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Sea turtles

© Fiona McIntosh© Fiona McIntoshFive species of turtles occur in southern African waters but only two, the Leatherback and the Loggerhead, nest here and then only on a short stretch of the Maputaland coast in KwaZulu-Natal, and in Mozambique. Between October and February each year the turtles return to nest on the same stretch of beach where they themselves were born. The female emerges from the sea at night, and moves above the high water mark to dig her nest and lay her eggs, during which time she is particularly vulnerable to danger as she is in almost a trancelike state. The massive leatherback, that can reach a weight of some 900 kilograms, lays up to 1000 eggs each season in batches of 100 to 120 eggs every 9 days or so. The smaller loggerhead, which is the most common turtle in southern African waters and which reaches a weight of some 160 kilograms, lays up to 500 eggs each season in batches of 100 to 120 eggs every 13 days. The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the young, about 24 °C producing males and about 29°C producing females. The eggs of both species hatch some 65 days later, usually at night and, as the hatchlings make their way to the sea, many fall prey to ghost crabs, sea birds and even jackals. The lucky ones are swept by currents to the south where they mark time swimming around in recirculating currents and counter-currents until they reach sexual maturity and return to the coral reefs of Maputaland and Mozambique. When the time is right, the females, like their mothers before them, instinctively return to the same beach to nest. These fascinating creatures can be viewed on special turtle tours operated by KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and a few select lodges along the Maputaland coast.

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