Turtles released back into the ocean

Anette, also known as Annie, the loggerhead turtle, was one of 23 turtles to be released back into the ocean after rehabilitation.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) released rehabilitated turtles back into the ocean yesterday, Thursday January 1.

Twenty-one loggerhead turtles – Luis, Annie and 19 hatchlings; Olaf the hawksbill turtle and Roo, the green turtle, were released.

The turtles had been rescued and have been in the care of the aquarium foundation for about a year.

Anette, also known as Annie, fondly named by the NSRI because she was found caught in a net, was rescued by NSRI Station 26 Kommetjie on Noordhoek beach after having been stranded in fishing gear along with a seal.

The seal was successfully released but Annie was brought to the aquarium foundation’s rehabilitation programme where she became the newest member of the turtle rehab family.

Annie underwent intensive critical care in the months that followed as she was incredibly weak, floating with her bum up and not willing to eat.

Annie was moved into the I&J Ocean Exhibit in November 2019 with the hope that she would do well with extra space and depth to swim. This proved to be the case as Annie quickly adapted to her new home and started eating after five months.

In the last year Annie has been an ambassador to all visitors to the Two Oceans Aquarium, teaching them about the dangers of fishing gear and plastic in the ocean.

Despite recovering really well, Annie is still floating at a 45-degree angle, with her bottom up when she rests on the sand.

The aquarium foundation staff fondly refer to this unique pose as ‘bubble butt’. While it looks a bit awkward, Annie is fully able to do all the things a healthy turtle needs to be able to do. She can swim, dive, feed, breath, chase and rest and has therefore been cleared for release by the foundation vet. It is hoped that having an ocean of space and loads more depth will help sort out her bubble butt.

All sea turtles that are brought into the turtle rehabilitation programme at the Two Oceans Aquarium have been rescued from beaches around the Western Cape.

Brett Ayres, director of operations for the NSRI, with an unnamed turtle hatchling.

The NSRI works closely with the aquarium foundation in terms of rescue and transport of the turtles.

Most of the turtles that are rescued are loggerheads that have hatched on the northern beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and have caught the warm Agulhas current down the South African coastline. Once they reach the south coast and the current slows, the turtles can end up in the colder surrounding waters, which can cause the turtles to suffer from cold shock, injury and dehydration.

Once the turtles are compromised, strong winds and currents expel them on our beaches, between March and July every year.

Once these hatchlings arrive at the aquarium foundation’s turtle rehabilitation programme, they are admitted as individual patients, and over the following six to nine months receive regular medical care, cleaning, daily feeding and lots of love.

As the end of the year approaches and the turtles are healthy, have gained good weight and are behaving like strong turtles, the vet clears them for release.

They receive a microchip and are then released off Cape Point back into the warmer water, usually between November and March.

Throughout the year, the NSRI and members of the public also rescue other turtles of varying species and size – green turtles, hawksbills, olive ridleys and loggerheads, which are then taken to the aquarium foundation’s turtle rehabilitation programme for further care.

Their reason for stranding can range from infection to bite injuries, plastic ingestion, boat strike injury and ghost fishing gear, as was the case with Annette back in July 2019. Due to the fact that the reason for stranding is so varied, the duration of rehabilitation can also range from just a few months to many years.

Annie was satellite tagged with a tracker before she was released.

Maryke Musson, CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. said releasing these recovered and now healthy and strong sea turtles back into the ocean is “always such a treat and really incredibly special”.

“All turtle species are endangered so for these rescued turtles to get a second chance is just magic. The NSRI, our friends and ocean partners, has more than a thousand volunteers doing good by saving lives, humans and animals, and thanks to them, Annie, and many of the little hatchlings, were rescued and brought to us.

“This is a good start to 2021, and we are very excited to follow the oceanic journeys of Annie and Luis who are both satellite tagged in collaboration with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries,” she said.

NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson said: “Totally awesome today to put our turtles back into the ocean after their rehab at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

“Our marine animal rescue programmes are the visible expression of our consciousness of the very real threats facing our marine ecosystem. Our volunteers are totally ‘stoked’ being involved with turtle rescues and now directly in their release back into their home.”