and soft towels, perfect for transporting a cold, stranded hatchling to the Aquarium! This was all thanks to the kind-hearted kids of Weldemoed Primary School who, as part of their annual Care Week, collected these items on our behalf. They dropped off eight bulging black bags full of the tools we need to make this programme a success - thanks to them, we were able to supply transport containers to all our drop-off points on the turtle rescue route.
A huge thank you to Michelle de Wet for coordinating this collection, and to the Welgemoed Primary School community for their thoughtfulness and compassion. As part of Care Week, the kids also collected tinned food for Mdzananda Animal Clinic, an organisation that is particularly close to our hearts. We were fortunate to be host some kids from Welgemoed Primary and a couple of Mdzananda representatives at the Aquarium to have a look at our turtle rehab programme.
We came back with more turtles than we left with...
When the Turtle Road Trip departed from the Two Oceans Aquarium, it did so with just one turtle - the plushy mascot Zoku.
But, we returned with two tiny rescued hatchlings - at 26g and 30g these are amongst the smallest hatchlings to ever be brought to the Aquarium. We'll update you on these little ones in a later post - but there are some photos to tug on your heartstrings.
Thank you for being part of this incredible journey - keep an eye on our blog for regular updates on the turtle hatchlings that arrive at the Aquarium and for information about what YOU can do to help rescue them!