The coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the only remaining major nesting site in Africa where Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles still lay their eggs. These important breeding grounds have been protected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the conservation partners of the Wetland Park Authority, for over 50 years.
This ancient nesting ritual starts early in November every year. The female emerges from the surf and rests in the wash zone alert for danger – at this point she is easily disturbed. She then moves above the high tide mark to find a suitable site, where the laborious process of digging a nest, down to 1m in depth, commences. After laying a batch of 80-100 eggs, she carefully closes the nest and conceals its presence from foragers like jackals, genets, honey badgers and ghost crabs. The cumbersome journey back to sea follows.
The eggs can take up to 70 days to hatch, with the hatchlings emerging at night and making their way to the sea from January through to March every year. Approximately 4 hatchlings from every 1000 are estimated to reach maturity. Recent evidence suggests that female turtles return to the beaches where they hatched. How they know the route back to the spots they hatched on remains a mystery.
Turtle tours operate from November to March every year from St Lucia and Cape Vidal (Shoreline Boat Safaris & Turtle Tours; Thompsons Tours), Sodwana Bay (Phinda and Ufudu Tours), Mabibi (Thonga Beach Lodge), Island Rock (Rocktail Beach Camp) and Bhanga Nek (Community guides).