Rescue Advice Turtles

What you should know:

Turtles breed on the east coast of South Africa in the warmer temperate waters of KZN and Mozambique. Once they hatch, the hatchlings make their way quickly to the sea. Male Turtles will never return to shore in their lifetime. Female Turtles will only return to shore, as adults in order to lay eggs on the same shore that they have hatched from. Hatchlings will never come to shore. Therefore if an adult turtle or hatchling comes ashore anywhere else in South Africa, it is ill and should not be pushed back into the water.

Turtles eat jellyfish and sometimes they can mistakenly eat pieces of plastic floating in the ocean for jellyfish. This could be one of the reasons why they come to ashore and typically they would have a lot of barnacles on them showing that they have been spending a lot of time on the surface of the ocean. Barnacles should never be forcefully removed from the shell because this will injure the scutes of the turtle.

Turtles can also suffer from cold stunning where they are unable to maintain their body temperature due to a sudden radical drop in ocean water temperature or very cold pockets of water during winter. Sea Turtles are cold blooded reptiles that depend on external sources of heat to determine and maintain their body temperature. In this instance, they suffer from hyperthermia or shock and come ashore to preserve energy in order to keep their vital organs functioning. Turtles can also get bacterial infections or suffer from diseases or injuries which force them ashore.

What to do when you come across a stranded Turtle

If you find a turtle hatchling on the beach;

  1. Locate a small plastic container like a 2litre Ice-cream container,
  2. Put a towel or cloth at the bottom,
  3. Place the turtle on the cloth and pierce a few breathing holes in the container, allowing it to breathe freely,
  4. Keep it at room temperature to warm it up slowly get it to your nearest marine Rehabilitation Centre, Nature Authorities, Aquarium for treatment.
  5. If you find an adult turtle on the beach in South Africa (excluding Northern KZN & Mozambique), contact your nearest Nature Authorities or Aquarium, or marine Rehabilitation Centre.

If you find an Adult Turtle;

  1. In-order to transport it for rehabilitation, pick it up by the sides of the Shell and place it on something firm.
  2. If too heavy, have someone help you pick it up by the sides of the shell and simultaneously lift it up to place it on something firm to transport it on.


What not to do

  1. Never transport it in water or put it back in the sea as it could drown or die.
  2. Take care not to cause more stress to the animal.
  3. Keep dogs and crowds away from the turtle.
  4. Never put it back in the water in the hope it will be ok.
  5. Do not turn it upside down. Do not scrape any barnacles or anything off the scutes.
  6. Make sure that you do not drop it when it is picked up.
  7. It should not be transported in water and it should be kept at room temperature until it is ascertained what the cause should be for the turtle coming ashore.

Collaboration between Tenikwa and Two-Oceans with CemAir kindly sponsoring the flight to Cape Town resulted in a sucessful rescue of this endangered Loggerhead Turtle hatchling