Over 580 stranded turtle hatchlings have been brought into the Two Oceans Aquarium. Image: Animalia.bio

Record number of baby sea turtles from KZN washed up in Cape waters

It’s turtle ‘stranding season’ in the Western Cape, and this year, a record number of hatchlings have been rescued.


Over 580 stranded turtle hatchlings have been brought into the Two Oceans Aquarium. Image: Animalia.bio

Every year hundreds of baby turtles are stranded on the South African coastline, during what conservationists call “stranding season“.

This critical period usually spans from late February to July. It’s the most vulnerable phase for loggerhead and leatherback turtle hatchlings.

These reptiles nest on the sandy beaches of north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, as sea turtle eggs must be laid on land.

The hatchlings usually ride the warm and fast Agulhas current south, and then east out into the wider Indian Ocean. However, every year, many of these hatchlings are carried west and spat out in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

Cape of Storms

The Turtle Conservation Centre at the Two Oceans Aquarium often receives up to 100 stranded young turtles in the few months after hatching season. It has a normal capacity of 150 turtles.

Due to the powerful storm that hit the Western Cape in early April, hundreds of hatchlings were blown off course.

“What we haven’t seen before is over 500 turtles in two weeks, which is what the last little bit of time has brought us,” said Talitha Noble-Trull, the head of the Turtle Conservation Centre.

“My budgeting plans for the year have really gone out the window.”

Hatchling discoveries

The first hatchling of the season was found in early March on Muizenberg Beach and brought to the Conservation Centre.

Since then, dozens have been found stranded in Struisbaai, Vleesbaai, Mossel Bay, and Plettenberg Bay, as well as on beaches in Muizenburg, Fish Hoek and Scarborough.

Most of the little turtles are endangered loggerheads. Over recent weeks the Two Oceans Aquarium has received over 580 stranded hatchlings – most of them sick and injured.

Some have been sent to two other aquariums to spread the load.

A small army of volunteers has been brought into the Turtle Conservation Centre to help the aquarium’s full-time staff care for the hatchlings.

The aquarium has pleaded with the public to make donations, to help them medically treat, feed, and care for the baby turtles over the winter months until they are ready for release.

Rehabilitating a single hatchling costs roughly R10 000.

Image: Renee Bonorchis/ LinkedIn

“The Turtle Conservation Centre could also do with things like empty ice cream tubs, towels, dishcloths or cash donations to help them look after the huge influx,” said ocean conservationist and volunteer Renee Bonorchis.

The hatchlings are being assessed based on their health condition, with some requiring intensive care for injuries, malnutrition, or infection. Each turtle is assigned a number on its shell for identification purposes.

Turtles also ingesting ocean plastic

The storm was a significant shock to the turtles, especially given their vulnerability to extreme weather and climate change.

It has also provided Noble-Trull and fellow conservationists with valuable insight into another growing threat – ocean plastic.

Upon arrival at the aquarium, many of the hatchlings were found to have ingested small pieces of plastic.

Apart from when they’re born, and when females return to shore to lay eggs, turtles spend their entire lives out in the open ocean.

“Because of that, they’re ‘ocean indicators,’” Noble-Trull added.