BOB THE TURTLE TAKES PLUNGE BACK INTO OPEN OCEAN
Bob the Green Turtle took his first plunge back into the Ocean, off the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, after eight years of rehabilitation at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre team, with the help of The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), transported Bob from uShaka Marine World to a site about an hour up KZN’s North Coast for a beach release.
After his flight to Durban with volunteer conservation pilots, The Bateleurs, Bob’s VIP treatment continued as he was released on a private beach at Umvoti Beach House-Olwandle Estate, alongside the Hlimbitwa river mouth.
On the morning of his release, all involved had feelings of immense excitement and apprehension. His carers did their final well-being check, fed him, and attached two tags to his front flippers. Once they were satisfied and the team was briefed, Bob was moved into a comfortable, padded wooden box for transport to the release site.
Upon arrival, the team assessed the beach and took a moment to ready themselves for the big “Bob-Voyage” moment.
With the help of two compassionate Sharks rugby team players, Boeta Chamberlain and Tinotenda Mavesere, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation and SAAMBR turtle teams carried Bob in his box to the water’s edge.
At first, Bob needed a nudge along the sand, likely taking in his new surroundings. But his instincts soon engaged and he eventually began to make swimming motions, pulling himself into the surf. Everyone on the beach held their breath as he explored the shallows before quickly finding the rip into deeper water and finally swimming off.
As he dipped into the deep, the team cheered and comforted each other with words of hope for this special turtle ambassador.
Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, reflected on the day; “Bob’s release experience was tremendously special. Everyone there had a deep respect for Bob and he was ushered home with the most spectacular love.”
Bob’s release was a remarkable achievement for the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation team and the entire Aquarium staff. However, the excitement for Bob’s return to the ocean is mixed with concern for his well-being.
BOB’S ROAD TO RECOVERY
Bob has had a long road to release. He arrived at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2014 with severe injuries, exacerbated by plastic ingestion, and was initially deemed ‘unreleasable’. The Turtle Conservation Centre team treated his injuries and, after a long period of rehabilitation, introduced him to his temporary home in the I&J Ocean Exhibit.
In 2020, Alexandra Panagiotou, Environmental Enrichment Specialist at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, joined the team and sparked hope for Bob’s potential release. She designed a specific environmental enrichment programme tailored to Bob’s specific needs and, over the next two years, saw steady progress in his development as he began to exhibit natural behaviours for green turtles.
Bob’s regular behavioural assessments and neurological examinations increasingly showed healthy neurological responses, resulting in the decision to release him in 2022.
On Monday, 23 January, Bob landed at Virginia Airport in Durban after a 3-hour flight, courtesy of The Bateleurs. He was welcomed by the SAAMBR team and carefully transported to uShaka Marine World. Bob was immediately introduced to the Rocky Reef Exhibit, where he explored the rocky underwater world.
Over three days, Bob was monitored by Panagiotou, who was impressed that he was presenting natural behaviours. She noted: “We are looking for exploratory swimming, diving, feeding and any focused behaviour such as scratching or tracking of other species. We are also observing his pattern swim and stereotypical behaviours which will indicate his stress levels”.
On Thursday, 26 January, Dr Bernice van Hyssteen, with the assistance of Dr Caryl Knox, conducted a neurological exam in the shallows of the Rocky Reef Exhibit. This was the moment of truth for Bob, determining if he was fit for release into the open ocean. Bob passed with flying colours, much to the team’s delight and relief.
With the green light for release, Bob’s tags could be fitted. He was carefully transferred from the Rocky Reef Exhibit to the Quarantine area at uShaka/SAAMBR.
With the help of Santosh Bachoo, Senior Marine Ecologist at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the team prepared Bob to be fitted with three tags. These were a Fastlock GPS satellite tag, a Vemco acoustic tag, and flipper tags on both front flippers.
The Fastlock satellite tag was particularly significant to the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre team as they are expensive devices. Karoline Hanks ran the infamous 13 Peaks in Cape Town back-to-back as a fundraiser for this tag. This incredible feat, which took over 72 hours, was inspired by Karoline’s campaign against plastic pollution to create a safer ocean for marine animals. This is the first time that the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation has triple-tagged a turtle, and the team is excited about its research potential.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As an ambassador for turtles, Bob will continue to inspire campaigns against plastic pollution, as the Aquarium community follows his journey. Thanks to the three tags fitted to his back *(read more about these in the Editor’s notes), the Turtle Conservation Centre will closely follow his progress, allaying their concerns and providing important research data.
Keep an eye on the Two Oceans Aquarium and Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation social media platforms for Bob’s updates over the next few weeks and months. “We have already seen that Bob has moved north, an area abundant with seagrass, and where SAAMBR are currently tracking a few turtles,” said Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.
“The Two Oceans Aquarium wishes to thank our generous sponsors, Ardagh Glass Packaging – Africa (AGP – Africa, formerly Consol Glass) as well as Karoline Hanks, who singlehandedly raised funds for Bob’s Fastlock GPS tag by running the 13 Peaks in Cape Town.
The aim of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre is to rescue, rehabilitate and release turtles back into the open ocean.
In the wild, only one or two out of every 1 000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood. These figures are now even worse due to the increased pollution, climate and other hazards caused by human activity. The Turtle Conservation Centre works to ensure that endangered sea turtles are protected and works around the clock to increase these statistics and contribute to the recovery of sea turtle numbers worldwide.
The Centre continue to improve its treatment protocols and has achieved an incredible 85% release rate. The data collected has been written up in various post-graduate studies and publications, and its team continues to contribute to the growing global knowledge base of turtle rehabilitation and treatment plans.
Nothing is better than releasing healthy turtles into the ocean, the highlight of every rescue season and the centre celebrates each rescuer, all the rehabilitation support, and each turtle survivor.