Hawksbill turtle found stranded 100m from uShaka Marine World

The juvenile hawksbill turtle rescued outside uShaka Marine World in Durban

As the after-work Durban surfing contingent arrived at the beach on Tuesday 5 February, swapping their ties, belts and shoes for wetsuits and flippers, a juvenile hawksbill turtle was battling the incoming tide.

Someone walking along the beach saw the hapless turtle struggling and went into the water to help. Luckily for the young female hawksbill, the current brought her almost to uShaka Marine World’s doorstep and it was only a matter of minutes after being rescued that she underwent treatment in the hospital facility at uShaka Sea World.

Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) belong to the family Cheloniidae and are critically endangered.

Karin Fivaz, the senior aquarist on duty when the turtle was brought in, immediately immersed the animal in fresh water as it was evident that the turtle was suffering from dehydration. Immersing dehydrated turtles in fresh water is common practice as it is non-invasive and speeds up recovery.

A couple of hours later Karin noticed that the turtle had settled enough to be transferred to one of the holding pools, where her swimming pattern and breathing rate could be monitored.

She was positively buoyant, listing to one side, and her beautiful marble and amber carapace (shell) was covered in barnacles, which indicated that she had spent a quite some time floating on the surface of the water, unable to dive efficiently. Her natural diet is made up of different species of sponges found below the surface of the water.

uShaka Sea World aquarists set to work scrubbing barnacles off the turtle's carapace

Over the past five years, uShaka Sea World has received an average of three positively buoyant juveniles every year and all but one were successfully rehabilitated. The unfortunate turtle that did not survive was so severely impacted with pieces of plastic that he died within a few days of arrival.

Fortunately the young hawksbill turtle, which has yet to be named, made it through the first night and appeared to be noticeably stronger the following morning, which encouraged the quarantine team to start implementing a recovery plan.

Her carapace was scrubbed to remove the barnacles and bacterial growth before she was X-rayed to detect any foreign objects lodged in her stomach. Results of the X-ray showed undigested sea sponge in her stomach, but no signs of anything untoward.

Hawksbill turtles live mainly on shallow-water coastal reefs and estuaries. They use their sharp beaks to prize invertebrates from reefs, but their main diet consists of sea sponges.

She was placed in a quiet corner of the quarantine facility and left to rest while the staff continued to monitor her intake and output, which gave insight into her condition and what treatment would be most appropriate.

uShaka Sea World has a 98% success rate in rehabilitating compromised turtles and we have no doubt that within a few months this critically endangered hawksbill turtle will be healthy enough to be released back into the ocean.

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