Help for stranded baby turtles has come from Fish Hoek.
Evanne Rothwell, a resident of the far south and volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium for 11 years, has created a simple and eco-friendly way to both save baby turtles, and recycle.
During turtle season, typically March and April, locals are often witness to the struggle of tiny turtles washed up on the beaches of the Cape Peninsula.
Evanne and her husband Terry are first-responders for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and have been deeply involved in this for 13 years.
Evanne’s idea is simple and effective: she has created turtle rescue boxes using ice cream containers which have had air holes made in them: complete with a tiny towel to keep the baby turtles warm and dry. Contrary to popular belief, rescued baby turtles must not be kept in cold water – or any water at all.
“The reason is that these little turtles are washed out of the warm waters of KwaZulu-Natal into our cold waters here, and when they wash up they are dehydrated, tired and cold, so they need to be kept warm and dry so that the aquarium can collect them and take over from there,” Evanne says.
When baby turtles are this exhausted, they cannot lift their heads – and if they cannot lift their heads and they are being kept in water, they will drown.
All rescued turtles are taken to the aquarium, where they are rehabilitated around the clock by a team of dedicated volunteers and staff members.
Once the turtles are ready for release, they are either flown back up to KwaZulu-Natal where they are put back into warmer waters, or the aquarium staff take them several miles off Cape Point and drop them into warmer currents.
“We have achieved a fantastic outcome through our turtle rehabilitation programme, with 76 percent of all stranded turtles successfully released after rehabilitation over the past six years,” says Two Oceans Aquarium curator, Maryke Musson.
“This of course would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts, passion and dedication of our turtle volunteers. Through inspiring and educating others we now have a massive network of people who care. This includes organisations such as the NSRI, SharkSpotters, and SANCCOB as well,” Ms Musson says.
Evanne has drawn on an already firmly established network of resources in the False Bay area, among them local law enforcement, SharkSpotters and the lifeguards in Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, as well as a 24-7 emergency control centre.
“I just felt we needed to put something in place so that people didn’t drop the turtles in a bucket of water, thinking that’s what they need,” she says.
The boxes have been issued to law enforcement, the lifeguards and SharkSpotters in Kommetjie, Fish Hoek and Muizenberg, as well as to The Emma Animal Rescue Society (Tears) in Kommetjie.
If you discover a turtle in the False Bay area, keep it warm and dry and take it to SharkSpotters, local law enforcement or the lifeguards. These first-responders will keep the turtles in the rescue boxes provided by Evanne. Do not try to feed it, the professionals know what it will need and how to feed it without stressing it further.
The turtle species most commonly found stranded around Cape Town is the loggerhead turtle, but occasionally you may find a leatherback turtle or a slightly larger, sub-adult, green sea turtle.
Evanne says the hatchlings are quite weak when they wash up.
She says that if you look at the armpits, where the flippers are, and it’s very sunken in – then the turtle is probably dehydrated. “And they’re very lethargic. Their eyes will probably be closed and they’re droopy; they are not well-looking turtles.”
You can also call the emergency control centre on 021 782 0333 or call the aquarium on 021 418 3823.
Remember to make a note of where you found the turtle, for the aquarium’s records.