South Africans worldwide are sure to remember the feeling when our national rugby team, the Springboks, won the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup 2023. Well, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre remembers this moment with an extra special twist: Welcoming a new turtle into rehabilitation!
This sub-adult green turtle was rescued in Struisbaai Plaat by our Turtle Rescue Network on 22 October 2023, the day after our Rugby World Cup semi-final win. Of course, our Turtle Conservation Centre team wasted no time before dubbing the turtle “Bokkie” in honour of our South African Springboks.
Bokkie arrived at the Turtle Conservation Centre in awful condition – she was covered in algae and had an amputated left flipper! During the process of admitting her into the rehabilitation centre, the turtle team removed 800 grams of barnacles from her plastron (bottom shell).
Once Bokkie had been cleaned and placed in a freshwater bath to help her rehydrate, our veterinary team decided on a treatment plan. Over the first two months of her being in Critical Care at the Turtle Conservation Centre, she received pain therapy, antibiotics, wound treatment, and regular freshwater baths.
She is also the first patient at the Turtle Conservation Centre to receive total parenteral nutrition (TPN) treatment. This means our vet injected a mixture of nutritional supplements into Bokkie’s blood system. The team chose this method as Bokkie was refusing to eat any food, so TPN was the best option to ensure that she continued to receive nutrients and sustenance.
Slowly but surely, Bokkie’s condition began to improve. On 12 November, she became interested in food for the first time and began to exhibit more relaxed behaviours.
The plastic problem
You may think that Bokkie’s biggest problem was her amputated front flipper… Well, think again.
Three days after she arrived at the Turtle Conservation Centre, she pooped out a large piece of plastic. Five days after that, she pooped another three pieces of plastic. There was a short break in the excretion of plastic, until mid-November when she pooped out dozens of pieces of plastic in quick succession.
Bokkie is a record-breaker at the Turtle Conservation Centre: She has excreted over 47 pieces of plastic, surpassing even those of Bob, the green turtle. These plastics include a money bag (still intact), multiple colourful strings, and remnants of rubbish bags.
Bokkie's reluctance to eat in the first few weeks at the Turtle Conservation Centre was due to gut stasis. This is when the gut shuts down and everything within the gut becomes hard. In Bokkie's case, the gut stasis was even more severe due to the presence of all the plastic she had consumed.
Thankfully, it seems the 47th was Bokkie’s final piece of plastic. At the end of November, she had started eating and was healthy enough to be moved from the Critical Care area to the main rehabilitation centre.
With the whopping 47 pieces of plastic out of her system, Bokkie’s healing journey skyrocketed! She has gained weight, enjoys eating sargassum and other sea grasses, and has moved on to oral medication. Her amputated flipper doesn’t hinder her as much as you’d think – she still has an elbow joint that helps her with mobility, and the wound has almost completely healed, thanks to a regular application of a mixture of turmeric, F10 veterinary and honey.
Bokkie’s rehabilitation journey thus far is a testimony to the resilience of these incredible animals. From being rescued on the beach in a rough state and passing a shocking 47 pieces of plastic to being a healthy turtle with a strong appetite and an even stronger future!
Her fighting spirit also reminds us to be mindful of our impact on the environment: How much plastic we use, how we dispose of waste, and what kind of positive change we’re affecting in our day-to-day lives. One day, Bokkie will be released back into the ocean – in the meantime, let’s endeavour to make her ocean home a safer place by keeping it clean and free of pollution!