The magical meeting point of the different ocean currents along the African coastline is the prime spot for safari-goers wishing to get a closer look at the continent’s turtle hatching phenomenon. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles across vast stretches of water display their fondness for the warmer conditions in these regions.
Visitors will stand astonished at the ability of both species to navigate their way around the globe. Leatherbacks navigate by way of the sun and their extremely accurate circadian rhythm. Loggerheads use their brains to tune into the earth’s magnetic field to move across vast distances.
As critically endangered species, these animals rely on tourism to contribute to their future existence. Nesting sites and migration routes are protected through ecotourism ventures in all major nesting sites.
Trekking turtles to observe the hatching of countless little ones and being close by as they make their way from the beach to the wide-open water is an unbelievable experience. Being witness to the display of intricate rituals that have been in place for millennia, is an event not to be missed.
Existing long before reptiles like crocodiles and snakes through evidence found in fossils millions of years old, the rich and varied history of turtles make these animals truly enigmatic. Of the seven sea turtle species in existence, five make an appearance in the waters of the African coast as “Threatened” species.
With a weight of up to 400 kilograms, the leatherback turtle is the largest of all sea turtle species and can dive to a depth of 300 metres. The loggerhead turtle varies in size between 70 and 100 centimetres in length.
The females of both species have an arduous journey through motherhood. They lay between six and nine clutches of eggs, with each containing up to 120 eggs. This means she can produce as many as a thousand eggs in one breeding season.
Considering the lengths and breadths these species go to procreate, it is no wonder that there are some unusual facts to discover:
• The crocodile is the only reptile larger than a leatherback turtle.
• Loggerhead turtles migrate up to 10,000 kilometres a year while leatherbacks go a distance of over 16,000 kilometres.
• Females return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs.
• Hatchling swim for a period of up to 20 hours when they first reach the ocean.
• Sea turtles disappear for a period of between seven and 12 years right after they are born—it is known as the “lost years”.
Traversing thousands of kilometres across the Indian Ocean, the hatching grounds of sea turtles on the shores of east and southern Africa attract numerous visitors each year. The unique water of the warm Indian Ocean has led to the name of “turtle country”.
Various spots exist on the Elephant Coast of South Africa, between Kosi Bay and St Lucia and including the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where this natural phenomenon occurs. Elsewhere on the continent, the endangered green sea turtle can be found on Mnemba Island in Zanzibar. On Vamizi Island in Mozambique, turtle hatching occurs all year round.
In South Africa, the turtle hatching season occurs between November and March when female loggerhead and leatherback turtles leave the ocean to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. The peak season to observe the endangered green sea turtle in Zanzibar is between April and July, while any time of the year is good to go and spot sea turtles on Vamizi Island in Mozambique.