Activists for the preservation of turtle breeding grounds waited for hours for the arrival of leatherback and loggerhead turtles at Sodwana Bay on the north coast of KZN yesterday, according to a report.
SABC reported that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife was celebrating half a century of its sea turtle monitoring programme.
Turtle enthusiasts were waiting for the threatened species to emerge from the sea to lay eggs in the sand. Sunday’s vigil was part of the programme’s efforts to raise awareness about the turtles.
One of the measures aimed at protecting the turtles’ nesting areas was a ban on 4x4 vehicles driving on beaches.
The coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the only remaining major nesting site in Africa where loggerhead and leatherback turtles still lay their eggs.
These important breeding grounds have been protected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the conservation partners of the Wetland Park Authority, for more than 40 years.
This ancient nesting season starts early in November every year. The female emerges from the surf and rests in the wash zone, alert for danger – at this point she is easily disturbed. She then moves above the high tide mark to find a suitable site, where the laborious process of digging a nest, down to 1m in depth, commences. After laying a batch of 80-100 eggs, she carefully closes the nest and conceals its presence from foragers like jackals, genets, honey badgers and ghost crabs. The cumbersome journey back to sea follows.
The eggs can take up to 70 days to hatch, with the hatchlings emerging at night and making their way to the sea from January through to March every year.
About four hatchlings from every 1000 are estimated to reach maturity.
Female turtles always return to the beaches where they hatched. How they know the route back to the beaches they hatched on remains a mystery.
Turtle tours operate from St Lucia and Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Mabibi, Rocktail Bay and Bhanga Nek from November to March every year.