Back to the Big Blue
Words Renee Leeuwner and Ingrid Sinclair, Pics Jacques Marais
In December 2015, the Two Oceans Aquarium’s turtle rehab-and-release team along with a number of photographers, filmmakers and ocean ambassadors travelled south from Hout Bay to release 57 turtles, big and small, into the warmer waters of the ocean off Cape Point.
Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson, Senior Aquarists Kevin Spiby and Nicholas Nicolle, Aquarist Pinda Dlodlo, Digital Content Coordinator Ingrid Sinclair and Assistant Communications and Sustainability Manager Renée Leeuwner were joined on the day by Chris Bertish (a legendary big wave surfer, author, motivational speaker and Two Oceans Aquarium ambassador), photographers Jacques Marais (sports photographer, long-standing Aquarium supporter and sponsored by Buff®), Steve Benjamin of Animal Ocean (underwater speciality and a fan of Two Oceans Aquarium) and Jean Tresfon (known for his aerial photographs of the Cape Peninsula coastline), marine biologist-cum-filmmaker Otto Whitehead, radio DJ and extreme-sports commentator Kai Linder, NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson, Barry Stringer of Reef Wetsuits (a long-time Two Oceans Aquarium partner), Sean Amor of Hooked on Africa, and Homebrew Films’ Chris Mason and George Kirkinis.
The 57 turtles – two green sea turtles, (endangered), two hawksbill turtles (critically endangered) and 53 loggerhead turtle hatchlings (endangered) – had all spent time in our rehab-and-release programme. Kevin and Nicholas, along with the rest of the curatorial team and our resident vet Dr Georgina Cole, had been working with some of these turtles since midway through last year.
“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.”– Kevin Spiby
Otto the Hawksbill, for example, was rescued off the rocks at Yzerfontein on 8 June 2014 by Koos Otto and was brought to the Aquarium by the NSRI. When she came to us, Otto was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia as well as sunburn and lesions. She recovered very well during rehabilitation and gained 10 kilograms during her stay at with us.
Otto weighed a whopping 86kg upon her release. According to well-known turtle expert, conservationist and author Dr George Hughes, she is one of the biggest female hawksbills he had ever seen.
“What a day to be a photographer, love the ocean. Glad to be a part of this team.”– Steve Benjamin
Otto was fitted with a satellite tag (which has a two-year battery life) and we are delighted that we will be able to track her journey in the wild and can’t wait to see where she goes next! Keep an eye on our blog for updates on Otto’s journey.
“I did get a huge lump in my throat when Otto, the 86kg hawksbill that has been with us for one and a half years, swam away, but it was because I was happy. It was a day I will remember forever.”– Renée Leeuwner
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 last year. More than 150 came from the Cape Agulhas region. When they arrived at the Aquarium, their average weight was 66g. Upon release, this average had increased to 668g. The turtles all underwent rehabilitation that included veterinary care, X-rays and hand-feeding.
The loggerhead hatchlings were each fitted with PIT tags, much like the microchips your pets may have.
“Had an incredible day yesterday filming the release of some rehabilitated turtles into deep, blue water. It's inspiring to work with a group of such committed and passionate people. The ocean has warriors fighting the good fight!”– Chris Mason
Following a super-flat, hot Cape Town day on Monday 30 November, conditions on the water yesterday morning were choppier than expected. Hooked on Africa Fishing Charters kindly donated the use of two boats to take 57 turtles and 20+ humans out to the release spot, but far from pulling on boardshorts and bikinis for impromptu swims, we were wrapped up in our warmest Cape Storm gear and up to the ears in our custom-designed Turtle Buffs®.
“Being actively involved in turtle conservation is just absolutely amazing. Big well done to our team for their ongoing dedication, and a big thank you to all those involved for their support and assistance! ”– Maryke Musson
Buff® has supported the turtle rehabilitation programme at the Aquarium through the sales of a customed-designed turtle Buff®. Online sales generated around R10 000 for the turtle rehabilitation efforts. This beautiful Turtle Buff® is currently available for sale in the Aquarium Shop! Ten percent of each sale goes towards the turtle rehabilitation programme.
“Awesome, inspiring and a privilege to be a part of this incredible experience. Great team of individuals and special people today, that's how you make the magic happen! I'm proud to be an ambassador for the Aquarium, who work tirelessly to help rehab/tag and then release these incredible marine animals back to their natural home, and also to inspire, engage and educate the youth.”– Chris Bertish
We travelled roughly 30 nautical miles to reach the 300m contour line and 21°C water. Sea turtles aren’t usually found in the Cape’s colder waters down south, but we were able to release them here because, during summer, the warm Agulhas Current pushes closer inshore.
We took advantage of these warmer waters to release the turtles and allow them to use their built-in magnetic navigation systems to find their way home.
All of us at the Two Oceans Aquarium have come to love our little (and not so little) strays dearly. We were overwhelmed and happy to be able to help them home.