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Luis and his lunchbox
By:
Inge Adams
Inge is our Research Coordinator, but she also goes by 'Turtle Mum'. Together with our Conservation Coordinator, she looks after all of our turtle rehab patients. Inge has a Masters degree in biological oceanography from Nelson Mandela University.

Luis is a large, male loggerhead turtle that arrived at our turtle rehabilitation centre, at the Two Oceans Aquarium, 31 May. He was found floating off the coast of Hout Bay by some recreational fisherman. He was in good physical condition, not severely dehydrated or underweight and started perking up quite quickly after a freshwater bath and initial treatment. Soon after his arrival he started eating, and his gentle nature and inquisitive personality started to become apparent. Things were looking up for Luis, but the only thing holding him back was a R5 sized hole that he had in his carapace.

Luis the loggerhead on the boat, after being rescued by Nina Daniels, Etienne Braun and crew of the fishing vessel ‘Tuna Cat Cha’

The wound on Luis’ shell – 6 cm deep and the size of a R5 coin

The hole was likely caused by gooseneck barnacles that he had been living on his shell while he was at sea. These hitchhikers can be found living on various hard surfaces, including on the hulls of boats and in this case, Luis’ shell made a great home. The barnacles dug slightly into his shell in order to attach firmly, and unfortunately this paved the way for infection to set in. The infection ate away at his shell, causing the hole to increase in size, becoming approximately 6cm deep! We were shocked by how deep his wound was, and as part of our initial treatment plan he was started on antibiotics, and his wound was treated topically. Once a day we would have to drop the water level of the pool he was being housed in, so that we could assess, clean and then treat his wound with… honey! Pure honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that helped keep the wound clean and promoted the growth of healthy tissue. After his wound was cleaned and flushed with sterile water, we put the honey directly into the hole. We then had to fill his pool very slowly to make sure that his wound stayed dry for long enough for the treatment to be effective.

His wound started to heal, but because it was submerged in water for much of the time, it was healing very slowly. The process of dropping the water level of Luis’s pool, and leaving him out of the water for a period of time was also very stressful for him, which meant that his energy wasn’t being used to heal, but was instead being used to deal with the stress of being handled. We realised that we needed to figure out a way to keep his wound dry for a long time, allowing our topical treatment to have a very long contact time and allowing his wound to heal faster. This would also mean that we would not have to do Luis’s treatment every day, therefore reducing the number of times we would have to handle him. We had a couple of ideas, but eventually a friend of the Foundation suggested attaching a lunchbox with a tightly sealable lid onto his shell. We started by sanding the area around the hole so that it was smooth, then we cut the lunchbox in half and sanded the edges so that it was smooth as well. We then attached the lunchbox onto the shell with steel putty, and added a layer of silicone as an extra waterproof layer.

Preparation and installation of Luis’ lunchbox

Luis with his new lunchbox attached to his shell 

This method really worked, and although there were a few small leaks that needed repairing, Luis’s wound was able to stay completely dry even when he was submerged in water. His wound started to heal significantly faster, and soon, we were happy enough that Luis could be moved into a much larger space. He had lots of room to swim, was able to dive and was generally behaving much more like a turtle should! Unfortunately the deeper water caused the lunchbox to leak, so for now Luis is back in his smaller rehab pool.

We are really happy with the progress that Luis has made, and are hopeful that he can be released by the end of the year.

Read more about Luis and our other rehab turtles on our ‘Current rehab turtles‘ page. 

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