The official date of the start of the Turtle Season may be marked down on the calendar as the 15th of October - but nature does its own thing in its own time. Gugu and Mbongeni (the Rocktail Beach Camp turtle guides) eagerly await the middle of the month to begin the turtle drives, where they take guests on a drive along the beach in the evening to look for female loggerhead and leatherback turtles as they slowly make their way up the beach to lay their eggs.
This month we have been really spoilt with turtle sightings during dives and whilst on ocean experience trips out to sea. On the third day of the month while out on an ocean experience, we watched a large loggerhead turtle happily floating along on the surface. It was very relaxed and not at all bothered that we were there watching from the boat. Often when turtles ascend to take a few breaths of air, they will immediately swim back down again if they see the boat. Turtles are most vulnerable to predators when they are resting on the surface of the ocean so they are generally quite skittish but not this turtle, she was quite happy resting at the surface. In fact a few snorkellers managed to slip into the water and slowly swam up to the turtle. What a surprise they got when the loggerhead female decided she was the one who was going to do the checking out! She swam up to each of the guests in turn - not more than an arm's length away - and gave everyone a thorough inspection - what an amazing experience! Perhaps she thought that the guests were possible male suitors!
Clive had a very lucky sighting of a leatherback turtle on the surface, unfortunately it darted back down as soon as it saw the boat, so none of the divers got to see it.
A dive at Elusive turned out to be a case of being in exactly the right place at the right time. Photographer Anthony Grote ended up being perfectly positioned to take a wonderful photograph of a marbled electric ray swimming off the sand and up over a ledge, whilst a honeycomb moray eel chose that exact moment to swim out from under the same ledge. It is quite a sight to see these rays out swimming as they are normally hiding under the sand; the eels are also usually sitting in holes in the reef with just their head sticking out - so to see both of these creatures swimming together is quite special!
Rays have also been a big feature on the dive menu this month, with one being sighted on nearly every dive - we have seen no less than 34 rays this month. One ray in particular was easy to identify - with its crooked tail! This sharp-nose stingray was spotted several times at Pineapple Reef. There have also been lots of blue-spotted ribbontail rays, sharp nose rays, big round ribbontail rays and honeycomb stingrays as well as a porcupine ray!
Boris has been up to his usual tricks - he loves sneaking up on divers and sometimes gives them a fright when they turn and see his big shape right next to them! Anthony was so focused on getting a photograph of a honeycomb ray on the sand that he didn't notice Boris who was quietly sneaking up on him. As Anthony moved slowly forward towards the ray, so Boris moved slowly forwards in front of Anthony! Anthony bumped into Boris, completed unaware that he was there and yelled out a big blow of bubbles whilst he hastily jerked away from this huge fish that he had not seen. All the other divers had a good laugh as they watched this whole episode unfold!
There were quite a number of game fish around this month including pick handle barracuda, king mackerel and various kingfish but the most memorable was during an ocean experience. We were all in the water snorkelling when seven big yellowfin tuna swam right past our noses, a sighting none of us will forget in a hurry!
This month, the camp hosted the annual Children in the Wilderness camp. During October every year, Rocktail Beach Camp closes its doors to guests, and opens them to children from the local community. This year 32 children varying in age from 8-14 years old arrived with much excitement, singing and laughter into the camp. They spent seven days learning about the environment and how they can help to protect it. Part of their experience included a trip out to sea with high hopes of seeing dolphins, turtles and maybe even humpback whales! They were really lucky since not only did they see a turtle from the boat but they also watched whales breaching and saw a young humpback whale swimming with about five adult whales. They even saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins which came right up to the boat! What a special trip it was for these children who had never been out on a boat before, let alone seen turtles, dolphins or whales!
Now to stories from our storeroom: Our little olive sunbird's eggs have hatched and two baby sunbirds are now calling this their home. Their eyes were still firmly shut for the first week after they hatched, and then two weeks later they had all their feathers. All you can see when you peek around the door is two little beaks sticking out of the nest - it won't be long now until they start flying, leaving their nest in search of tasty morsels and to begin exploring the world outside.
Congratulations to Sheri Friis for completing her PADI Scuba Diving Course.
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne
The Rocktail Dive Team