uShaka Sea World and Two Oceans join forces to save turtles

Lesley Labuschagne can't resist a farewell kiss as she and Leaveil Jacks, Jamie-Lee Swartz and Riaan Boshoff release the turtles

On Thursday 29 January 2015 a team of uShaka Sea World staff and Renee Leeuwner, of the Two Oceans Aquarium, headed out to sea with 17 young loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) on board, ready for release.

The turtles had washed up at different times on various beaches along the Western Cape coastline, suffering from hypothermia after drifting into the wrong (cold) current.

Unable to cope with the icy Cape temperatures their little bodies, with minimal strength or mobility, simply drifted with the inshore current onto the closest beach where concerned members of the public delivered them to the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town.

On arrival at Two Oceans they were initially treated for hypothermia and, in some cases, secondary complications. Under the care of the dedicated team at the Two Oceans Aquarium, they regained their health until deemed fit enough to travel.

All the loggerhead turtles spent the first six months of their rehabilitation at Two Oceans before being flown to uShaka Sea World in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal to acclimate prior to their release back into the warm Agulhas current. 

At uShaka Sea World they were closely monitored and further prepared for release. Having such healthy appetites meant that they continued to gain weight and strength.

During the week of 19-22 January 2015, uShaka Sea World's resident veterinarian, Dr Francois Lampen, took pre-release blood samples, weights and measurements to determine if his charges were healthy enough for release. All 17 were given a clean bill of health and the team started looking at weather charts to decide on the most suitable release date.

An adult loggerhead turtle in uShaka Sea World's Turtle Lagoon

Thursday, 29 January was the nominated day. Just after 7am the turtles were removed from their holding tanks in the turtle rehabilitation centre and individually placed in cushioned transport boxes.

After a final check they were carried to the awaiting vehicles and driven to uShaka beach, where the rubber duck was ready to take them out to sea. Luckily for the staff and journalists in attendance, sea conditions were kind but the rain was relentless.

After travelling 10 nautical miles off Durban, a change in the water colour confirmed GPS co-ordinates, which indicated that the boat had reached the Agulhas current.  

One by one the turtles were lifted out of their transport boxes and released into the sea. As each turtle was gently lowered into the ocean, the staff expressed mixed emotions as they bade farewell to their little friends. 

“I was both excited and anxious as I released my hands from around Luiz’s strong body. After spending nearly a year in human care, the moment I let go, I knew that he was on his own,” says uShaka Sea World staff member Varsha Naidu. 

After all 17 turtles were safely in the water and far away from the boat, the staff celebrated the success of their joint venture.

The Two Oceans Aquarium and uShaka Sea World worked together to ensure that the endangered turtles were given the best possible second chance at survival.

Young turtles thrive for the first few years of their life by floating in the open ocean at water temperatures of around 22°C. They feed on small jellyfish, by-the-wind-sailors, bluebottles, raft hydroids and other small creatures found on the ocean’s surface. They are well adapted to life in the open ocean.

Visit our Turtle Lagoon to see these graceful creatures next time you visit uShaka Sea World.

Cameron Wyness, Leaveil Jacks, Busi Mdunge and Renee Leeuwner release turtles as Jamie-Lee Swartz, Varsha Naidu and Lesley Labuschagne look on

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