October 2016 – Another spectacular Turtle Season at Rocktail Camp in KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park has begun, offering guests front-row seats to one of the world’s most fascinating experiences – the nesting and hatching of leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
The turtle breeding season occurs from October to March when these magnificent creatures come ashore at night to lay their eggs along Rocktail’s 30 km stretch of pristine beach every year. Guests visiting the camp can enjoy a Turtle Drive led by an experienced Wilderness Safaris guide, during which they may have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing this ancient ritual or, later on in the season, catching sight of the resulting tiny hatchlings as they scramble down to the safety of the ocean.
Of the five marine turtle species that occur in the Indian Ocean, only two – the loggerhead and leatherback – nest extensively along the remote northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline, just south of the Mozambique border. These beaches are the most important western Indian Ocean breeding site for both species and Rocktail is one of only two beaches in the world where these two species lay their eggs; the other being in Florida USA.
“Even more exciting for us has been the recent recording, for the first time, of green turtles nesting near Rocktail. It is extremely rare to find three species of sea turtle nesting on one beach”, says renowned author and turtle conservationist, Dr George Hughes.
Turtle monitoring and conservation began in the iSimangaliso area in 1963, with Wilderness Safaris becoming involved, in the early 90s, with the turtle protection programme initiated by Mr Peter Potter – then a senior official of the Natal Parks Board. Peter’s pioneering work was then continued by Dr George Hughes from 1965 until 2002 and the Maputaland Sea Turtle Project has since made significant strides in both awareness and turtle population numbers. Research has shown that nesting loggerhead numbers have increased fivefold.
“It has been a privilege for our team at Rocktail to help play a role, however small, in countering the threats that humankind is placing on our marine environments. We will continue to invest both time and resources to support the ongoing conservation efforts of the iSimangaliso Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in protecting this fragile ecosystem”, says Patrick Boddam-Whetham, Rocktail MD. “We are also really looking forward to hosting Dr Hughes at Rocktail next year to give our guests the unique opportunity to tap into his expert knowledge on turtle conservation.”
Dr George Hughes will be at Rocktail from 22-24 January 2017 and will be giving three presentations during his stay; one of them will be focused on the Maputaland Turtle Programme entitled Reversing the Trend – 50 years of conservation success.
Turtle viewing is as much of a privilege as diving the untouched offshore coral reefs of the Maputaland Marine Reserve, home to some 1 200 tropical reef and marine species. Whales and dolphins are regular sightings in the waters around Rocktail Camp. Other activities at Rocktail include swimming and relaxing on the beach, snorkelling at Lala Nek, and guided and unguided forest walks, scorpion night walks and birding in the Maputaland Coastal Forest.
For ‘10 Fascinating Facts about Turtles’, click here