After four years of rehabilitation, Pemba, an adult olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacae) that was found floating in Table Bay Harbour in December 2014, has been released within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Pemba’s rehabilitation and release was made possible through the joint efforts of the Two Oceans Aquarium and uShaka Sea World in Durban.
Pemba was admitted to the Two Oceans Aquarium turtle rehabilitation and release programme after a boat-based tour operator found her floating in Table Bay Harbour. Initial examination revealed a fracture on the side of her carapace (shell), presumably from a boat propeller strike. Surgery was performed and the fracture was wired together. The fracture healed within a couple of months. Pemba was under constant veterinary supervision and was treated with antibiotics for the fracture to her shell, as well as a suspected lung tear. Numerous attempts at removing large volumes of air from her coelomic cavity proved unsuccessful.
Treatment continued at the Two Oceans Aquarium until September 2016, when the decision was made to move Pemba to the Turtle Rehabilitation facility at uShaka Sea World in Durban for further treatment. Pemba was unfortunately still unable to dive.
Pemba was transferred to Durban via a private aircraft made available by the Bateleurs, a non-profit that assists with the transportation of threatened animals across southern Africa.
The staff at uShaka Sea World spent the next 16 months working with Pemba who still had buoyancy and lung issues. After a few months it was noticed she was getting stronger and the decision was made to start the slow process of encouraging her to dive. Pieces of food were placed on the bottom of her holding pool to encourage her to dip below the surface. Initially, she would struggle without success but then gradually she started reaching her food. Over the following months she was constantly motivated to remain longer and longer underwater until eventually she was diving effortlessly without motivation.
Pemba has been fitted with a satellite tag which will transmit her position for the next 18 - 24 months. Pemba is the 1st Olive Ridley turtle ever to be satellite tagged in South Africa. Kevin Spicy from @2OceansAquarium expertly fits the tag. #HambaKahlePemba pic.twitter.com/6IhYcZfRgD— SAAMBR (@saambr) March 8, 2018
Olive ridley turtles feed mainly on crustaceans and she could therefore not be released until she could dive deep enough to find food. Once Pemba had regained her ability to dive, there was no looking back and the team began to plan her release.
Pemba was fitted with a satellite tag which was attached to her carapace before being released. This satellite tag will allow scientists to track where she goes from GPS co-ordinates transmitted from the tag. Regular updates on Pemba’s progress will be posted on the SAAMBR website at https://www.saambr.org.za/.
Olive ridley turtles are uncommon along the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and, unlike the loggerhead and leatherback turtles, they do not nest on local beaches. Small populations of this species of turtle are found off northern Mozambique, Tanzania and north-west Madagascar.
Within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (KZN) are numerous inshore and offshore reefs that are considered ideal turtle release sites as they boast abundant foraging grounds with minimal human impact. Mbibi was chosen as the release site because of its location within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
Pemba is the first olive ridley turtle to be satellite tagged and released off the South African coast. It is hoped that she will make her way up the east coast or across to Madagascar where other olive ridley turtles occur.
After four years of rehabilitation between the @2OceansAquarium and our uShaka Sea World rehabilitation team, Pemba, an Olive Ridley turtle is ready for release today! #HambaKahlePemba pic.twitter.com/TywfMjLeg6— SAAMBR (@saambr) March 8, 2018
“Olive ridleys are elusive animals. The information obtained from tracking her will help us better understand these incredible animals. In turn, that information will help us care for them in their ocean realm. The teams at uShaka Sea World and the Two Oceans Aquarium are grateful that she has recovered so well - Hamba Kahle Pemba,” said uShaka Sea World Senior Aquarist Malini Pather.