Harry has recently joined the community in the I&J Ocean Exhibit, where he has more space to swim and regain strength. Picture: Martine Viljoen
Harry has recently joined the community in the I&J Ocean Exhibit, where he has more space to swim and regain strength. Picture: Martine Viljoen

Rescued turtles Bob and Harry a step closer to their release

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Jul 1, 2021

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Cape Town - Rescued sea turtles Bob and Harry are making steady progress on their road to recovery at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Visitors to the I&J Ocean Exhibit will know long-time resident Bob, an endangered green sea turtle that was rescued in 2014, who has been recovering from brain damage following an infection as a result of ingested plastic, is on a path for eventual release back into the wild.

Harry, also an endangered green sea turtle, was rescued on Stilbaai beach in October last year, and is now in long-term recovery at the facility.

Harry has overcome a severe carapace infection called "shell rot" and has survived intestinal troubles associated with ingesting large pieces of plastic pollution.

When rescued in 2014, Bob was in a bad state with his intestines full of plastic pollution, severe plastron (the bottom shell) damage and a bad infection.

When Bob first arrived at the Aquarium, he had severe injuries to his plastron. These injuries, together with a weakened metabolism, resulted in a brain infection - the damage of which Bob is still recovering from years later. Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

This led to a brain infection, which has affected Bob's ability to carry out many of the natural behaviours that a sea turtle needs to be able to survive in the wild.

However, as with humans who are dealing with brain damage, brains have neuroplasticity - the ability to create new pathways and potentially regain lost function to a degree.

“Thanks to an intense enrichment programme, we are seeing slow improvements in Bob's behaviour, a return of 'wildness'. These include more aggressive feeding behaviours and more ‘random’ explorations of the environment.

“Bob still has a long recovery ahead, but we're all looking forward to the day we can return good old Bob to the ocean,” the aquarium team said.

Helping Bob recover is Alexandra Panagiotou, a Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation team member, who is running a programme of extensive enrichment activities where challenges and stimulation are provided at regular intervals to simulate the dynamic environment and challenges that an animal would encounter in the ocean.

“It is hoped that encouraging Bob to engage with these simulated environmental stressors will encourage the return of brain function that would help cope with similar situations in the wild.”

Harry also has had a difficult path to recovery, but the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation's turtle team considers him a "magic turtle" because of his resilience and rapid healing, having overcome shell rot and intestinal troubles associated with ingesting large pieces of plastic pollution.

He's now regaining weight and strength so that he can be released back into the wild.

“What has been most encouraging is seeing the return of Harry's appetite. Harry went from having very little appetite and not pooping often enough, to needing to be enticed to eat prawns and other tasty high-protein foods to aid his healing, to energetically stealing a pepper from Bob.

“Active feeding behaviour like this is an excellent sign of a turtle's health, and the team is very happy with the progress Harry is making.”

To support the rehabilitation of the more than 50 rescued turtles in the care of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation visit: https://aquariumfoundation.org.za/donate-to-conservation/

Cape Times

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