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Kian Barker
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Kian Barker

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Turtle nesting months too early

Greetings and Salutations,
 
Loggerhead TurtleSometimes Mother Nature can really deliver an unexpected surprise. However - a surprise is always unexpected, so what is an unexpected surprise. Well nature seldom gets to break any rules, but when rules are broken, there is a reason. Recently on 18 August I had a tour into the Kosi Bay area and the main purpose of this trip was to see the Fish Traps at the Kosi Bay Mouth. After spending a productive afternoon snorkeling amongst coral reef fish, we headed to towards Bhanga Neck to over-night at the local community camp. Since I had some of my relatives from the States with me, I thought "What the Hell", let's temp fate and try for a turtle or two. I had spoken to them so often about watching nesting turtles on the Bhanga Neck beach that I thought we may as well stay at Bhanga Neck camp to get the feel of the area and try for a turtle.
 
After arriving down a 'very' 4x4 track we set-up camp, got a fire going and did a couple of whiskeys. After dinner we had planned to do a beach walk. But after the snorkeling and 4x4 drive - somehow, the will to take a beach stroll had significantly diminished. But I decided "nothing ventured, nothing gained". So I rallied my troops and armed each person with a torch, we cut through a small path and found ourselves on a deserted beach.  The sky above us was filled with stars. Dark it was, but there was a certain sense of excitement about the balmy tropical sea breeze that whorled around us. After giving my guests a briefing on the fact that we might see a turtle and what was necessary if so, we set-off. Walking was easy. Several stops along the beach were used to examine ghost crabs, cowries and other interesting beach debris. An hour and a half we found ourselves a good two kilometers towards Mozambique. Since I was ahead, I noticed in the haze what looked like turtle track. However when you have been staring into the darkness, often you start to imagine what you are looking for. But ten meters further, what I had been looking for and what I thought was my imagination, turned out to be fresh turtle tracks.
 
The sheer excitement of this event turned me into "an over exuberant puppy". But added to the excitement was that there was only one set of tracks! This meant that the turtle was still nesting. Immediately I tried to drag every one up the beach to see the nesting female, but stopped. There is a certain amount of etiquette required when approach a nesting female and I managed to get my excitement and surprise under control. I asked my rather surprised relatives to wait near the surf zone. Then I silently slipped-up the beach to establish at what stage the turtle was during her nesting cycle. My signal was two flashes of my torch! When I arrived at the nesting turtle, I discovered that she was in her final stages of nesting - covering the egg chamber and compacting sand into place. So for the final twenty minutes of this miraculous natural process we had a private show. The loggerhead diligently went about her task of covering the next generation of turtles. After this she headed straight back into the sea. The second wave covered her and she was swallowed into the dark underworld of King Neptune. I was speechless.
 
After jabbering away for a while about the total uniqueness of this situation and how rare it was to have witnessed such an event.  We walked north - a fruitless exercise, because I realized we had seen more than what we had expected to see. Our timing was immaculate to have arrived at the precise time to see this turtle nesting. So we turned back to camp.  The balmy North Easter pushed us down the beach in dark silence, allowing us to reflect on this remarkable moment. My cousin said that he was "surprised" and never expected such luck. I commented that after twenty or so years tracking and watching turtles, I was more than surprised and "nearly fell-off the beach!!"
 
Fortunately we remembered to take a photo, as attached. But prior to departing for this leg of our northwards journey I read an interesting article on News24. Marine scientist had discovered that 2009 had the highest sea temperatures since 1998. There seemed logic here and since loggerhead are cold blooded reptiles any "unseasonal" warming of the Ocean waters would trigger the onset of nesting. Leatherback turtles on the  other hand would not feel the effects, as they are warm blooded. Makes you think?
 
But even with the so called logical explanation I was still amazed at what we had witnessed.
 
Hasta la vista
 
The Knait Writa

Posted by Kian Barker

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