The Bay's very own Santa Clause
Tuesday, 29th December 2020
Article by Marguerite Smit
“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” – Bruce Feiler
If you think you need a feel-good Christmas story, pull your chair closer, sit back and listen to this! Stampede - the 38ft power catamaran resident to Nelson Mandela Bay harbour - has gifted an awe-inspiring Christmas present to 12 captive turtles this year – a release voyage to St Croix Island on Christmas eve. Robbie (the owner of Stampede) was the Father Christmas kind enough to donate a trip to St. Croix island to release the captive turtles back into the wild. St Croix is a regular destination the luxury vessel visits often when on normal tourism business, but these weren’t its normal guests. Instead of the usual 12 humans on their regular morning cruise to the island to see African penguins and Bottlenose dolphins and the like, they loaded 12 turtles instead - three different species, all who face various levels of extinction in the not-too-distant future. The unusual guests included Loggerhead turtles, classified as vulnerable, endangered Green turtles and critically endangered Hawksbill turtles. Four of the turtles were fitted with special acoustic tags to aid monitoring of their journey onwards. With the tourism industry being decimated by the impact of COVID-19 containment measures, its stories like these that leave hope in the hearts of fellow industry workers.
A bit of background info: Stampede was locally built in Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, she is a Supercat 38 Sport displacement power catamaran (cat) that offers all the benefits of slim-hull technology, the shape being the product of optimized function and practical compromise. Slim-hulled power cats perform well in all conditions. Their hull design enables comparatively high speeds with relatively low power, extraordinary comfort AND stability when compared with other boat configurations. A great benefit for those whose breakfast’s normally want to head overboard when at sea. It’s this stability that makes Stampede perfect for these relocations because with the turtles already highly stressed, a bumpy boat ride would only add to the trauma.
Amongst the lucky passengers was Roofus, the famous Loggerhead turtle previously featured in the Herald earlier this year, who was found on top of a second story building during level 5 lockdown in April. And Dr. Seuss, a critically endangered Hawksbill turtle who had been stranded in Cape St. Francis in February. He had come into Bay World having consumed a large amount of plastic, including a pen lid – highlighting the enormous problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Keep in mind that turtles are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat just about anything, sort of like billy goats. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for a turtle to break down synthetic material once it is ingested, and very often it will cause an intestinal blockage, called an impaction. A turtle has little chance of eliminating the impaction on its own in the wild and this condition if untreated will usually lead to starvation. One of the reasons why we need to keep track of our trash and make sure it is properly disposed of. Mount Croix Animal Hospital kindly nursed him back to good health and after much care, he was now strong and ready to go home.
Once the island was reached, a safe place was chosen for the release and one by one they were set free, back into the ocean where they belong. Watching them approach the water, becoming submerged and then swimming to freedom feels like a wave crashing over you, cleansing the depths of your soul. Just imagine what it feels like being the turtle!
As mentioned above, Bayworld proudly announced that through joint collaboration with SANParks, BCRE (Bayworld Centre for Research and Education), SAIAB (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity), NMU (Nelson Mandela University) and PAAZA (Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria - which Bayworld is operationally compliant to) that four of the turtles released had been fitted with acoustic tags. This is a form of animal tracking whereby an acoustic tag is fitted on the shells of the turtles and transmits acoustic signals. These signals are picked up by underwater receivers along the entire South African coastline, thus helping the researchers to track where the turtles swim after they have been released, and improve their understanding of potential turtle habitat use and movement patterns. This is the first time that this method of tracking/telemetry had been used on sea turtles in a South African context.
Isn’t that a great Christmas story and wonderful way to end 2020! Bon voyage to Roofus, Dr Seus and the 10 other turtles as they head off back home.
The generosity of fellow Bay dwellers that made this special voyage possible include: Stampede Cruises, Mount Croix Animal Hospital, Ocean Basket, iBhayi Seafood, BuCo North End and Bayworld.
“MY HOME IS THE OPEN SEA, WHERE STARS SHINE BRIGHTER & MY SOUL IS FREE”