On 9 and 10 February the Two Oceans Aquarium's Environmental Education and Turtle Rescue Programme teams hosted the first Sea Turtle Training Programme for our growing community of volunteer turtle lovers. Students had the chance to learn all about sea turtle biology, world-wide turtle conservation efforts as well as what takes place in the Aquarium's own Turtle Rescue Programme.

This course was a space for both those who wanted to become turtle rescue volunteers, and those who just wanted to learn more about turtles, to come together and share their love for turtles and the ocean. It was amazing to see just how many people care about our turtles and are willing to protect them and the ocean they live in.

These are some of the course highlights that we found most interesting to teach, and to learn about:

Biology: The course started off with students learning how to differentiate between all seven species of sea turtles using the arrangement of their scutes (the bony plates that form their shells), as well as differences in the shape of their heads. Students took part in a cool desktop activity, where each table was given an envelope containing pictures of different turtle species and then had to use their scutes to categorise them into the different species. This activity was a hit and was enjoyed by all! We also learnt all about turtle reproduction, digestion, respiration and everything that makes turtles such remarkable animals.

Rescue: One of the main highlights was learning how individuals and different organisations can work together to save the lives of turtles, both big and small! We would not be able to do what we do if it wasn’t for the compassionate people on the ground rescuing the turtles and getting them to us effectively. This underscored the importance of the Turtle Rescue Network that we established in 2017, which allows us to more efficiently transport turtles from where they became stranded to the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Rehabilitation: The Aquarium's veterinarian, Dr Brandon Spolander, spent some time with us and went through the medical cases of some of our rehab turtles that came through his care. We looked at Sandy’s amazing recovery, Bob's rollercoaster rehabilitation and even some of the lesser known cases in our rehabilitation centre. Seeing the state that some of the turtles were in on arrival, some on the brink of death, and seeing their recovery was really inspiring and reminded us of why we do the work that we do.

Sandy arrived at the Aquarium in 2016 with gigantic holes in her carapace after being struck by a boat propeller. Without the network of people involved in her rescue - from the member of the public who found her, to the veterinary team who eventually cleared her for release in 2018 - Sandy, and many turtles like her, would have no chance at survival.

Release: Turtles are not meant to be permanent fixtures at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Our ultimate goal is always to get these animals healthy and released back into the wild as soon as it is safe to do so. Although these releases are always a happy time for us, we always wonder what happens to our turtles after they are released.

In the last five years, we’ve satellite tagged quite a few turtles and are now lucky enough to be getting a glimpse into their ocean travels. This provides us with valuable information that can be used in future research. The most exciting part is seeing how deep Nocawe is diving, seeing where Sandy is headed and following Yoshi on her rediscovery of the ocean after almost 20 years at the Aquarium.

Want to track the travels of our released turtles? Follow their journey here with regular updates.

Conservation: The weekend ended off on an inspiring note as volunteer trainees heard all about the turtle conservation work that is happening all around the world and seeing how we as the Two Oceans Aquarium fit into the bigger conservation picture. We all realised just how privileged we are to be able to work with turtles on a daily basis. We have a great responsibility to use the turtles in our rehab as ambassadors for those in the wild.

The turtle rescue volunteers have now returned to their day-to-day lives - some are interning or working at the Aquarium, some are involved with other organisations near our coast, and some are simply regular beachgoers. All are now equipped with the knowledge to support the Turtle Rescue Programme and any stranded turtles that may cross their paths. We never know who the first responder will be, so having this growing team of trained people ensures that every turtle has the best chance of receiving the correct care. Thanks team!

Want to be kept in the loop about our sea turtle conservation efforts and find out how you can get involved in save the lives of animals in distress? Sign up for the quarterly Turtle News newsletter for the latest updates.

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