Sea turtles, being temperate-water animals, don’t fare well in our icy Cape waters and it is crucial that they get help as quickly as possible. The Two Oceans Aquarium is here to help! Read on to learn more about what you can do should you come across a marine turtle stranded on the beaches around Cape Town.
Please note: This advice is only valid for marine turtle strandings around the Western Cape. Should you come across a turtle elsewhere around the South African coast, please contact a local aquarium or animal rehabilitation centre.
If you find a tiny hatchling:
1. NEVER PUT IT BACK IN THE WATER!
The first thing to do is to remove the turtle from the beach and place it in a dry container where it cannot drown.
Keep it at room temperature to warm up slowly. Stranded turtles often suffer from hypothermia, which makes them weak - in many instances, they will be so weak that they cannot lift their heads.
Like humans, sea turtles breathe air, and if a turtle cannot lift its head out of the water or is covered by a towel, sand or a closed container, it cannot breathe and will suffocate.
2. Identify your nearest Turtle Rescue Network point
If you find the turtle near Cape Town, or on the Cape southern coast, please identify your nearest Turtle Rescue Network point on the map below and take the turtle there as quickly as possible.
Even if delivery of the turtle is delayed, or you struggle to get the turtle to safety, please do not be tempted to put it back in the water or on the beach - it breathes air and will survive as long as possible as long as it remains in your care. Releasing it carelessly will almost certainly result in its death.
Once you have made contact with your nearest Network point, arrangements will be made with you to get the turtle into professional hands.
3. Transporting the turtle
With the small turtle safely stashed in a breathable container, possibly placed on top of a towel or old cloth for comfort, your turtle is safe for transport. Please take care to keep it at a comfortable room temperature - if you feel hot or cold, it will also have discomfort.
You do not need to feed it, give it water or clean it - their metabolisms are slow and your only concern now needs to be to get it to safety as quickly as possible.
4. Communicating effectively
Please try to keep track of the following information as you go through the rescue process:
- Is it a big turtle or a tiny hatchling?
- Where did you find it?
- Did you notice any obvious injuries?
- If you hand the turtle over to someone else to transport, please ask for their name and contact number.
Passing this kind of information on you your Turtle Rescue Network contact will help them, and us, arrange for its treatment and rehabilitation more effectively.
If you would like to follow up on the rescue of the turtle once it has left your care, feel free to send us a message. If you'd like to track the progress of the turtle you helped save, you can follow their progress in our quarterly Turtle Rescue newsletter.
If you find a big turtle:
Large turtles may become stranded for a variety of reasons. Please contact the Aquarium or your nearest Turtle Rescue Network Point for assistance.
A few things to keep in mind when dealing with a large turtle:
- Even if a turtle appears dead, check if it responds to touch - they often slow down due to hypothermia.
- Remember that these are scared wild animals - stay away from their mouths as they can bite.
- If you attempt to transport it, please only lift it by its shell and ensure that it is placed somewhere that it cannot fall if it struggles, eg. in the back of a bakkie. Please call to the dropoff point in advance so we can prepare for your arrival.
Most stranded turtles are found by beachgoers, and even if you never find one yourself, you can help save a life by making sure everyone you know knows just two facts (you never know who will find a turtle while on holiday, fishing trip or school outing):
- NEVER PUT THE TURTLE BACK IN THE WATER. EVER.
- CALL THE TWO OCEANS AQUARIUM IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.