Storm-Stranded Sea Turtles Find Sanctuary in South African Aquarium

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Barely hanging on its last tether of resilience, a South African aquarium has morphed into an unexpected sanctuary. This was not an ordinary situation. Over 500 infant sea turtles, caught in the relentless grip of an unusual tempest, found themselves swept up onto the surrounding shores, then gathered up by generous-hearted locals.

At this fragile stage in life, these tiny sea creatures, primarily belonging to the jeopardized species of Loggerhead turtles, would traditionally be navigating the vast, salty expanses of the ocean. However, in lieu of their natural aquatic lifestyle, these oceanic infants will make their first foray into life inside the confines of freshly constructed plastic spaces at the Turtle Conservation Center, housed within Cape Town’s distinguished Two Oceans Aquarium.

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Bracing the onslaught of the situation, about 400 out of the near 530 distressed and impaired turtles are under the humane care of the Aquarium staff. An attempt to distribute the unexpected adversity saw the remaining of the tiny lives were redirected to two other aquariums.

The reality of being a baby turtle involves a daunting solo journey from the moment they hatch, scrabbling across sandy beaches and navigating towards the vast ocean. In South Africa, the adventurous voyage of the Loggerhead hatchlings commences on the northeastern coast, a far cry from Cape Town. These displaced turtles were most probably ensnared by the warm clutches of the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas Current, whisked around the contours of South Africa, and eventually discharged into the chillier waters of the Atlantic Ocean nearby Cape Town.

“Turtle births and misplacements are not very uncommon,” expressed Talitha Noble-Trull, the Head of the Turtle Conservation Center and the leading force behind the rescue effort. The aberration, however, was the ferocious storm that rocked Cape Town, leaving hundreds of shell-covered newborns in desperate need of aid.

Their facility, designed for dealing with a handful to a maximum of 100 stranded young ones at the end of every hatching season, faced an overwhelming increase in its numbers. With a regular capacity of 150, the sudden arrival of over 500 turtles in a stark span of two weeks blew Noble-Trull’s annual budgeting plans to smithereens.

Investing nearly $500 per turtle, she aims to nurse each one back to health before releasing them into the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean a few months later. In the meantime, an army of spirited volunteers works alongside the permanent employees of the aquarium, providing them with the necessary care.

Identified by numbers written on their shells, the turtles are categorized based on the severity of their health condition – ranging from physical injuries to malnutrition and infections.

Though the storm was an excessive blow to the young turtles, their predicament has offered Noble-Trull and fellow conservationists a startling revelation about another dangerously prevalent hazard: plastic pollution.

Several of these tiny beings had consumed fragments of plastic, passed out eventually with their arrival at the aquarium. The diversity of plastic pieces collected in a day was alarming – some no bigger than a fingernail, providing a bleak report of the ocean health.

The ingested plastic pieces were not something the conservation team anticipated to encounter on such a scale. Turtles, spending most of their existence in the ocean except when hatching and later laying eggs, serve as “ocean indicators,” according to Noble-Trull.

“Small pieces of soft and hard plastic, ubiquitous in our oceans, are being consumed by these turtles, lending us crucial data about their living conditions,” she explains. “The turtles, through their trauma, are sending a strong message. They’re shouting at us. Our oceans are becoming hazardous for their existence, and we need to take urgent action.”

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.