Image credit: Jacques Marais
Conservation success stories are powerful communication tools to inspire and encourage people to care about the environment, especially when dealing with charismatic animals such as sea turtles.
South Africa, and specifically Dr. George Hughes from the then Natal Parks Board, played an integral part in global sea turtle conservation implementation in the early 1960’s. Dr. Hughes and his team realised that sea turtles were under threat with early surveys indicating a population size of nesting loggerhead females along the Natal coastline of only about 200. Through protecting nesting sites, banning the harvest of turtle eggs and protecting all sea turtle species along the South African coastline, the number of nesting females in the same area has increased to more than 1000 in recent surveys.
Through tremendous awareness efforts by all the aquariums in South Africa, the greater public has also learnt a lot about sea turtle strandings and rescues, and this collaborative approach has contributed to the rescue, rehabilitation and subsequent release of hundreds of endangered sea turtles along the South Africa coastline. The Two Oceans Aquarium’s patient zero was the now world-famous oceanic traveller Yoshi. Yoshi, a female loggerhead sea turtle, was rescued by a Japanese fishing crew and handed to the Aquarium in 1997. Caring for Yoshi gave the Aquarium team the opportunity to learn a lot about sea turtle husbandry and conservation, and over the years a very successful rehabilitation programme was developed. The Aquarium Foundation now manages this internationally recognized programme, which had an 80% release rate in 2019.
Satellite tagging the larger sea turtles, prior to release, has contributed to validating the rehabilitation efforts as it has now been shown that these released turtles thrive post-rehabilitation back in the ocean.
The public interest in these extraordinary turtle journeys has been incredible. People have responded by wanting to keep the ocean clean and safe for animals, as they have come to know these rescued individuals, their stories of recovery, of release and hope and then their travels, literally, around the globe.
The Aquarium Foundation team embarks on an annual turtle road trip informing and inspiring people along our coastline to care about the environment, thanks to remarkable turtle stories. In 2020, we reached more than 10 000 learners and adults during this activation in coastal communities between Plettenberg bay and Cape Town.
Conservation is defined as protecting and safeguarding the environment, and as the Aquarium Foundation we feel very privileged to contribute directly to saving and protecting endangered marine species such as sea turtles. The Aquarium Foundation continues to support its various conservation partners, working on threatened or protected species such as seabirds and sharks, and we are also very involved in the management and the welfare of seals. We aim at growing our scientifically sound conservation efforts to continue to inform, inspire and increase impact.
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.