Bheni, the green turtle, has returned to his ocean home! After a year of rehabilitation at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre, Bheni was released into the crystal-clear waters of De Hoop Nature Reserve on Friday, 8 December 2023.
Excitingly, Bheni is the first satellite-tagged turtle to be released in the stunning De Hoop Marine Protected Area (MPA)! The Morukuru Family and the Morukuru Goodwill Foundation generously sponsored Bheni’s satellite tag, and we are so grateful that we can embark on an incredible research journey in the De Hoop MPA.
“We feel privileged to have properties in the De Hoop Nature Reserve and take our role as custodians of this coastal and marine world very seriously. Our engagement in various initiatives, especially in supporting crucial conservation efforts for turtles, brings us immense joy, and we are excited to follow Bheni's journey,” said Ed and Anka Zeeman, owners of Morukuru Family De Hoop and founders of the Morukuru Goodwill Foundation.
So, what was the release day like?
The Turtle Conservation Centre team arrived on the shores of De Hoop Nature Reserve in the morning, having fitted Bheni with satellite, acoustic, passive integrated transponder (PIT), and flipper tags the previous day. While our veterinary team conducted final checks, Alexandra Panagiotou (Sea Turtle Enrichment Specialist at our Turtle Conservation Centre) reflected on Bheni’s rehabilitation journey before briefing the team.
“We were thrilled to be returning to De Hoop MPA to release Bheni, the first of our turtles fitted with a satellite tag to be released in this remarkable environment. While in our care, Bheni responded well to treatment and our rehabilitation enrichment techniques. It is fantastic to be able to follow him on his return to the open ocean, and we can’t wait to follow his progress,” said Alexandra.
With our vet’s “okay”, Bheni was gently carried down the steps to the waiting beach and placed on the sand just above the surf. His head raised as he sniffed the ocean air for the first time in a year; an emotional moment for the turtle team as they looked on. Bheni took his time acclimatising to the sights and smells of the sea, taking deep breaths as the observers held theirs. With the water lapping at his flippers, Bheni gradually inched forward into the gentle swell and was welcomed back to the ocean!
Just like his slow and steady approach to rehabilitation, Bheni spent some time exploring and taking some big breaths before venturing beyond the reef, where (to the turtle team’s delight), he started diving and seemingly having a great time!
Bheni’s rehabilitation journey
Although Bheni initially appeared to be in good health, with visibly good physical condition and a strong appetite, it was soon discovered that this new arrival had an infection on the right side of the carapace (top shell) under the scutes (shell plates). Turtle shells hold numerous nerve endings and blood vessels, so a ‘simple’ infection can develop into something more serious. Thanks to the expert care of our veterinary team, the infected scutes were removed, and the wound was treated with regular applications of F10 (a veterinary disinfectant) and honey.
Alexandra Panagiotou explained, “The team was relieved that the treatment worked well, resulting in Bheni’s carapace completely healing. We were so proud as Bheni was cleared by the veterinary team to be introduced to the I&J Ocean Exhibit as the last stage in rehabilitation. The move into the I&J Ocean Exhibit allowed Bheni time and space to get stronger and more confident before his release back into the open ocean.”
Bheni, who weighed 26.9 kg on arrival, was released into De Hoop MPA at a healthy 43.5kg, leaving the Turtle Conservation Centre team feeling confident that he will thrive in the wild.
The importance of tagging and the De Hoop MPA
De Hoop MPA has become an important release site for the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre. Its status as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) provides the rehabilitated turtles with the perfect environment to be reintroduced into the wild ocean.
Cape Nature, a long-time partner of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Rescue Network, has played an integral role in the Turtle Conservation Centre’s turtle rehabilitation and release work. Without their support, the Turtle Conservation Centre team would not have access to these protected areas and peace of mind of a successful release.
The area was declared an MPA in 1985, showing a long-time recognition of the value of De Hoop’s marine environment. Renowned as a birthing ground for southern right whales, the MPA is home to shoaling fish, bottlenose dolphins, sunfish, sharks, rays, and plentiful birdlife. De Hoop is managed by Cape Nature as a restricted area (a “no-take” zone), allowing marine wildlife to flourish and showcasing the effectiveness of such MPAs.
“In the last eight years, the Turtle Conservation Centre has received seven live green juvenile/sub-adult turtles from De Hoop, with the beloved Bob as the most well-known. This evidence made clear to our team at the Turtle Conservation Centre that this is an area of significance for the conservation of turtle populations,” said Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager of the Turtle Conservation Centre.
One of the ways the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation and its partners hope to learn more about turtle movement and behaviours in this area is through tagging. The use of acoustic tags in De Hoop, in partnership with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity’s (SAIAB) Acoustic Tracking Array Platform (ATAP), has been highlighted in previous releases. Bheni is the sixth acoustically tagged turtle to be released by the Turtle Conservation Centre into De Hoop MPA.
However, the chief significance of Bheni’s release is that it marks the first satellite-tagged turtle to be released into De Hoop MPA. Together with acoustic tagging, the Turtle Conservation Centre is encouraged by the potential of De Hoop MPA in ongoing turtle conservation and research work.
Release is the ultimate goal for all the turtles undergoing rehabilitation at our Turtle Conservation Centre, and we are thrilled that Bheni is back in his ocean home.
Soon, we will receive Bheni’s first satellite tracking update: You can get the scoop in Turtle Tales, our community mailer, or on our social media – keep an eye out!