On Wednesday morning, 31 July 2019, our turtle rehabilitation centre received a special rescue. A 52 kg loggerhead turtle arrived who, alongside a seal, had stranded on Noordhoek beach in ghost fishing gear. Ghost fishing gear is fishing line that has been accidentally, or on purpose, left in the ocean and continues to catch animals for no purpose. NSRI Station 26 was quick to free her and our CEO, Maryke Musson, equally swift in transporting this precious cargo to the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Fondly named by the NSRI, and nicknamed Annie, Annette’s rehabilitation journey over the last 13 months has been an incredibly perplexing and all-consuming one. Whilst her stranding was directly linked to the fishing gear she was caught up in, it most certainly was not the only battle she was fighting. Initial blood tests and a very strange floating posture hinted that there was a lot more going on underneath Annie’s shell.
Annie was found entangled in a fishing net with a young seal, on Noordhoek beach, in Cape Town, South Africa (Image credits: Maryke Musson)
Over the following four months we were detectives, trying to get to the bottom of what was ailing Annie. We did two x-ray contrast studies, many ultrasounds, consulted with specialists, took her for an endoscope and then a CT scan. None of these left us any the wiser.
All the while Annie had not started eating or pooping and was rapidly getting weaker and losing weight. Floating bum up in a rehabilitation pool, she would spend her days being gently pushed around by the current of the tank. To help keep her alive, we would take her out on alternate days, inject her with lots of fluids and tube feed her with antibiotics, gut stimulants, vitamins and nutrient rich food. We also tried to place a feeding tube into Annie, something that would allow us to inject food without having to constantly reinsert a tube, but she regurgitated this after a few days.
Many medical tests, costing thousands of Rands, have been done to find out what is wrong with Annie (Image credit: Brett Glasby)
By the end of November 2019, Annie had reached her lowest weight, weighing only 46 kg and as a rehab team we only had one more idea regarding what might possibly help: space to swim. This would hopefully help with getting her gut moving and to allow her to move her flippers and dive. On 27 November we moved Annie into the I&J Ocean Exhibit, hoping that this would make her feel more like a turtle. She did so well in this space! She dived, swam, explored and rested (even though this was still bum up) and, 10 days after being in a bigger space, Annie ate her first piece of food.
She was investigating one of the divers during a weekend feed and in return was offered a piece of squid. Just one week later Annie made her first poo, a really positive sign that her gut was indeed starting to properly function.
Over the course of 2020, Annie’s buoyancy has still been confusing, as she often leans to one side or has her bum in the air, but she also has times of normalcy and resting. Whilst we are confident that Annie is ready for release and fully capable of all the activities of a wild turtle, we are still perplexed as to the reason for this ‘bubble butt’. We hope that by taking her for another CT scan we will be able to clarify this to some extent.
Annie is a remarkable turtle. A gentle and graceful loggerhead, a long suffering and brave patient, and (like all our turtles) a powerful ambassador for her species and her home. We are so excited to fit her with a satellite tag and release her back into the ocean soon.
The turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme is a project under the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, a non-profit and public benefit organisation. With Annie’s imminent release back to the wild, we have taken the opportunity to evaluate her stay with us and prepare for her release. Through this exercise we have realised that the treatments we have provided for Annie have made her such a valuable turtle to learn from but have also made her one of our most expensive patients to date. Many thousands of Rands have been spent on her treatment, with several more required before she can finally swim free.
We want to release Annie back into the ocean, her real home and where she belongs.
To get her release ready we need to take her for a final CT scan just to make sure her ‘bubble butt buoyancy’ will not be a problem. We need to keep supplying her with her favourite snack, squid, to build up more strength for all the swimming ahead. We need to take her 30 nautical miles offshore for release into the lovely temperate current, and that requires quite a lot of fuel. We also need some additional turtle stretchers to share with the NSRI who so often helps saving marine animals.
Let’s get Annie home by raising R25 000.
The first 10 donations over R1000 will each be gifted with one of our amazing turtle rescue supporter hoodies.
The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation is a registered non-profit and public benefit organisation. Qualifying donations can be issued with a S18A certificate.
If you would like to contribute towards Annie’s rehabilitation journey, please donate on our GivenGain campaign:
Claudine van Zyl completed her Work Imtegrated Learning (WIL) internship with us last year. Her research project was: ‘The characterisation of plastics in stranded post-hatchling loggerhead turtles along the South African coastline from 2015 to 2020’.
Bob, a green turtle in our care, has been with us since November 2014. While he is not ready for release yet, we are preparing him so that he has the best chance of survival back in the big blue. Alex Panagiotou, one of our turtle team specialists, is working with Bob through enrichment programmes and research.
Grant Blakeway completed the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge by solo rowing 4 800 km across the Atlantic. He did this to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean.