On 1 December 2015 the Two Oceans Aquarium released 53 juvenile loggerhead sea turtles, two green turtles and two hawksbill turtles into the ocean off Cape Point. The release took place around the 300m contour, 30 nautical sea miles offshore in 21ºC water. One hawksbill was fitted with a satellite tag with a two-year battery life, which will transmit data every time the turtle surfaces for air.
Although sea turtles do not normally live in the cold water surrounding Cape Town, the aquarium was able to release these turtles off Cape Point due to the fact that, at certain times of the year, the warm Agulhas current pushes closer inshore. The turtles were all released within the warmer water range and will use magnetic navigation to determine their path back to their natural habitat.
The turtles were all found stranded on Cape and Western Cape beaches during the past year and a half, brought to the aquarium and rehabilitated. The released turtles included Otto, a hawksbill turtle that was rescued off the rocks at Yzerfontein on 8 June 2014 by fisherman Koos Otto and brought to the Aquarium by the NSRI. The turtle was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, as well as sunburn and lesions. Otto recovered very well during rehabilitation and gained 10 kilograms during her stay at the aquarium. Hawksbill turtles are normally found in tropical waters with populations on both the east and the west coast of Africa.
The small loggerhead turtles that were released are part of the group of 215 juveniles that washed up on Western Cape beaches between March and May this year. Over 150 came from the Cape Agulhas region and were dropped off at the NSRI station in Struisbaai where, through basic training and equipment supplied by the aquarium, NSRI staff oversaw their stay until they were collected by the aquarium. They would have hatched on KwaZulu-Natal beaches between December 2014 and February 2015. The turtles all underwent rehabilitation that included veterinary care, x-rays and hand-feeding. When they arrived at the aquarium, their average weight was 66g. Upon release, this average had increased to 668g. Seventy-four hatchlings had already been sent to uShaka Sea World for release in May. The hatchlings spend the first three to five years of their lives drifting in the Agulhas current, but very little is known about their behaviour during this time.
“I am often asked how I feel about seeing these turtles being released. The short answer is GREAT. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that we are contributing to the rehabilitation and conservation of sea turtles. Each one we are able to put back into the ocean, is one more added to the population, “ said Kevin Spiby, the aquarist in charge of the turtle rehabilitation programme at the aquarium.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is committed to sea turtle rehabilitation and conservation. From April through to the end of August every year, the public is asked to keep an eye open for hatchling loggerhead sea turtles that wash up on beaches along the Eastern and Western Cape coasts as a result of rough sea conditions. The rehabilitation of these turtles can take many months. During this time, the Aquarium carries all costs associated with the rehabilitation – medication, food, external veterinary requirements, and additional casual staff.