South African Snapshots: no 14

Turtles.

I once had the enormous privilege to visit the northern KwaZulu Natal coast during turtle nesting season. To see these giant animals emerge from the sea to crawl far up on the beach, dig their nests and then deposit their eggs into it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had! We drove along the moonlit beach, the only sound that of the waves lapping the shore. Then suddenly, a track appeared in the sand. We had found a loggerhead! As the turtle start disposing of the eggs, she goes into a sort of trance and nothing will disturb her so we could get very close.

Loggerhead turtle

A loggerhead turtle digging her nest

We continued driving along the beach which looked like a fairytale landscape, with rocks casting shadows and the crests of the waves almost luminescent like silver foam in the moonlight. It wasn’t long until we saw another track. This time, it was much bigger though and the crew grew excited. A leatherback! At close to two meters long, this is the largest living turtle in the world!

A leatherback turtle being measured by the conservation team at Rocktail Beach camp

A leatherback turtle being measured by the conservation team at Rocktail Beach camp

She lays over 100 eggs, which can take her a few hours. She may repeat this close to ten times in one breeding season.

She lays over 100 eggs, which can take her a few hours. She may repeat this close to ten times in one breeding season.

Once she has filled the nest, she scatters sand to camouflage the nest

Once she has filled the nest, she scatters sand to camouflage the nest

I usually don't go for the "touching wild animals experience" but we were in the company of one of the world's greatest turtle authority, who said it would not bother her at all. Wow, what a feeling!

I usually don’t go for the “touching wild animals experience” but we were in the company of one of the world’s greatest turtle authority, who said it would not bother her at all. Wow, what a feeling!

We stayed at Rocktail Beach Camp, a wonderful little camp a stone’s throw from the beach which is a protected area. Offshore from the lodge is the Maputaland Marine Reserve which together with the St Lucia Marine Reserves forms a continuous protected area stretching 150 km from the Mozambique border southwards to Cape Vidal and 3 nautical miles out to sea. These marine reserves are component areas of the World Heritage Site iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The 332,000 hectare park contains three major lake systems; eight interlinking ecosystems; 700 year old fishing traditions; most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests; Africa’s largest estuarine system; 526 bird species; and 25,000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which almost seems to be an understatement for this unique place. Read more about my stay at Rocktail here.

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