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Turtle Spotting in KwaZulu Natal


Experience one of the most moving events in nature... and ponder one of her great mysteries!

It’s that time of year when a tradition that is millions of years old is perpetuated on the golden beaches of northern Zululand. From November to January, female Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles haul themselves out of the ocean to lay their eggs under cover of darkness.

What better place to witness this rare and remarkable occasion than in the iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland Park World Heritage site. The blissfully warm water of the Agulhas current that sweeps along the coast of Zululand is home to a number of endangered turtle species – the Olive Ridley, Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles. Only the Loggerhead and extremely rare Leatherback turtles leave the relative safety of the sea to satisfy a compelling urge to lay their eggs on South Africa's northeast shores. Some choose to nest on beaches along Mozambique, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

The amazing mystery of this ancient nocturnal event lies in the ability of the females to locate the same beach where they started their lives as tiny hatchlings many years before. Momma turtle leaves her offspring once she’s covered up the nest so there’s no passing down of age old mariners’ secrets. How do they locate the bearings and coordinates of their natal beach? Do they have an inbuilt GPS imprinted in their reptilian brain? Perhaps they navigate by the stars or wave patterns.

Hauling their hefty bodies up soft sandy beaches at high tide is a colossal feat - the gigantic leatherback turtle is the largest living reptile on earth and can weigh up to 1.5 tons! Once above the high tide zone they scoop out a nest that’s deep enough to keep 100 soft white eggs at a constant temperature - and shallow enturtle aloneough not to smother emerging hatchlings. The arduous nesting and laying process takes about 3 hours – just enough time to get back to the ocean before the tide gets dangerously low. The egg laying routine can be repeated up to 8 times during the season with up to 100 eggs laid each time – scientists estimate that only one in 1,000 will survive to maturity!

Late November and December is the best time to spot the turtles nesting. From February to March the tiny hatchlings will emerge and run the gauntlet of ghost crabs and sea birds to the ocean. After their mad dash they drift for a few years in the warm Agulhas regional current feasting on deliciously rich food – particularly jellyfish, bluebottles, bubble raft shells and the Portuguese Man-O’-War.
And so the great circle of life spins on.

Turtle watching:

A limited number of permits are issued to private lodges to take people on nocturnal beach tours along the St Lucia coastline during the nesting season.
Adventure Tickets organizes turtle watching tours, to book call Annemarie at 035 - 590 1635.

Go equipped with lots of patience and enjoy the solitude – turtles can abandon their nest if disturbed. Enquire at the lodge that you’ve booked into for more information and to book turtle spotting tours.

IOSEA Year of the Turtle – 2006

The Indian Ocean – South East Asia Year of the Turtle aims to bring together countries and communities to celebrate sea turtles and to support and protect these ancient mariners. Marine turtles have inhabited the oceans for millions of years and were contemporaries of the dinosaurs. Turtles are flagships for safeguarding the seas and coastal areas that they live in. If we protect their natural world we are likewise protecting our world - one that we depend on for inspiration and our existence.
IOSEA is an intergovernmental agreement that aims to protect, conserve, replenish and recover marine turtles and their habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region.

The Indian Ocean/South East Asia region is the habitat of six species of marine turtle. These turtles often navigate across international boundaries and their continued existence depends on effective teamwork amongst the nations that share their environment.

Last chance to see?
Human activities in the last 50 years have driven most of the turtle species in the Indian Ocean-South East Asia region to the brink of extinction. Six of the seven species of turtles are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN RedList. The most critical is the Leatherback turtle, swiftly heading for extinction in the Pacific.
There used to be only 6 nesting in Zululand before 1966 but urgent action has brought that number up to about 60 nesting Leatherback turtles.

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