What an amazing week! The conservation team has returned from the 2019 Turtle Road Trip - an epic adventure that visited hundreds of school children and passionate turtle-lovers across the Southern Cape, equipping coastal communities with the knowledge they need to successfully rescue any stranded sea turtles they might come across. Last year's road trip established the Turtle Rescue Network, a group of organisations willing to assist community members in getting stranded turtles to the Two Oceans Aquarium's turtle rehab centre and this year we were able to build on that, making new partnerships, building on old ones and reaching school children - our future ocean lovers.
Above all else, we now know that these communities know what to do if someone finds a stranded turtle.
What was it all about?
Established in 2018, the Turtle Rescue Network has been a cornerstone of the Two Oceans Aquarium's Turtle Rescue Programme, connecting the diverse people and organisations on the Western Cape coast that are likely to find stranded sea turtles, and give them the skills and resources to rescue them and deliver them to our rehab centre. At the heart of this network, are the community organisations that assist members of the public with these rescues - and this Road Trip was all about strengthening our relationship with these communities, and meeting new partners to help rescue turtles!
Over a week, the Turtle Road Trip team visited community organisations, residents and schools in and around Hermanus, Gansbaai, Struisbaai, Witsand, Stilbaai, Mossel Bay, George, Sedgefield, Knysna, Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay - communities most likely to encounter stranded sea turtles. These communities are the true sea turtle rescuers, and the Aquarium is glad that we are able to offer world-class rehabilitation facilities and release plans to finish off the work that truly begins on the beaches and rocky shores around these towns. In fact, this year's Turtle Road Trip was able to directly reach 1 259 people!
The 2019 Road Trip was represented by a team of passionate turtle-lovers from all departments of the Two Oceans Aquarium - Talitha Noble and Inge Adams of Curatorial Services, conservation volunteer Tracey Whitehead, environmental educator Kirshia Koumbatis, Visitor Services guide Ashwyn Davis, and Devon Bowen of the Marketing department.
A new component of the Turtle Road Trip this year was the addition of an educational outreach component to the programme. Environmental educators took charge of the Aquarium's Oceans in Motion outreach vehicle, a mobile aquarium classroom, to visit schools in the communities that the road trip stopped in.
At these lessons, school children of all ages were taught about the lifecycle of sea turtles, particularly the loggerheads and leatherbacks that nest on the South African coast, and what should be done if they find a stranded hatchling. Essentially, each of these children could be a future turtle rescuer! The learners were also introduced to the underwater wonders that they would encounter in the rockpools of their local coastlines, after all, these are the creatures they would also be seeing while spending time at the see and their health is directly linked to the ocean - and thus to the lives of turtles.
Overall, the education team was able to reach many hundreds of school children during the Turtle Road Trip, and the enthusiasm shown by the children has encouraged us to add even more schools to the next Turtle Road Trip!
Meeting the Network Points
The Turtle Road Trip also had seven presentations for the public, which focussed on the details of the rehab programme that takes place at the Aquarium, with closer looks at a few case studies. These cases included rehab success stories like that of Sandy, ongoing rehabilitation work like that of Alvi, and also an honest look at sad cases where we need to make difficult decisions about turtles that cannot be saved.
We also revealed details of the ongoing satellite tracking of several of the turtles successfully released from our care, giving the public a glimpse into the lives that these turtles live in the wild - the second chances we are able to give them if we work together.
We are deeply grateful to the wonderful organisations that hosted us at these events, and the community members that attended these events with such enthusiasm (and wonderful insights and questions). Special thanks to the South African Shark Conservancy, African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary, NSRI, SANParks, Lower Breede River Conservancy Trust, and Tenikwa Wildlife Centre.
Want to get involved?
If you want to help us, just spread the word to your friends and family about what to do if they find a stranded turtle:
- Don't put it back in the water!
- Contact your nearest Turtle Network Point, like the NSRI (list at link)
- Put the turtle in a dry container, with a soft towel and air holes
- Keep the turtle out of the sun and wind
- Get the turtle to the Aquarium or Network Point as soon as possible
Once the turtle is safely at the Two Oceans Aquarium, the trained staff of our Turtle Rescue Programme will see to its care and rehabilitation. But, the first step in a turtle's road to recovery could be YOU.