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Ponta Malongane falls within the famous Maputaland coastline which is the nesting ground to the famous Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles.

We are fortunate enough to have these wonderful creatures nest along the beach every summer from October to December.

Sea turtles fall into one of the most ancient reptillian orders whose fossil history reaches back 200 million years.

There are five species which have survived and still inhabit our Maputaland waters: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Olive Ridley, and Hawksbill turtles.

These five species neither compete for food nor space and are an impressive example of the occupation of different niches which leads to a harmonious existence.

The turtles nest in summer at night when the female comes out of the surf and rests in the shallow water, lifting her head on the alert for danger. They are easily disturbed at this stage. Satisfied that there is no danger, she will make her way up the beach well above the high water mark where she will find a suitable site.

She will then begin digging a cavity with her fore-flippers, throwing sand backwards, until she can nestle down to a level where her carapase is level with the surrounding beach. She will then dig an egg cavity with her hind flippers some 45cm deep and flask shaped.

The 120 soft-shelled, white eggs are then dropped in bursts of 1-4. Once she has finished laying, she will drop sand to cover the eggs, feeling gently with her hind flippers until the hole is filled level with the beach. She kneads and presses the surface until it is packed hard.

After this she will disguise the nest by vigorously throwing sand with her fore-flippers and, in an exhausted state, she returns to the sea.

After 55-65 days the hatchlings (using an egg tooth on the end of their beaks) cut their way out of the egg and straighten out. After the bulk of the clutch has emerged, they start to scrabble at the walls and roof of the chamber bringing down sand which passes through the body of the hatchlings forming a new floor which gradually thickens, bringing the hatchlings to the surface of the beach rather like a lift.

If the hatchlings reach the surface during the heat of the day, they are automatically inhibited from further movement by the heat of the surface sand and will wait until the temperature drops before bursting out and running for the sea.

They guide themselves by sight, heading for the exact centre of the light zone which is almost always to be found over the sea horizon. During the run to the water up to 12% of the hatchlings may be taken by ghost crabs and once in the sea, predation on the hatchlings during their first few months of life is intense and it has been estimated that only 1 in 2 hatchlings from every thousand that enters the sea will reach maturity.

Those that survive will spend the next three years drifing in the Indian Ocean whre they will feed on floating organisms such as blue bottles and purple storm snails. Amazingly enough research has shown that once mature (12-15 years), the females will often return to the beaches on which they were hatched to lay their eggs.

Sadly these wonderful creatures are widely exploited along our own coastline, and in Madagascar over 23 000 turtles were killed and eaten during 1970.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is actively involved in a protection programme together with a number of volunteers who work the Mozambique coastline. During the nesting period the turtles are tagged and recovery data is extremely valuable to the scientists, and this is where we, the public, can help to further protect the species.

If you should come across a tagged adult turtle or hatchling with a notch out of its carapace, please notify you nearest institute, university or Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. If such an opportunity does not exist, then please note the following information for labelling the animal:

  • Date of find
  • Locality of find
  • Species involved - a photograph showing the head makes identification easier

and send to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

All hatchlings, notched or not, should be sent to the nearest institute or direct to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Dead specimens should be placed in a plastic bag with some cotton wool or tissue which has been dipped into mentholated spirits of alcohol. The bag should be sealed and posted in an envelope or box.

We trust you have enjoyed learning a little more about the turtles, and ask that you please help us protect these gentle creatures.

Information extracted from 'Sea Turtles' by Dr G R Hughes, former Chief Executive Officer of the Natal Parks Board.


A close-up of a Leatherback Turtle.


A loggerhead turtle lays her eggs on the dunes close to Tartaruga Maritima.


A loggerhead turtle returns in an exhausted state back to the sea.


A large leatherback retuns to the sea
after laying eggs.

An indication of the immense size of the leatherback turtles.


In the morning, the beaches of southern Mozambique reveal the evidence of the nocturnal visitors.

 


Bookings: Bruce Hopwood
Cell (SA):
083 301 2958 Tel: (+27) 035 340 7013
Email:
tartaruga@mweb.co.za

Camp Manager:
Herman Maleiane
Cell:
00258 84 373 0067