The protected waters off iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay section recently became the new home for a rehabilitated adult female loggerhead turtle known as ‘Herbie’. Named after the popular 1970s movie character Herbie (A VW ‘Beetle’ car) for her rounded shell hump, she had been a deeply loved resident at uShaka Sea World in Durban for over 15 years prior to being released into the World Heritage Site where so many of her kind are found.
There were tears of joy and sadness from her carers at her grand send-off from iSimangaliso’s Nine Mile Beach as Herbie eagerly pulled her 142kg body towards the crystal clear waves, with the gentle singing of storyteller extraordinaire Dr. Gcina Mhlophe to serenade her departure. Mhlophe is not only passionate about turtles but feels a deep and ancient connection to them.
She has made it her mission to improve awareness and protection of the species through her moving and powerful poetry, books and public speaking in several languages. The group was also honoured to have the company of the renowned turtle conservationist Dr. George Hughes.
Herbie is fitted with a satellite transmitter kindly donated by the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, which is fixed to her shell to enable tracking of her progress through the ocean for up to three years, and updates show that she has already started her journey southward.
Tags fitted to several other turtles in recent years have provided a tremendous wealth of information to scientists, and enable us to improve conservation efforts to protect these marine animals. The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) will share regular updates of her whereabouts so that the public can be part of her journey – visit www.saambr.org.za.
Sea turtles are one of iSimangaliso’s most iconic animals, with five of the world’s seven species found in our waters. Both the gigantic, warm blooded leatherback turtle and the smaller loggerhead turtle breed along the sandy shores of iSimangaliso, nesting in the mineral-rich beach sand dunes.
Hawksbill and green turtles live on the reefs and sea grass beds as juveniles. The rare olive ridley turtle, the smallest sea turtle in the world at 45kg, enters the waters of iSimangaliso, but it is seldom encountered.
Turtles are critically endangered across all oceans. Turtle populations have declined due to overharvesting for food and turtle shell products. They are vulnerable to oil spills, vehicles driving on the beaches they lay eggs on, predation and nest flooding.
Boat propellers often inflict serious wounds. Turtles drown because they become entangled in fishing lines and nets. Discarded plastic bags, bottles and wrappers that end up in the ocean look like the turtles' main prey, jellyfish. If turtles eat them their digestive system becomes blocked and they eventually die.
With all the threats facing turtles, the protection afforded by our Marine Protected Area as well as the efforts of dedicated researchers is critical, and every nest that successfully hatches, a success for the hopeful future of these prehistoric animals.