New turtle rehabilitation centre opens

Julie Weyers (left) and Leanna Botha hold two of the young turtles being rehabilitated. The new tanks are in the foreground

On 20 September 2012 uShaka Sea World proudly opened a custom-made outdoor rehabilitation centre specially designed to house young turtles recovering from trauma at sea.

The rehabilitation centre has its own laboratory where weight assessments, minor medical observations and treatments can be carried out. Visitors will be able to view the young turtles throughout the day, and at specified times watch them being fed and cared for by staff members.

Close up of a slightly older turtle

Two turtles of similar weight are housed together in each of the five cubicles as the facility can house a maximum of 10 turtles at once. During the day when a staff member is present the exhibit will remain open and after hours when the safety of the turtles could be compromised by hungry herons or other seabirds, the sliding windows can be closed.

Every year uShaka Sea World receives young turtles found washed up on the beach or stranded in rock pools. Healthy young turtles spend their early years floating out in the pelagic ocean far from shore, so finding one inshore is a clear indication that the young turtle is in need of medical attention.

In many instances these tiny turtles – which hatched on the beaches of northern KwaZulu-Natal – wash up on a beach in the Cape far from their natural home, where they are ill-equipped to survive icy Cape waters. After receiving initial lifesaving treatment and care from staff at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, they are flown to Durban where the water temperature is warmer and the staff at uShaka Sea World are qualified to rehabilitate them.

Lola, one of the recently rescued turtles flown up from the Cape to uShaka Sea World

In South Africa the species most likely to be found stranded are loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) followed by green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).

Young turtles are housed in the rehabilitation centre until our resident veterinarian gives the all-clear for release into age-appropriate inshore or offshore waters. Turtles are generally not deemed fit for release until they are at least two years old and better equipped to survive their ocean adventures.

Releasing turtles is a highlight on the uShaka Sea World calendar as it’s a goal we work towards – fitting reward for countless hours spent nursing and nourishing these precious young marine reptiles.

View larger turtles in our Turtle Lagoon exhibit.

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