Last Friday, 12 November 2020, a group of adventurous swimmers took on the swim from Robben Island to Big Bay. Leigh de Necker and Talitha Nobel were two members of the intrepid group. Leigh is an Aquarist at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and Talitha heads up the turtle rehabilitation and release programme for the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation. Both of these women were swimming to raise funds for their chosen charities – the South African Shark Conservancy and the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.
The first question that comes to mind is “Why would anyone want to swim 7.5km in the ocean?” Well, apparently a lot of people enjoy doing this and the swim between Robben Island and Big Bay happens on a regular basis.
Leigh is always looking for ways to challenge herself. The swim was the perfect way to combine her love for sport and adventure and her passion for sharks and ocean conservation. She trained by swimming long distances in the ocean, with the waters of False Bay providing an incredible training environment. Both Leigh and Talitha trained in the I&J Ocean Exhibit, here at the Aquarium, during lockdown, when ocean training was not permitted. Leigh believes that physical training is important, but also training your mind is key.
Leigh earned her Master’s degree with a focus on sharks, and it is these animals that inspired her to undertake the swim. “I’m in awe of their incredible ability to display both power and grace, to be resilient, yet vulnerable! Misunderstood... We rely on the ocean, as a food source and for the air we breathe. For their critical role in the ecology of the sea, we need sharks - ALIVE - for our own survival.” Her chosen charity was the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC), an organisation that celebrates the diversity and uniqueness of South African sharks. Their research and conservation efforts do not only focus on the charismatic species around our coast, but they also highlight the importance and significance of protecting the smaller, endemic species. SASC is an NGO that largely relies on donations, with their operations very much affected by the current pandemic. Leigh has managed to raise funds for this very worthy cause, and if you would like to contribute, please do so here.
Talitha heads up the sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme for the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation. She loves turtles, always has and probably always will. Her journey to this swim came as a bit of a shock – she was given an “entry”, and jumped at the opportunity. During her training sessions in the I&J Ocean Exhibit, she had Bob, the green turtle, as her coach and while training she always kept in mind that she was doing this for her beloved turtles. The sea turtles she has helped rehabilitate and release were 100% her inspiration and motivation to do the swim. Sandy, a green turtle that was rehabilitated and released by the programme, holds an extra special place in Talitha’s heart. “Swimming free, so that Bob can be free, but also swimming free to feel connected to the turtles we have released, in particular Sandy. I really loved the idea of swimming in spaces and places in the sea in the way that Sandy probably does.”
For Talitha, swimming in the sea, and spending a lengthy amount of time in the ocean that turtles and other marine animals call “home” has given her a new connection with the animals that she strives to protect and rehabilitate. Doing the swim wasn’t something she did for herself. She completely committed to it, and completed the swim in honour of the sea turtles she has looked after in the past, is looking after at present, and will be looking after in the future.
Talitha’s chosen charity is the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation. She believes in everything the Aquarium Foundation stands for, and she wanted to raise money for more resources in order for the Foundation to continue its amazing work. To support her fundraiser click here.
Both Leigh and Talitha are ready for the next big swim. In a year that has not been an easy one, this swim has been an achievement, motivation and highlight for both. These remarkable women want to continue feeding their adventurous sides, while being able to contribute to the conservation of the marine environment. We are incredibly proud of what they have achieved and we look forward to seeing more swims and fundraisers in the future.