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Bob takes the plunge into his ocean home

- Blog, Foundation, Turtles, Conservation
Bob takes the plunge into his ocean home

After eight years of rehabilitation at the Two Oceans Aquarium, Bob the green turtle has been released! On 27 January 2023, Bob took his first plunge into the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal.

Following a flight with The Bateleurs and a short stay at uShaka Marine World’s Rocky Reef Exhibit, Bob was transported by the Two Ocean Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre and SAAMBR to the north coast for a beach release. Thanks to his VIT (Very Important Turtle) status, Bob was released on a private beach at Olwandle Estate, alongside the Hlimbitwa river mouth.

On the morning of his release, all involved had feelings of excitement and apprehension. His carers did their final well-being check, fed him, and attached two tags to his front flippers. Once they were satisfied and the team was briefed, Bob was moved into a comfortable, padded wooden box for transport to the release site.

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Credit: © Linda Ness

On arrival, the team assessed the release site and took a moment to ready themselves for the big Bob-voyage moment. With the help of two compassionate Sharks rugby players, Boeta Chamberlain and Tinotenda Mavesere, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation and SAAMBR turtle teams carried Bob in his box to the water’s edge. At first, Bob needed a nudge along the sand, likely taking in his surroundings. But his instincts soon engaged, and he made swimming motions, pulling himself into the surf. Everyone on the beach held their breaths as he explored the shallows before quickly finding the rip into deeper water and swimming off. 

As he dipped into the deep, the team cheered and comforted each other with words of hope for our turtle ambassador. Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, reflected on the day; “Bob's release experience was tremendously special. Everyone there had a deep respect for Bob, and he was ushered home with the most spectacular love.”

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Credit: © Linda Ness

Bob’s road to release

Bob’s journey began when he arrived at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2014, 70 kgs lighter and “unreleasable”. He had severe injuries, exacerbated by plastic ingestion and brain damage. Still, with a lot of hard work and love, the Turtle Conservation Centre team made incredible progress. Bob was introduced to his temporary home in the I&J Ocean Exhibit six years ago. The Turtle Conservation Centre's work wouldn't be possible without the generous sponsorship of Ardagh Glass Packaging - Africa (formerly Consol Glass). 

In 2020, Alexandra Panagiotou, Environmental Enrichment Specialist at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, joined the team and sparked hope for Bob’s potential release. She designed a Bob-specific environmental enrichment programme, and over the next two years, saw steady progress in his development as he began to express natural behaviours for green turtles. Bob’s regular behavioural assessments and neurological examinations increasingly showed healthy neurological responses, resulting in a decision in 2022 to release him.

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Bob's "before"
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Bob's "After" (Credit: Linda Ness)

Bob gets the all-clear for release

On Monday, 23 January, Bob was flown to Durban by The Bateleurs, a Non-Profit Company of environmentally-minded pilots and aircraft. He was welcomed by the SAAMBR team and carefully transported to uShaka Marine World. Bob was immediately introduced to the Rocky Reef Exhibit, where he explored the rocky underwater world, accompanied by triggerfish and parrotfish.

Over three days, Bob was monitored by Panagiotou, who was impressed that he was presenting natural behaviours. She noted: “We are looking for exploratory swimming, diving, feeding, and any focused behaviour such as scratching or tracking of other species. We are also observing his pattern swim and stereotypical behaviours, which will indicate his stress levels”.

On Thursday, 26 January, Dr Bernice van Hyssteen, with the assistance of Dr Caryl Knox, conducted a neurological exam in the shallows of the Rocky Reef Exhibit. This was the moment of truth for Bob, determining if he was fit for release into the open ocean. Dr van Hyssteen did several cranial nerve tests and checked Bob’s head and eye positioning. Bob passed with flying colours, much to the team's delight and relief.

Credit: © Devin Trull

Bob the Ambassador - Tracking his ocean exploration

With the green light for release, Bob's tags could be fitted. He was carefully transferred from the Rocky Reef Exhibit to the Quarantine area. With the help of Santosh Bachoo, Senior Marine Ecologist at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the team prepared Bob to be fitted with three tags. These were a Fastlock GPS satellite tag, a Vemco acoustic tag, and flipper tags on both front flippers.

The Fastlock satellite tag was particularly significant to the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre team as they are expensive devices. A huge thank you goes to Karoline Hanks, who ran the infamous 13 Peaks in Cape Town back-to-back as a fundraiser for Bob’s satellite tag. This incredible feat, which took over 72 hours, was inspired by Karoline’s campaign against plastic pollution to create a safer ocean for marine animals. This is the first time that the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation has triple-tagged a turtle, and the team is excited about its research potential.

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Credit: © Linda Ness

Bob’s release was a remarkable achievement for the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation team and the entire Aquarium staff. However, the excitement for Bob’s return to the ocean is mixed with concern for his well-being. The ocean is still not safe for marine animals like turtles, as plastic pollution is an enormous threat to their safety. As an ambassador for turtles, Bob will continue to inspire campaigns against plastic pollution as the Aquarium community follows his journey. Thanks to the three tags, the Turtle Conservation Centre will closely follow his progress, allaying their concerns and providing important research data. Keep an eye on the Two Oceans Aquarium social media platforms for Bob's updates over the next few weeks and months. “We have already seen that Bob has moved north, an area abundant with seagrass, and where SAAMBR are currently tracking a few turtles,” said Talitha Noble.

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