Turtle Nesting in Kosi Bay
One of the biggest highlights of the year from November to February rare Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches in the Kosi Bay area. This is the last and only protected area where these turtles can nest in South Africa.
Kosi Bay’s Nesting Turtles
Every year a spectacular event happens along the Kosi coast line this being Turtle Nesting Season. The season opens in October with the first female loggerhead and leatherback turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Other turtles also lay eggs on the beaches these being green and hawksbill turtles but these are smaller and less impressive. The season ends around the end of February when the hatchlings have made their attempt to reach the sea and carry on the cycle.
Both the leatherback and loggerhead turtles are migratory covering vast distances in the ocean and only returning to their birthplace after 25 or more years of maturity. They also don’t necessarily lay eggs every year either and can skip laying for 3 to 5 years or more.
These turtles seek seclusion to lay their eggs and only return to their birth beach to lay. With coastal property at a premium development has seriously diminished the nesting grounds of these large turtles. With development comes light and when light shines onto beaches turtles will not come ashore to lay their eggs. They are so sensitive that even if approached when arriving on the beach they will turn around and return to the sea, fearing that their precious clutch of eggs could be discovered and plundered. Nesting grounds of these turtles are nowadays scarce and need to be protected.
The Bhanga Nek Turtle Research Station was erected in the 1960’s and remains today to study and protect nesting turtles on this stretch of beach. This is not however the only beach where the turtles are protected but all beaches have monitors that camp in the bush to monitor and record nesting and provide protection for the turtles their nests and their young. The research staff measure, and tag the turtles. They also make a GPS note of the nest and date and time. These days with the advent of DNA marking they take samples of the turtles to determine DNA profiles. This practice can seem a bit cruel but is necessary for identification and further study of young and possible linking to males that are mating with the female turtles. This data is and will prove invaluable as when the turtles leave the beaches we have very little data about their movements. Satellite tracking is also being used but due to the depths these turtles dive and time they spend under water is proving to be difficult and costly.
Over the nesting season it is illegal to tamper with any turtle or their young, you should not be on the beach unless part of a guided group and no torches are allowed as this confuses the sensitive turtles. If torches should be used a red light is preferable to a white light. Turtle guides are chosen by conservation authorities for their interest in the turtle’s protection and their knowledge of the subject. Groups should always remember that turtle sightings are never guaranteed. Weather conditions like lightning, full moon, low tides and rough seas hamper the turtles will to nest. After heavy rain the sands get hard and turtles cannot easily excavate their nests this also contributes to them being unwilling to come ashore.
These large turtles are under extreme pressure to survive only about 2 out of a 1000 or more hatchlings will make it to egg laying maturity and of these 2 one could be male. The threats are many and varied from natural factors to manmade factors. Fishing practices account for a large number of losses as does pollution and harvesting. Natural factors occur in the sea and on land with predators eager to have an easy meal on young hatchings and occasionally adult turtles.
I won’t expand anymore on the actual experience as your turtle guide will expand on this information when you are on the beach.
This is an experience that should not be missed if you are in the area over the nesting period.