Marine Evening: Turtle Talk

August 31, 2016 Meredith Thornton

At the latest Marine Evening held by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, the Great White House had a full house of conservation-minded people gathered to listen to fascinating stories and information shared with us by Maryke Musson, curator of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town.

Maryke’s relationship with the Aquarium goes back as far as 1993 when she was involved as a young student during the building of their beautiful displays.  Then, 22 years later, she joined their ranks again to lead a team of dedicated ocean-lovers to Explore, Experience and Engage, as their motto states. Maryke came to tell us all about their turtle rehabilitation programme and how it forms part of their vision to inspire people to care about the ocean and to make changes that lead to living sustainably. They were instrumental in rehabilitating more than 200 turtles last year!  Without their help these animals would almost certainly have died of hypothermia and the effects of plastic ingestion.

She began by telling us about the history of turtle conservation, when in 1963, two Natal Parks Board conservators, Peter Potter and George Hughes dreamt about being able to protect turtles along our coastline.  They started by tagging turtles at a nesting site in northern KwaZulu Natal, and after a long and patient wait, 20 years later a female come back and the answers to their questions started to emerge.

It has been discovered that loggerhead turtles range over 15 million km² and live to 80-100 years old.  Approximately 200 females frequented that area at the time and now, through the cessation of poaching of turtles and eggs, and a ban on beach driving, there has been a fantastic recovery and there are now over 1000 nesting females.  They lay several times in one season, producing more than 400 eggs/adult!

Leatherback turtles were in an even more desperate situation in 1966 when only 6 females were recorded.  Their numbers are fluctuating - for example there were 160 females in 1980 and now there are 60-100, so even though they lay more eggs than loggerheads, they are just not doing as well.  Leatherbacks have long flippers which is their adaptation as long distance travellers, but being out there in the open ocean exposes them to many risks, especially from entanglement in ghost nets and other fishing gear.

Protecting their nesting areas is only part of the solution to help turtle populations recover.  Less than 2 out of every 1000 loggerhead hatchlings survives to adulthood, so this is where we, as concerned citizens, together with the Two Oceans Aquarium can really make a difference.

How you can help: