|Dave, the most famous turtle in the red sea, if not the world, has sadly passed away. Having had a disagreement with a propeller, his shell was split and great efforts went into rehabilitating him to allow a safe release, which was achieved on the 2nd of February.
Red Sea Diving College are pleased to report that the hawksbill turtle now known as Dave, having been affectionately christened by the staff at the College who have become very attached to him over the last few weeks, is back to full health and has been released back into the wild.Dave will already be known to many divers who have dived in the Red Sea at Ras Mohammed, where he has been a regular around Shark and Yolanda reefs for some years. Dave is easily recognized, as a portion of his rear shell was missing above his right flipper from an old injury.
For the last few weeks this regular to the area had been noticed only by his absence. It came to the attention of James Tunney on the16th of January this year what had happened to him. Dave was found towards the end of last year with new injuries to his shell caused by a collision with a boat propeller. He was found by divers from Sinai Divers, taken from the bottom and handed over to the Ras Mohammed National Park for safe keeping. The Park did what they could to treat the wounds, but not having a suitable pool available, asked if Dolphinella (not the most popular place with divers in Sharm) could accommodate it. The resident doctor, Alexander, ensured that the wound was kept clean and Dave the turtle was first placed in a small kids play pool and an attempt was made to feed it once using sea grass but without success. The pool was broken by Dave and the turtle’s next destination was a kids’ inflatable boat filled with water to only half way up the turtle’s shell exposing the upper portion of the shell to the day’s sun. The next stop was to a larger pool but with the same level of water and still no midday shade. At this point all concerned thought they were doing the right thing simply keeping the wound dry and clean. No further attempts were made to feed him, as they thought it was normal not to eat, that the turtle was simply in hibernation, as with a tortoise. It is true that Turtles can go for long periods without food if well fattened, and not injured or feeling sick when they need their strength most! Unfortunately during this time the turtle was becoming weaker by the day, not helped by the severe drop in the pools’ water temperature, as low as 11 degrees at night, which for a hawksbill turtle is hypothermic and hinders its recovery. Miss Eman Aly, zoologist and environmental researcher at the Sinai Protectorates Wildlife Unit, was concerned about the deteriorating condition of Dave and asked Dr. Ahmed at the Sharm Hyperbaric Chamber if he knew of anyone who could help. Dr. Ahmed put her in contact with James Tunney of the Red Sea Diving College, as he was aware of the College’s previous work for, and interest in, environmental issues. The Red Sea Diving College immediately rose to the challenge by arranging a meeting between James Tunney and Miss Eman Aly to see the turtle, and getting the local vet, Patrick Olbrechts, to look at the turtle. Although not an expert in this field, it was easy to see that the turtle was in an unhealthy state, made all the more serious by the conditions in which he was being kept, the initial wound now being the least of its current problems. The College staff and Patrick then turned to the Internet for help and advice, contacting several turtle centres and specialist doctors in the field of turtle rehabilitation. Through the fantastic work of Project Aware, Marine Connection and other organisations passing on the need for help, offers of help and assistance from around the world were quickly flooding in.
All stating the need for warmer waters and the importance of proper feeding to rebuild strength and aid in the healing process, it was time to really get the ball rolling. The turtle was taken for x-rays and the College had Patrick Olbrechts the vet take blood tests which were sent off to the relevant parties. And with the assistance of Miss Eman Aly and the permission and cooperation of the National Park itself, Red Sea Diving College organised a staff day out to make an appropriately large and strong enclosed area, replacing a previously erected enclosure within a sheltered part of the Park, built with a stone wall base around the bottom and topped with heavy plastic netting and rope. Fourteen staff in all gave their time and energies, putting in a very hard days work under the watchful eye of Guy, the Managing Director who was more than happy to get stuck in as well. Needless to say, in traditional College style, when finished Guy invited all the workers out for a well-deserved dinner followed by several drinks and discussions about the days work. Before considering moving the turtle, a check had to be made to see if Dave still had the strength to hold his head high enough to breathe. Having found that although weak he could still float and breathe unaided, plans were made by the Red Sea Diving College to move Dave to his new home with a continuous flow of clean sea water, a constant temp of 23 degrees and both shallow and deep water areas. Miss Eman Aly, with the National Park, arranged transport and Dave arrived in his own inflatable boat, giving him plenty of protection for the bumpy ride. Once Dave arrived at the park it gave the college staff an excellent chance to make sure Dave could still dive, a skill, which is commonly lost when a turtle is injured. All the staff were delighted to see that although weak he had not lost his buoyancy (and even in his sorry state would have put anyone of them to shame!). Dave then went on to give everyone a heart stopping lesson in apnea diving, waiting for over 30 mins while he rested on the bottom at 3m before, eventually, surfacing for air. The improvement in Dave’s condition on his return to his natural habitat was immediate and with proper care he continued to improve daily.
The next step was to get him feeding and we soon found out Dave had expensive tastes. We started him on a diet of fresh liquidised squid and fish with some glucose, as this had shown to be low in his blood tests, before moving him on to shrimp, all fed through a tube to start with. Dave then started to hand feed in small amounts and showed a definite preference to fresh shrimp. Tube feeding requires two to three people, as during feeding he must be kept at a comfortable forty-five degree angle with his head held back. Having fed him he must again be returned to the water and held at the same angle for at least another 5mins. This was a duty which the Red Sea Diving College staff carried out daily with Miss Eman Aly also giving him vitamin B12 and antibiotics by injection every four days. The College staff also assisted Miss Eman with the daily cleaning and dressing of the wound, which has now healed, showing no sign of the previous infection. A daily inspection of the confined area had to be carried out, as everyday he was becoming stronger and was showing signs of trying to find ways out! Dave was making a fantastic recovery with the wound healing and his strength increasing all the time. The next step was to make a cast of his shell so thus enabling Dave to have a fibreglass shell made, to cover the affected area before his release. The fibreglass cannot be applied directly as it can interfere with the wound. The idea is as he heals from within, the fibreglass cover will at some point come free.
At Dave’s release, on 3rd of February, he received a great send off from the Red Sea Diving College staff that were instrumental in his rehabilitation, Miss Eman Aly from the Wildlife Unit, Ras Mohammed National Park, who cannot be thanked enough for all her hard work, and other members of the Ras Mohammed National Park. He was released from the shore by Shark Observatory and it made a beautiful sight to see him swim over the drop off and into the blue. He surfaced several times for air before turning and coming straight to the camera, as if to say goodbye, before swimming off in the direction of Shark Reef his old stomping ground. With advice literally coming from all corners of the world on the best way to proceed, his treatment has gone with the majority, particularly with advice on feeding, medication and whether or not to cover the shell. Red Sea Diving College (and Dave!) would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to physically get involved or offered advice. It goes to show the willingness of people to give their time to help in a good cause, in this case an endangered species. Obviously, Dave has become a local celebrity; if you are diving in the Red Sea, keep a look out for Dave. If you see him, please let the College know where and when and if possible send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
It seemed Dave could not stop for a rest without reports flooding in that he was dead, although he would always be spotted the next day feeding away on Shark and Yolanda reefs, Daves idea of a joke to keep us on our toes no doubt. Sadly, one day he was surfaced by a dive boat after some guides from another centre decided he was ill again and needed treatment. Ironically, he was to spend his last few days in the enclosure we built for him to be originally treated in. College staff and locals are understandably upset at this final development in the story, but would like to thank everyone who helped with the initial rescue, rehabilitation and monitoring after his release in February.