On 20 December 2018, with perfect weather conditions and confirmed sightings of sea turtles in the area, the Two Oceans Aquarium released seventeen sea turtles into the warm currents of the open ocean twenty nautical miles off Cape Point. The released animals included two sub-adult green turtles, an adult loggerhead turtle, and fourteen juvenile loggerheads. These turtles join Yoshi, an adult loggerhead turtle, which was released back into the wild last year on 16 December 2017.
Like Yoshi, two of the turtles, a loggerhead (Noci) and a green turtle (Sandy), were fitted with satellite tags, and all the turtles were fitted with microchips. The satellite tags will enable us to track and monitor the turtles' movements over the next few years, just like we are doing with Yoshi and Pemba.
Meet the turtles
Sandy, a sub-adult green turtle, was found by Sarah Halse, conservator of the Lower Breede River Conservancy Trust near Witsand, in September 2016. The turtle was in a terrible condition with five big gashes through its carapace – the injuries were so deep that Halse could see lung tissue moving up and down inside where the gashes were. It is suspected, judging by the size and shape of the gashes, that the injuries were caused by boat propellers. Rehabilitation for Sandy meant daily, painstaking cleaning of her wounds, picking out beach sand and other debris from under her severely damaged carapace and then carefully disinfecting the wounds and monitoring her health.
Nocawe, or Noci, as he was affectionately known, is an adult male loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and was discovered washed up on a beach near Witsand by Mark and Sharon Coller. He was given the isiXhosa name Nocawe which means “Girl who arrived on Sunday” as he arrived at the Aquarium’s turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release centre on Sunday 29 April 2018. However, it was later determined via an ultrasound that she was actually a he!
Upon arrival at the Aquarium he was given a thorough examination and although no major external injuries were found, the presence of the barnacles on his carapace indicated that he had been floating for quite some time. Blood samples were taken for analysis and the results indicated that he had a systemic infection. He was treated with a range of antibiotics, antifungals and vitamins and given fluids to rehydrate him. He responded well to treatment and in July this year was moved into the I&J Ocean Exhibit where he has slowly regained his health and swimming fitness. Noci is the first male loggerhead turtle that we have fitted with a satelite tag before release.
Moya is a sub-adult green turtle and was rescued off Cola Beach near Sedgefield by Janet Byrne in early October 2017. Byrne contacted the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness & Rehabilitation Centre, which guided her through the steps of stranded animal first responder actions and contacted the relevant authorities to coordinate the process. The turtle was attended to by a team from Sedgefield Animal Matters and SANParks Garden Route National Park and then taken to the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness & Rehabilitation Centre in Plettenberg Bay where the veterinary staff worked tirelessly to rehydrate and stabilise it. A large open wound on the turtle's flipper was also identified. Once Moya was strong enough, he was flown by CemAir, to Cape Town where he continued to receive treatment at the Two Oceans Aquarium's turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release facility. After a course of antibiotic and antifungal medications, as well as X-rays and an MRI scan, Moya finally started to recover and was transferred into the I&J Ocean Exhibit in May 2018 to complete his rehabilitation. "Moya" which is isiXhosa for "air" or "wind" – was so named as a reference to his aeroplane journey to the Cape.
Fourteen juvenile loggerhead turtles, which have been in rehabilitation for between six and eighteen months, were also released, after being given the all-clear by the Aquarium’s veterinarian.
Thank you very much to Hooked on Africa, HomeBrew and Claudio Velasquez Rojas, Steve Benjamin (Animal Ocean), Olivia Fraser and Gordon Hiles for their assistance in returning these turtles to their ocean home.
Help us help turtles
Behind the scenes of the exhibits you have come to know and love, the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa actively rescues, rehabilitates and releases stranded and distressed sea turtles as part of our broader conservation mission. With the support of an extensive network of organisations and volunteers along the Western Cape's coast, and many incredible donors, hundreds of endangered sea turtles – loggerheads, hawksbills, greens – have been saved, reared to full strength and released back into the wild.
Please consider helping our cause by donating here.
Update 22 December 2018:
Good news: The satellite tags attached to Sandy the green turtle and Nocawe the loggerhead have started pinging and sending back location data about these recently released turtles. This means we'll be able to follow their migrations for the next few months at the very least. Moya and the hatchlings do not have satellite tags attached because they are still too young to migrate to nesting sites. At this phase in their lives they will simply be travelling the currents looking for food for several years - as much as we would love to see where they end up, the high cost of these tags means we need to prioritise their use for turtles we are certain will provide the most useful data.
Sandy: Sandy quickly passed the 140km mark, and is hanging around southwest of Dassen Island on the West Coast.
Noci: This turtle is swimming like a torpedo and has already swum more than 200km, passing Saldanha.