Celebrating Bheni, the Green Turtle, released at De Hoop Nature Reserve

Bheni’s release was an exciting one for our team at Morukuru Family De Hoop for two reasons - Bheni is the first turtle fitted with a satellite tag to be released in this incredible Marine Protected Area; and the satellite tag was sponsored by Morukuru Goodwill Foundation as part of our support for turtle conservation, in partnership with the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.
All turtle release images, unless stated otherwise, are courtesy of Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation
Bheni’s story started on 4 December 2022, when he stranded in Saldanha Bay. The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre has an incredible Turtle Rescue Network and so Bheni was in good hands. As it turned out though, Bheni had stranded for a reason. Whilst he initially appeared to be in good health, with a strong appetite to match, he had an infection on the right side of the carapace (top shell) under the scutes (shell plates). “Turtle shells hold numerous nerve endings and blood vessels, so a ‘simple’ infection can develop into something more serious,” says Alexandra Panagiotou, Sea Turtle Enrichment Specialist. “Thanks to the expert care of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation veterinary team, the infected scutes were removed, and the wound was successfully treated.” Bheni was cleared by the veterinary team to be introduced to the Aquarium’s I&J Ocean Exhibit as the last stage in rehabilitation, allowing Bheni time and space to get stronger and more confident before his release back into the open ocean. Bheni, weighed 26.9kgs (27lbs) on arrival, but by the time of his release he would be at a healthy 42.3kg (92lbs). The big day arrived, a year later. On Friday 08 December 2023, the Turtle Conservation team travelled from the Two Oceans Aquarium to De Hoop Nature Reserve with Bheni, who had received his satellite tag the day before. Conditions were good with just a 1m swell and Bheni would be released at high tide. There was much anticipation with all efforts made to ensure that Bheni was well taken care of, and all stress was minimised. Alexandra gave a short briefing to the team, “We are thrilled to be returning to De Hoop MPA to release Bheni, the first of our turtles fitted with a satellite tag to be released in this remarkable environment”. Bheni was gently placed onto the sand before our lucky guests of Morukuru Beach Lodge and Morukuru Ocean House, and our team, observed the turtle’s release into the welcoming swell. Ed and Anka Zeeman, owners of Morukuru Family and founders of the Morukuru Goodwill Foundation, share in the excitement, “We feel privileged to have properties in the De Hoop Nature Reserve and take our role as custodians of this coastal and marine world very seriously. Our engagement in various initiatives, especially in supporting crucial conservation efforts for turtles, brings us immense joy, and we are excited to follow Bheni's journey.” And follow we will as Bheni’s satellite tag is expected to provide data which the aquarium will share on their social platforms. Tagging plays a key role in learning about turtle movement and behaviours. Green turtles, are one of seven species of sea turtles - five of them visit South African waters, and sadly all five are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The green turtle is so named because the fat layer underneath the carapace (shell) is green. They graze on algae and plants and can weigh up to 395kgs (870lbs). They look like loggerhead turtles but have a different bill (not hooked), and a smoother shell with different numbering. During nesting season, female green turtles lay up to 150 eggs roughly every 12 days, totalling approximately 600 eggs per season. Nesting occurs on the islands of Mozambique and other Indian Ocean islands. Sadly, they face many pressures, primarily hunting.
(c) Mauritz Greeff
De Hoop Nature Reserve is a critical Marine Protected Area (MPA) and a no take zone with no fishing allowed. Here species are flourishing. “In the last eight years, the Turtle Conservation Centre has received seven live green juvenile/sub-adult turtles from De Hoop, with the beloved Bob as the most well-known. This evidence made clear to our team at the Turtle Conservation Centre that this is an area of significance for the conservation of turtle populations,” says Talitha Noble, Conservation Manager of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre. Morukuru Family assisted in the rescues of two turtles in 2022, Litchi and Amigo, and this started the discussions with the team at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.  We are acutely aware of the challenges faced by sea turtles and aim to establish comprehensive support systems to assist in their conservation. You can share in this amazing journey of hope by joining the Coastal Conservation with a Purpose on your visit.  We wish Bheni well on his journey into the big blue, go Bheni, go! (see end of blog for updates on Bheni's whereabouts)
(c) Mauritz Greeff
Where is Bheni? Updates as shared by Two Oceans Aquarium.
  • 9 Jan 2024: After two weeks in the Marine Protected Area of De Hoop, Bheni started moving eastward up the coast. The New Year rolled in as Bheni was just 30km offshore from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa! Right now, Bheni is about 60km southwest of Gansbaai. He has travelled 584km since his release 32 days ago.
  • Update 6 Feb 2024: Bheni is travelling at 84km per day and has travelled 1 930km in 23 days. Turns out Bheni is completely aligned with the currents. Interestingly, the top speed of the surrounding current is about 1m/s, which equates to about 8.5km per day, so he is 'flying'. Even though Bheni is using this current, he is actively swimming 10 times faster than the current is moving. In some further good news, Bheni is swimming right into South Africa's most offshore Marine Protected Area: The Agulhas Front MPA. This MPA protects four different deep-sea habitat types, sustains a wide variety of life, and includes a core foraging area for the critically endangered leatherback turtle! The turtle team are curious as to whether Bheni is making leatherback friends in this special spot dubbed the “turtle tuck-shop"!
  • Update 6 March 2024: Bheni is still going with the motion of the ocean, according to this update from the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation. It has been 84 days since his release on 8 December 2023, and Bheni is averaging 55.7km per day, about 2.3km/hr, just riding the currents. To date, Bheni has travelled 4 678km and is about 1 500km offshore from Durban, 1 500km south of Madagascar, and a mere 6 000km away from Australia!
  • Update 10 April 2024: Wow, Bheni has made incredible progress and is now 1 500km southeast of Madagascar and 5 000km from Mainland Australia. Soon after the last report Bheni left the currents he was utilising and started moving north-eastward, swimming much more actively and following the ridgeline of the Southwest Indian Seamounts - this transition zone is associated with concentrations of both phyto- and zooplankton, which means that there is likely to be increased food opportunities for Bheni here! Bheni has travelled 6 500km in 121 days, an average of 53.7km per day! He’s nice and warm in waters of about 21°C and the depth of the ocean here is just short of 4 000m.
  • Update 7 May 2024: Bheni has been in the ocean for 150 days and is 900km east of Mauritius – this is a seriously tropical territory with a water temperature of 27°C! To date, Bheni has travelled an impressive 8 080km. This averages 53.8km per day, which is the same daily distance he was covering a month ago.
  • Update 2 July 2024: Zoom, zoom, that's our Bheni. He has covered a remarkable distance of 10 300 km, around 50km per day in the just over 200 days since his release.  Bheni is just north of the Vema Trench (named after a research vessel that mapped and sampled much of this area in the 20th century). This trench is one of the deepest in the Indian Ocean, with its greatest depths reaching 6000m! The water temperatures are almost 30°C and the surrounding islands are home to many turtle nesting sites and rich meadows of seagrasses. He has the team at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation wondering if perhaps this is Bheni's original home or just an ocean pitstop on his journey. We'll have to watch this space, or should we say satellite tag.