In nature, only one in 1 000 turtle hatchlings survive until adulthood. Add human-made hazards like plastic pollution, abandoned fishing tackle and climate change to the mix and things get even tougher. Fortunately, hundreds of members of the public have mobilised to help our Turtle Rescue Programme rescue hatchlings that become stranded, so that we can nurse them back to health and give them a second chance at life in the wild.
Each and every one of these people is a hero.
Take a look at some of our favourite rescue tales of 2019 below. These are by no means all the people that have helped - that list would be far too long - but we hope this highlights how anyone can play a role in saving an endangered animal. Special thanks do need to go out to our incredible team of volunteers and the members of the Turtle Rescue Network who educate their communities and help get these rescued turtles to safety: the NSRI, Shark Spotters, South African Shark Conservancy, African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, Lower Breede River Conservancy Trust, CapeNature, SANParks, Plett Stranding Network, Nature's Valley Trust and Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
A pony rescue
Pony Club Overberg were in for a surprise when they came across this little stranded hatchling on a very deserted stretch of beach near Arniston. Letting their ponies stretch their legs turned into a rescue mission. Hilde and Xante brought the hatchling safely home and it was cared for overnight, until a lift to Cape Town could be found.
We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the Arniston community on this - and are even more excited about the enthusiasm showed to assist the Turtle Rescue Programme with future strandings. Without people like Hilde and Xante, hatchlings that become stranded in secluded places have no chance of survival - thank you!
Father-daughter rescue duo
Wikkie and his daughter Bianca are keen animal lovers and have spent hours walking the beach in search of stranded or injured animals. When the weather looks rough, they head out to look for hatchlings.
After finding their first stranded hatchling, which was totally covered in barnacles, on Struisbaai beach on 24 April, this rescue duo returned to the beach repeatedly - rescuing 17 turtles in total.
Despite being blind, Bianca looked after most of their rescues herself, keeping them dry, out of the sun and wind, and safe until they could be collected for their ride to the Two Oceans Aquarium's rehabilitation centre.
In their words: “Very rewarding indeed to save these little wonders of nature.”
Vigilant members of the public like Wikkie and Bianca are the most important part of the Turtle Rescue Network, and their quick response to contact the local NSRI and animal care organisations for assistance is what led to the survival of these hatchlings. Thank you, Bianca and Wikkie!
When a stranger finds a hatchling on the beach, this awakens something in them and they become immediately invested in the rescue. But, when the call goes out for a driver to take a rescued hatchling from a coastal community to the Aquarium, we wouldn't expect to find the same level of commitment...
We’ve been proven wrong over and over again!
We’ve had the pleasure of meeting rescue heroes of a different kind: Pete at Asara Wine Estate & Hotel, whose team have collected and delivered over 55 hatchlings. Carmia and Philip who both individually on a number of occasions dropped whatever they were doing to travel far to meet, collect and then deliver hatchlings safely to us. Truck driver Pat from Saplings Timber Trading and owner Richard who safely carried 19 hatchlings in the cab of their truck across the Cape to us. And Anette, all of 82, who carried one little hatchling from Witsand to safety.
Stumbling across Quemic rangers employed by the City of Cape Town has also turned into a blessing, not only because they patrol the beaches but becasue they always seem to have a ranger and a vehicle ready to intercept rescue routes and make sure the last leg of the delivery is complete.
Thank you to all our rescue drivers - you are truly a vital part of the Turtle Rescue Programme and we are privileged to have your support.
The power of coffee
This little fighter, nicknamed "Seattle", was rescued near Fish Hoek. This tiny hatchling had travelled all the way from northern KwaZulu-Natal, only to wash up on the Cape Peninsula.
A member of the public found the hatchling weak, but alive, and handed it over to our Turtle Rescue Network partner Shark Spotters in Muizenburg. Literally, 30 seconds after the call for assistance went out amongst the Network, Kat from Seattle Coffee Co. was on her way to fetch and deliver this little hatchling to the Aquarium's rehabilitation centre.
Just a few short days later we discovered a small pile of plastic in the hatching’s tank - all pooped out. A real eye-opener about the state of our oceans.
Thanks, everyone involved - teamwork makes the dream work! And thank you coffee in general for keeping our passionate turtle team fueled for any challenge!
Exotic pet vets
An average day for Dr Bernice van Huyssteen and the team of specialist veterinarians at the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital may be filled with bunnies and exotic pet birds, but they are always ready to step in to assist wildlife in need – and helping the Turtle Rescue Programme team and the Two Oceans Aquarium’s own veterinarian care for rescued sea turtles is part of their wonderful work.
Specialist veterinary care is expensive, it takes as much training and equipment to perform a procedure on a turtle hatchling as it might on a human, and every rescued turtle that we receive inevitably has its own unique set of needs in order to recover. Fortunately, the willingness of the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital to provide specialist care to the turtles in our rehabilitation centre pro bono has hugely improved the quality of care and attention each turtle can get. This has made all the difference in the speedy recovery of the turtles in our care, be they a tiny hatchling or a big turtle like Bob or Alvi!
We’d like to thank Bernice, her team and all the other volunteers who assist in the care of these precious animals behind the scenes. Just because you are a “behind-the-scenes” hero, doesn’t make your work any less crucial – and we have people like you to thank for the improving survival rates we are seeing in the rescued hatchlings that arrive at our rehab centre.
When Witsand local Danie stumbled upon this stranded hatchling, he at first thought it was just a cluster of barnacles. Upon closer inspection, Danie discovered that hidden inside this tangle of goose barnacles, a small turtle was clinging on to life.
Danie quickly got in touch with the Lower Breede River Conservancy, the Turtle Rescue Network partner in Witsand. Craig of the LBRC contacted the Aquarium's rehabilitation team and together we decided that it would be too risky to remove the barnacles attached to the turtle - it would need to be transported directly to our veterinary clinic.
We carefully cleaned this hatchling and fortunately, we were able to save it. A whopping 35g of barnacles were removed weighing more than the little hatchling itself!
One-man rescue team
Over 200 hatchlings have been rescued and brought to our turtle rehabilitation centre in 2019 - and more than 30 of these tiny lives have Leon, a Struisbaai angler to thank!
Talitha and the Turtle Rescue Programme team are always excited to get a call from Stuisbaai, because we know that means a large number of these hatchlings have been found, and can now be given a second chance.
Struisbaai local Leon has an eye for spotting little turtles stranded on the beach from miles away and has already rescued over 30 stranded hatchlings this season - and we're sure Leon's turtle-saving days aren't over yet! He has a special permit that allows him to drive on a 4.5km stretch of beach, as he is wheelchair bound, but an avid fisherman who would be unable to reach the water without his vehicle. Now he gets to fish and rescue turtles at the same time!
We have Leon and countless other anglers, beachgoers and everyday people to thank for helping rescue so many turtles - you are all turtle rescue heroes!
Want to get involved? Find out more about the Two Oceans Aquarium's Turtle Rescue Programme, learn what you should do if you come across a stranded turtle and find out where your nearest Rescue Network Point is.