On 22 December 2023, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre released Nobomvu, a loggerhead turtle, off the Cape Point coast into the warm Agulhas Current. Nobomvu was fitted with a satellite tag, two flipper tags and a PIT tag. This was a joyous celebration as the Foundation team watched her return to her ocean home. Joined by 28 loggerhead turtle hatchlings and two yearlings, the “Red Lady” added some festive cheer to the start of the summer holiday season, inspiring the collective action needed to protect our oceans.
Fondly known as the Red Lady after her unusually red colouration when rescued, Nobomvu made her mark on the Turtle Conservation Centre team that expertly cared for her since 2021. She represents the essence of what the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre stands for, drawing together as One Blue Heart.
“Nobomvu taught me everything I know about turtle conservation and rehabilitation. Her journey to recovery has been a rollercoaster, but she bravely overcame all the challenges that faced her. Turtle releases are bittersweet – you build an amazing relationship with these animals but always want to see them free in a healthy ocean. I am forever grateful to have been a part of her story!” explained Ayesha Cornelius, Sea Turtle Aquarist.
“Through her satellite tag, we will be able to follow her journey into the open ocean and gather data as she explores feeding grounds and rides ocean currents,” said Cornelius. “This will help us to better understand and protect turtles.”
Nobomvu’s resilience inspired a collective heartbeat that the Foundation team hopes will resonate within a growing ocean-loving community. She is an ambassador for all turtle species devastated by human destruction of the natural environment. Her story is yet another urgent call for us to protect the ocean, not only for turtles and other marine life but also for the sake of humanity.
On 14 July 2021, fishermen Kriston and Gordon came across a ghost fishing net at Quinn Point in Gaansbaai. Completely entangled in this immense, heavy fishing net was Nobomvu. As a sub-adult loggerhead turtle, she weighed 54.9kg then and needed 13 volunteers to rescue her from this discarded fishing gear!
The fishing net weighed roughly the same as Nobomvu when she was rescued: A weighty burden that could have been a death sentence. Nobomvu is incredibly fortunate to have been stranded while she still had the strength to keep her head above water, as the alternative would have been drowning.
A month after Nobomvu arrived at the Turtle Conservation Centre, the turtle team noticed a drop in her appetite and a lack of use of her front right flipper. The Two Oceans Aquarium veterinarians promptly conducted X-rays and took joint samples, revealing osteomyelitis (a bone infection caused by bacteria) in Nobomvu’s right flipper. Osteolytic (bone-eating) abrasions are a secondary effect of traumatic injuries and compromised immune systems. The stress of being stranded and the injuries associated with entanglement likely compromised Nobomvu’s immune system.
Dr Peter Berndt (Radiologist at Winelands Radiology), otherwise known as “Turtle Dad”, said of Nobomvu, “As would later transpire, she had septic arthritis and osteitis of both her elbow joints as well as a systemic bacteremia. We scanned her many times, and the bacteremia persisted. However, the turtle team persevered, and Nobomvu slowly started to heal. I am amazed at how she pulled through – she has left me in wonder of the resilience of these ancient creatures.”
After two years of long and, at times, frustrating rehabilitation at the Turtle Conservation Centre, Nobomvu was introduced to the I&J Ocean Exhibit on 7 May 2023 for the final phase of her recovery. Weighing 20kgs more than when she arrived, Nobomvu showed off her fighting spirit, quickly acclimatising to the new, larger space.
The Foundation team introduced various enrichment techniques to help Nobomvu gain the strength, stamina, and confidence she would need to be released back into the wild.
On 8 November 2023, at her final CT scan, the veterinarians confirmed that the Red Lady had been free of infection and had maintained a stable and healthy condition for over six months. Nobomvu was given the all-clear for release!
An ambassador for her species and other marine life, Nobomvu is a symbol of hope and resilience. At points, her fiery spirit wavered, but through tenacity and hard work, it was never extinguished. “At the Turtle Conservation Centre, we consider turtles as ancient symbols of resilience, guiding us to remember the importance of living in harmony with nature to ensure its well-being for future generations,” said Talitha Noble-Trull, the Centre’s Conservation Manager.
All seven marine turtle species are considered endangered or critically endangered. Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), such as Nobomvu, are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Despite being distributed across the globe, loggerhead turtle numbers are declining. One of the reasons for this is pollution (plastic, discarded fishing gear, and chemical spills) contaminating the ocean. Nobomvu’s harrowing experience, caused by her entanglement in fishing gear, highlights the impact of pollution on turtles and other marine life. This is further illustrated by the 71% of rescued turtles at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre that have consumed plastic in their lifetimes.
Ghost fishing gear (lost or discarded at sea by commercial fishers) is a terrible hazard for air-breathing sea animals like turtles. Entanglement in these traps can result in drowning when turtles cannot return to the surface to breathe.
“Nobomvu symbolises much of human abuse of the ocean, but her unbelievable resilience also symbolises hope. Certainly, it is worth every effort to help her species. These are the life lessons she has taught me: Never give up, trust the hand that is helping you, live in hope, and grow beyond challenges,” reflected Dr Peter Berndt, Radiologist at Winelands Radiology.