JOINT TURTLE RELEASE BY TWO OCEANS AQUARIUM EDUCATION FOUNDATION, USHAKA SEA WORLD AND BAYWORLD / EAST LONDON AQUARIUM

by Media Xpose

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, uShaka Sea World and Bayworld (with assistance from East London Aquarium) have been working on a simulations release plan for three rehabilitated juvenile loggerhead turtles. Due to adverse weather conditions, the Cape Town releases has been postponed for a couple of days, but the releases in in Durban and East London took place on 14 July. The Cape Town release is currently scheduled for 16 July but remains weather-dependent. Each turtle has been fitted with a satellite tag for its movements to be tracked by researchers. This is the first national collaborative release coordinated between the three facilities. The aim of this release is to provide significant scientific research opportunities and gather data around the life stages of sea turtles. The release will provide a unique opportunity to gain insight into “the lost years” life history stage of loggerhead turtles that has been historically understudied. It will also be an opportunity to investigate the impact of release site on the movements of turtles, post release.

Sea turtles in South Africa

Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles annually nest on the beaches of northern KwaZulu-Natal. After hatching, the tiny loggerhead hatchlings make their way into the ocean and into the warm Agulhas Current. From this point, unless they strand on beaches, little is known about their whereabouts and their behaviour until such time as the adult females return to shore to nest and lay their eggs. Loggerhead turtles reach sexual maturity between the ages of 25 and 35 years, with estimates that only one or two in every thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood. While the females return to the beaches to lay their eggs, male loggerhead turtles spend their entire lives at sea, never returning to land.

The three juvenile loggerhead turtles that will be released have been named Pan, Donny and Caddy. They were all stranded and rescued from Struisbaai (Overberg region) via the Turtle Rescue Network. They were all admitted to the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation’s turtle rehabilitation facility at the Two Oceans Aquarium. The turtles have all undergone various veterinary assessments and have been now been given the green light for release.

Pan (to be released by the Two Oceans Aquarium possibly on 16 July)

Pan was rescued in April 2019 and arrived at the Aquarium weighing 49.5g. Like all hatchling turtles, the turtle was cold, dehydrated and in need of care. After a few month of rehabilitation, Pan developed an ear infection, originally noted as a protruding bump on the side of the head. This initially improved once treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, this turned into a recurring ear infection as the abscess had actually travelled from the mid ear, to the upper ear bone and then to the tissue above the bone.

Pan has undergone three surgeries by the veterinary team at the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital. The surgeries were to clear the ear, place antibiotic beads into the ear bone and clean out the abscess in the skull.

“Fortunately, Pan’s ear is currently looking stable and there have been no signs of a new abscess forming. There is calcification occurring around the perimeter of the internal cavity which we assume to be a sign of stability and healing. In the meantime we continue to treat Pan with his favourite foods, red bait and pilchard – he is a feisty eater, now weighing around +9kg” says Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager for the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation.

Pan will be released by the Two Oceans Aquarium off Cape Point when weather and sea conditions permit.

Donny (released by UShaka Sea World on 14 July)

Donny had a tough rehabilitation experience, demanding persistence and stamina, since her rescue in March 2020. Weighing in at 44.3g on arrival, she ate, dived, and thrived for the first few months of her rehabilitation. However, Donny developed metabolic bone disease as a result of her compromised immune system. Her skin started flaking off, her shell became soft, she was struggling to swallow and developed granulomas in her mouth. She could also no longer dive.

Intensive treatment was started for Donny with specialised food, medical treatments and an isolated ICU tank in the turtle hospital. She received several injectable treatments, antifungals, vitamins, deworming tablets, calcium supplementation, antibiotic treatment, and daily UV treatment (30 minutes of direct UV light twice daily) to aid in her recovery. Having spent over three months in ICU, Donny turned a corner, with her shell starting to harden and she regained ability to dive. “Donny’s body demanded a lot from her to help her get better and she rose to the challenge. Our turtle rehab team can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that she has championed her own rehabilitation journey. She is now stable at +9kg and has been signed off for release,” says Noble.

Donny was released by UShaka Sea World off the coast of Durban on 14 July 2022.

Caddy (released by Bayworld with assistance from East London Aquarium on 14 July)

Caddy, weighing just 20g, was rescued in March 2020. Initially he was recovering well, but like Donny, he also needed injectable treatments, antifungals, vitamins, deworming tablets, calcium supplementation, antibiotic treatment, and daily UV treatment (30 minutes direct UV light twice daily) to aid in his recovery. He also pooped out a piece of brown balloon – once again another example of the threat which plastic pollution poses to turtles.

“Both our team and Caddy have had to work extra hard at strengthening up his shell. Little by little his shell has hardened as he became stronger. It’s like Superman says: ‘You are much stronger than you think you are’ and this couldn’t be more true for Caddy!”

Caddy was released by Bayworld and East London Aquarium off the coast near East London on 14 July 2022.

We are grateful for the support from the Bateleurs – Flying for the environment, who stepped up and volunteered to fly the Donny and Caddy to Gqeberha and Durban respectively. (https://bateleurs.co.za/). We greatly appreciate heir support and willingness to assist with the transportation and the safe delivery of the turtles.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation runs an Adopt-a-Hatchling campaign every year. The care of each hatchling is costly (approximately R8000 per turtle) and support from the public assists in ensuring that the necessary resources are available to care for these endangered animals. By adopting a turtle, individuals can contribute towards daily care, food, medicine, blood tests, X-rays and scans, and any other treatments required.

Donny was adopted in 2020 by Don Hunter, a long-time supporter of the turtle conservation programme. Hunter, who named the turtle Donatello, donated R5000 towards her rehabilitation costs. 

Oceans Alive stepped up to adopt and name Caddy – he was originally named Oceans Alive – Freedom 1 in 2020. This adoption directly benefited Caddy’s rehabilitation, care and treatment, helping provide food and medication required during the first year of rehabilitation. Caddy still requires continued care critical to keeping him healthy leading up to his release. The satellite tag that Caddy has been fitted with was funded by Esjay Sportswear 

How the public can be involved

In addition to sponsoring the sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and release programme, Ardagh Glass Packaging – Africa (AGP – Africa, formerly Consol Glass) has “adopted” two of the turtle hatchlings currently being rehabilitated. The Aquarium and AGP – Africa encourage members of the public and corporates concerned about the environment to also adopt a hatchling turtle. The 2022 Adopt-a-Hatchling campaign opened on 16 June 2022 . Those who would like to adopt a hatchling can do so by following this link https://aquariumfoundation.org.za/shop/adopt-a-hatchling/

Rehabilitating stranded sea turtles

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation annually rehabilitates sea turtles that have stranded, have ingested plastic, are injured, or have become entangled in ghost fishing gear.

After hatching on northern KwaZulu-Natal beaches, hatchling loggerhead turtles make their way into the warm Agulhas current. Between March and May every year, strong winds and rough seas push the little turtles into cold water off the Western Cape coastline. They become hypothermic and dehydrated due to the cold water and strand on beaches. Members of the public rescue these little turtles and, through the Turtle Rescue Network, bring them to the Two Oceans Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Sub-adults and adult turtles are also rehabilitated throughout the year.

The Aquarium Foundation strives to rehabilitate and release every turtle. Once the turtles have been given a clean bill of health, they are released back into the ocean with some of them being satellite tagged and tracked for as long as the tag is active to facilitate monitoring and research. 

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