Later this year, the Two Oceans Aquarium will release Yoshi the loggerhead turtle back into the ocean. Yoshi, the undisputed Queen of the Two Oceans Aquarium, first came to us as dinner-plate sized juvenile back in 1996, and now all signs indicate that she is ready for release. Stay tuned for our updates here on the blog and on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for all the Yoshi news.

Dr George Hughes is the author of Between the Tides: In Search of Sea Turtles. He is one of the world’s foremost turtle experts and a global leader in turtle conservation. He kindly wrote this post for our website ahead of Yoshi’s release.

Fifty-five years ago, sea turtles appeared on the horizon of conservationists in South Africa. Up until then, most local conservation efforts had been expended on the large and hairy, so-called “charismatic”, species of land mammals and, of course, our fantastic bird life. The great whaling industry off South Africa had already been terminated and the sea and its resources had few champions.

Dr Hughes with one of his first loggerheads, photo taken at Bhanga Nek near Kosi Bay in 1965. Courtesy Between The Tides/Jacana/Natal Mercury

Then in 1963 the nesting grounds of the loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles were discovered on the Zululand coast and fell under the care of the then-Natal Parks Board. Things did not look good. In fact, the parlous state of the two populations compared well with the critical state of so many near-extinct nesting colonies spread all around the world. Fewer than 200 loggerhead females were found to be nesting during the five-month nesting period in Zululand, and in 1966 only five leatherback females were recorded nesting. Did turtles really matter?

Yoshi is the very epitome of the fact that they do. Yoshi is also the reward that is reaped by those helping sea turtles to continue sharing the world we live in and represent the spirit of survival that so characterises this widespread and resilient species, the loggerhead.

The first attempt at marking hatchlings at Bhanga Nek using trout tags, photo taken in 1967. Courtesy Between The Tides/Jacana

The loggerheads of the Zululand coast have thrived under protection, now more than 1 000 females come to nest each year. Research into the ecology of their lives has shown that they are long-lived, taking an average of 36 years to reach nesting maturity, that they nest many times during their lives laying thousands of eggs in batches of 100+ eggs per laying. Some have been recorded nesting over a period of 35 years after being tagged, so it has been demonstrated that they can enjoy a lifespan comparable to that of humans and cover prodigious distances, some exceeding 3 000km, between the nesting and feeding grounds during each nesting cycle. They are remarkable animals but they are vulnerable to misuse, overexploitation and disinterest.

Above: The remains of a poached green turtle on Moheli, Comores, photo taken in 1987. Courtesy Between The Tides/Jacana

David Rowe-Rowe and Dr Hughes sampling loggerhead eggs in Maputaland in 1967. Courtesy Between The Tides/Jacana

Yoshi is a splendid representative of the fact that in South Africa disinterest is not a factor that will threaten her survival. Yoshi is the embodiment of all the care and concern that South Africans, and especially the staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium, uShaka Sea World in Durban and Bayworld Oceanarium in Port Elizabeth, have lavished on her species when mischance has placed them in their hands.

Once she is released what goes with her are our hopes that she will avoid misuse and exploitation during the long swim to her eventual feeding and nesting grounds and our wishes that her success will help contribute to the legendary survival of her kind. We wish her luck.

South Africans… Take a bow! 

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