Maia, a young green turtle, has already travelled more than 600km after being released in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park after 2 years of rehabilitation at SAAMBR’s Sea Turtle Hospital at uShaka Sea World.
Maia was found in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park in December 2020 with a woven plastic bag so tightly wrapped around her left front flipper that it caused severe necrosis and the partial loss of that flipper. She also ingested plastic while trying to free herself. She was named Maia, the Moari word for courage, as she displayed true courage, bravery and a headstrong attitude to recover.
After extensive rehabilitation, including surgery, antibiotics, various radiographs and lots of tender loving care, Maia recovered beautifully and was medically cleared for release exactly 2 years after her rescue, albeit with one less flipper. It is quite common to see turtles in the wild with partial and even complete flipper amputations, most often due to shark bites or entanglements, so the SAAMBR team was optimistic about returning her to her true home in the ocean. They did not expect however that she was going to be an absolute swimming sensation. Maia was released on the 13th of December, and made her way up to Mozambique by the 21st of December, at an average of a half marathon swum per day! By Christmas day she was already in the warm and beautiful Maputo Bay, an area she seems to really enjoy as she is still criss-crossing this protected site now known as the Maputo National Park which is seen as an extension if the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. This protected area is truly magnificent with very rich species diversity and is home to 104 species of conservation significance, such as sea turtles and even dugongs. Inhaca Island, which falls within this area has the largest seagrass coverage in the world, perfect food of course for vegetarian green turtles. It also offers critical inter-nesting, nesting and mating grounds for loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.
We are incredibly proud of little Maia’s journey thus far. As a young sea turtle, she still has many years ahead of her before reaching reproductive age and she could very well decide to hang around in this perfect turtle habitat. The nearest green turtle nesting sites are about a 1000 km north-east of her, so not too big a journey considering how well she travels.
Maia has a small satellite tag attached to her carapace and we hope to be able to track her movements and spatial ecology for at least a year in collaboration with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. This will enable us to analyse the post-rehabilitative movement and performance of sea turtles with flipper amputations.
(We filter the transmission data to use the most accurate satellite transmission. Maia’s direct route is approximately 450km, the unfiltered transmission route is 781km, and with some filtering of data we estimate that she has travelled approximately 600km).