We’re delighted to share that a critically ill Hawksbill turtle that washed up on Auckland’s Muriwai beach late last year and was brought into our Zoo’s veterinary hospital for urgent treatment is now well on the road to recovery!

This precious sub-adult Hawksbill was gifted the name Hine Kopenu (in reference to her being female and to this species’ distinctive narrow pointed beak - used to crush its kai) by Te Kawerau ā Maki – the iwi of Muriwai.

When our Department of Conservation (DOC) colleagues arrived with Hine Kopenu in early November she was severely emaciated (weighing just 6kg), cold, and barely responsive. A CT scan confirmed she had pneumonia, and partial intestinal obstruction, likely from ingesting sand. Physically, she also had some damage to her flipper tips and to her corneas from being tumbled around in the surf.

Initial treatment involved giving IV fluids and glucose, pain relief, anti-fungal and antibiotic medications and very carefully increasing the temperature of her water tank to restore this marine reptile’s body temperature to a functional level. Gradually, tube-feeding was introduced to provide nutrition. Blood tests and x-rays helped to track her health, and as Hine Kopenu improved, she could be moved to be bigger swimming tank.

Hine Kopenu required an unprecedented five weeks of critical care at our hospital before she was well enough to be transferred to our Team Turtle colleagues at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s in mid-December to begin the next phase of her rehabilitation journey. 

“We’re all in awe of Hine Kopenu! She is one of the sickest sea turtles we’ve ever successfully treated at the Zoo – one with a very guarded prognosis. Her recovery has been slow, and there’s been setbacks along the way, but she has continued to amaze us all with her will to live,” says the Zoo’s veterinary nurse Celine. “We’re just delighted that after the sustained efforts of all parties involved that this little turtle has, all going well, a bright future that will hopefully in time see her released back to the wild.”

Hine Kopenu now weighs a healthy 9.2kg and a physical check-up (including x-rays) yesterday by our vet Dr Adam and Celine with colleagues at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s confirmed she is continuing to make great progress.  

Celine, who has many years of experience helping treat and rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles, says any Hawksbills arriving on our shores are true ‘lost travellers’.

“These Critically Endangered turtles require tropical and sub-tropical waters to be able to feed on their specialised food source (corals and sponges), and most that wash up here are so critically ill that the odds are stacked against them to pull through.”

Habitat loss, overharvesting and illegal trade, climate change (impacting water temperatures and currents) and pollution like plastic, are all impacting sea turtle species.

This Sunday 16 June is World Sea Turtle Day – a day to celebrate and raise awareness about these incredible marine reptiles that as keystone species, play a vital role in maintaining the health and balance of marine ecosystems.

The Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union for Nature).

“We can all help sea turtles and other marine life by reducing our use of plastics, leaving only footprints at the beach, taking care when out on the water, helping with beach clean-ups, and actively living in ways that help reduce our carbon footprint,” says Celine.

The rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sick and injured marine turtles in Aotearoa New Zealand is a collaborative effort from ‘Team Turtle’ – involving mana whenua, the Department of Conservation (DOC), SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s and Auckland Zoo.

What to do if you see a stranded turtle

If you ever see a turtle (or any marine species) in distress – ensure it is not in danger of being harassed by dogs or people and call the Department of Conservation at 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) and they’ll take the right course of action, and if needed, bring the turtle to the Zoo’s vet team for treatment.