Since the rescue of the first stranded hatchling, which came to them on 1 March from Tenikwa Wildlife in Plettenberg Bay, they have had over 127 hatchlings arrive at their rehabilitation centre.
Cape Town, South Africa – As the Western Cape enters winter, the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation’s Turtle Rescue Programme team are being kept busy by vast numbers of stranded loggerhead turtle hatchlings being rescued on the southern coast, from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Point.
More than 127 turtle hatchlings have made their way to their rehabilitation centre, after being rescued by vigilant members of the public, and we are expecting that number to grow significantly as the Cape continues to be hammered by strong winds and swell.
Since the rescue of the first stranded hatchling, which came to them on 1 March from Tenikwa Wildlife in Plettenberg Bay, they have had over 127 hatchlings arrive at their rehabilitation centre – and they have been able to save most of them, thanks to the fast response of all parties involved. These are the coastal communities where our rescued hatchlings have come from (based on the Turtle Rescue Network Point they were handed to):
- Struisbaai – 77 hatchings
- Hermanus – 16 hatchlings
- Plettenberg Bay – 10 hatchlings
- Muizenberg – 9 hatchlings
- Gansbaai – 4 hatchlings
- Sedgefield & Witsand- 3 hatchlings each
- Stillbaai – 2 hatchlings
- Gordon’s Bay, Fishhoek & Wilderness – 1 hatchling each
Their team attributes a large number of rescues to the growing support and enthusiasm of members of the public living in the Cape’s coastal communities, and the efficiency and passion of the wonderful Turtle Rescue Network organisations that they have been lucky enough to work with.
“We’re getting a lot of rescues in, largely due to a really efficient Rescue Network that is operating well. I’m also excited by the fact that it seems like a lot of the turtles washing up are actually being rescued, which means that we have our bases covered along the coastline. That’s quite a comforting feeling, knowing that people are aware and actively looking. Even though it means more work for us, it’s exciting because it means the system is working,” said Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble.
Thanks to improved public education both by initiatives like the Turtle Road Trip and simply by word of mouth from the growing Rescue Network, more people are becoming aware of what they can do to save a turtle.
Volunteer Turtle Rescue Network Coordinator Tracy Whitehead said: “We’ve met the most amazing people and the Rescue Network has made some incredible contacts. It’s just amazing how people have been helping.”
While this large number of turtles certainly is putting their incredible team of volunteers and rehabilitation centre staff to the test, they’ve dealt with large numbers before – in 2015 they were able to rehabilitate and release 162 turtles.
“This has been my first really big stranding season. In my first two years working here, we had far fewer rescues. So it’s going to be exciting for me to see how this year goes – there is definitely going to be a lot of learning for all of us!
We’re taking it one turtle at a time and trying not to get overwhelmed, but we are working together, and that’s really important – teamwork makes the dream work,” said Turtle Rescue Programme Assistant Inge Adams.
As for the hatchlings that have already been in their care for some time, continuous observation and veterinary care is key to ensuring their speedy recovery.
Inge: “All of the larger and slightly older hatchlings that we’ve received are doing really well, and we are happy about them. But it’s been a surprise how many really, really small ones have come in.”
Talitha: “Little #100 stands out to me, when he came in he weighed only about 20g – he’s just tiny, really, really little. There’s also a little turtle missing both its back flippers and also half of each of its front flippers. So, they really are a group of injured little warriors.
Overall, a lot of the turtles have had really good strength; when they’ve come in, they’ve generally begun diving and eating and swimming actively very quickly. It’s been a resilient year.”
Why are they washing up in such large numbers?
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that in most years thousands of turtle hatchlings perish on the South African coast – in fact, it is estimated that fewer than one or two in a thousand survive to adulthood, and that is not even accounting for manmade hazards like poaching, ghost fishing nets or plastic pollution. The difference this year is that that many more vigilant people are keeping their eyes open and helping to rescue these turtles, giving them a second chance.
Loggerhead turtles hatch in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal and swim south until they reach the warm waters of the Agulhas Current.
If a hatchling is lucky, it will be carried by the Agulhas Current as it turns east off the coast of the Western Cape, and out into the warm Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy for the little hatchlings, and many of them are ejected from the Agulhas Current into the cold water of the Atlantic. This water is too cold for these hatchlings to survive and they get gradually weaker and weaker as they try to return to the Agulhas – an effort that is made increasingly difficult in bad weather, or if the turtle has been harmed by ingesting plastic pollution.
It is these weakened hatchlings that inevitably wash up on the Western Cape’s coast, and without human intervention, they have no chance of surviving. We have a responsibility to help these animals.
How can you support our rehabilitation efforts?
The most direct way members of the public can support the Turtle Rescue Programme is by learning what to do if they find a stranded turtle, or by donating to conservation efforts.
Cape Town locals are also invited to attend a special screening of Deep Blue \ Middle C on 24 May; a locally produced, the genre-bending film was inspired by the west coast of South Africa. A place of profound meaning and impact for filmmaker Bryan Little who, along with a group of his friends, spent ten days and ten nights re-connecting with the wild and enigmatic part of South Africa’s coast. All proceeds from this event will go towards the Turtle Rescue Programme of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation.