Turtle Tracking in iSimangaliso
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso Wetland Park in eastern kwaZulu-Natal spans 220 kilometres of pristine coastline and is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Turtle season in this region is between November and February, and is a time when guests at the luxury Thonga Beach Lodge have the opportunity to go on a turtle monitoring excursion. This can last up to three hours and involves driving along the beach looking for egg-laying female turtles and hatchlings. The time of the drive depends on the low tide, so could be just after dinner or in the early hours of the morning, which makes for an exciting moonlit excursion.
Turtles are important indicators of ocean health, and seven species exist in the world’s oceans today. However, there are threats to turtle populations due to bad fishery practices, coastal development, sand mining, littering, egg collection and meat harvesting. As a result, a Turtle Conservation and Monitoring Programme was initiated in iSimangaliso in 1963 to record and monitor nesting populations, and to provide protection for the females during their vulnerable nesting stage on shore.
Types of turtles
Of the five species of marine turtle that can be found in South African waters, there are only two species of female that nest along the shores - the loggerhead and the leatherback. Leatherbacks are the largest turtle species and they can dive the deepest, subsisting almost purely on jellyfish. Their backs are covered in a dark, leathery skin, which makes the females particularly approving of soft sand.
Loggerheads, on the other hand, are the largest hard-shelled turtle and have the broadest geographical range of all turtles. They are omnivorous, so have a large head with powerful jaws to crush their prey.
In spite of their differences, both loggerhead and leatherback turtles share nesting similarities. They nest at night from October to March, when the female finds a suitable site and excavates a body pit in which she digs an egg cavity with her flippers. She then deposits a clutch of about 100-120 white-shelled eggs into the hole, before she packs the hole hard with sand and disguises the nest site by throwing more sand over the area with her flippers.
These hidden turtle eggs take between 55 and 64 days to hatch, when the hatchlings emerge using a special egg tooth on the end of their beaks, then dig their way out of the nest and head to the sea. It is estimated that only two hatchlings from each nest survive to become an adult, mainly as a result of honey badgers that patrol the dunes for eggs, and fish and squid that pose a threat once in the sea.
If you want to play a part in the conservation of this incredible species, contact Elite Travel Concept to monitor these heroes in a halfshell on a luxury holiday at Thonga Beach Lodge