Durban - The annual sea turtle season in KwaZulu-Natal drew to a dramatic end with the siting of the first green turtle nesting on the beaches of Isimangaliso Wetland Park.
Although five different types of sea turtle are found along the coastline, only the loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest here between October and February, so the green turtle was a big surprise.
It was spotted by guides from Thonga Beach Lodge and Rock Tail Bay Lodge who were taking guests on a turtle safari. Guests, many of whom were foreign tourists, were thrilled to witness this amazing event.
A delighted Dr George Hughes, past chief executive officer of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and author of the book Between the Tides was present.
“Considering how intensely the beach has been monitored for the past 51 years, it is amazing that this is the first recorded incident of a green turtle nesting,” he said.
Hughes was a founding member of the original team that began monitoring KZN’s sea turtles half a century ago.
Now retired, he gives talks and presentations to guests at the two upmarket beach lodges in Isimangaliso Wetland Park during the turtle nesting season, and accompanies them on their guided turtle safaris.
According to Hughes, the nearest green turtle nesting site is Europa Island about 700km away in the southern Mozambique Channel.
“It is not that greens are not common offshore. We have a stable and abundant population of greens in various stages of growth all through the year right down as far as Cape Agulhas.
“In fact, the first green turtle was recorded in Table Bay by Andrew Smith in 1849. It is all the more surprising then that we haven’t had the odd nester before this.
“Of course this might be simply a ‘baby-in-the-taxi’ event, and the poor thing was caught en route to her normal nesting ground by a faster than expected maturation of the clutch of eggs.
“January was excessively hot and, apart from the leatherback, the metabolism of our turtles operates according to the ambient temperature.
“On the other hand the sea appeared to be very warm, possibly warmer than usual, due to global warming, and she might have been misled.
“If global warming is going to accelerate as predicted, we can probably expect more of these incidents. If we are very patient, of course, we could see the products of this nest form the nucleus of a new nesting site for greens.
“One thing we know for sure is that we have prepared well for this by having such a long stretch of the Maputaland coast included in a World Heritage Site and fully protected. We have plenty of room for pioneer turtles.” - Sunday Tribune