Turtles released at Sodwana Bay Shootout

The newly released Green turtle pair, nicknamed  ‘Mel’ and ‘Grotto’, have been in the care of uShaka Sea World for the past three weeks after being found stranded in separate incidents. Green turtles – although they do not nest on our shores – are resident in iSimangaliso. The nearest breeding grounds are in the Mozambique Channel. Adults may reach sizes of about 78 to 112 cm and weigh between 68 and 186 kilograms.

Little ‘Mel’ is small, weighing only 816 grams.  She stranded at the Willows outside of Port Elizabeth on 16 December 2015 and was taken to Bayworld for initial care.  She was treated for “shell rot” and thankfully recovered completely.  Mel has a healthy appetite and gained weight steadily throughout the year. Two weeks ago she was transported to Durban closer to her natural habitat and ultimate release site.

Grotto, whose gender is unknown, is larger and weighs 12.6 kg with a carapace length of 480 mm.  Grotto was taken to the Two Oceans Aquarium after stranding on Grotto Beach on 29 April this year.

Both turtles were checked by uShaka’s resident veterinarian Dr Francois Lampen, who found them to be in good health and ready for release.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is renowned for many attributes, including biodiversity and its five major interlinking ecosystems. Amongst these are the spectacular coral reefs off Sodwana Bay and the Coastal Forest section of the Park, which provide shelter to myriad sea life, notably five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles. iSimangaliso’s reefs form part of an extensive marine protected area, where habitat destruction and harvesting are minimal threats to the turtles visiting our Park. With the numerous sheltered inshore reefs and the protection afforded by a Marine World Heritage Site, Mabibi represents a safe release site for small green turtles.

Our shores are also the last significant breeding site of leatherback and loggerhead turtles in Africa.  Turtles are threatened worldwide by human impact. Threats include habitat loss and degradation, wildlife trade, collection of eggs and meat for consumption, incidental capture in commercial and subsistence fisheries (bycatch), climate change and pollution. Diving at Sodwana Bay offers a great opportunity to spot – and photograph – one or more of the five sea turtle species that occur in these protected waters.

This is not the first time rehabilitated turtles and other marine species have been released into iSimangaliso, which has also provided a safe haven for rescued hawksbill turtles and potato bass in recent years.

With a legacy of over 60 years of turtle research and conservation along its well protected shores – the longest running in the world – every effort is being made by iSimangaliso, with its partners SAAMBR (incorporating uShaka Sea World) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, to ensure that this and other turtles survive and thrive,” says iSimangaliso Authority CEO Andrew Zaloumis.

Turtle tours operate from November to March and provide the opportunity for Park visitors to witness the miracle of egg laying and hatching of the loggerhead and leatherback turtles on the iSimangaliso beaches. Tours depart from St Lucia, Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Mabibi, Manzengwenya and Bhanga Nek.

Visit the iSimangaliso website for more information.