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"!