October 2013 – Since the 1990s, Wilderness Safaris, via its Rocktail camps, has played a fundamental role in assisting the monitoring of the turtle populations of the Maputaland Marine Reserve. The Wilderness Wildlife Trust has provided funding of approximately one million Rand since 1999 and results of this study have shown that both turtle populations are in fact increasing – one of the few populations in the world known to be doing so.
From mid-October to March each year, the magnificent loggerhead and leatherback turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs on Rocktail’s pristine beachfront – a mere 20-minute walk from Rocktail Beach Camp. Guests visiting the camp may join Wilderness Safaris’ Turtle Monitors as they patrol the beaches at night, and, if they are lucky, get the once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch a turtle lay its eggs, while at the same time making a difference to turtle conservation.
During the turtle season, a total of 30km of beach is patrolled nightly by Rocktail’s Turtle Monitors for signs of nesting turtles. Five turtle species occur but only two, loggerhead and leatherback, nest here. This strip of coastline represents the most important western Indian Ocean breeding sites for both species and is located in the remote northern KwaZulu-Natal, just south of the Mozambique border. Loggerheads have shown dramatic increases while the leatherback trend is positive.
Each season, the following is recorded: all sightings and GPS locations of nesting loggerhead and leatherback turtles; all sightings and GPS location of tracks of loggerhead and leatherback turtles indicating nesting; carapace measurements (breadth and length) of every nesting turtle; identification of each nesting turtle (PIT tag or microchip); tagging and microchip insertion of ‘new’ turtles; number of hatchlings per nest; and notching of loggerhead hatchlings to help in age of first breeding determination.
Watching turtles lay their eggs, or the tiny hatchlings as they scramble down to the safety of the ocean, is as much of a privilege as diving the pristine offshore coral reefs of Maputaland which are home to some 1 200 tropical reef species. Aside from diving, other activities at Rocktail include swimming and relaxing on the beach, snorkelling at Lala Nek, guided and unguided forest walks and birding in the Maputaland Coastal Forest.
For more information about Rocktail Beach Camp, click here.