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Tracking turtles on SA’s north coast

Under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, most turtles are listed as vulnerable, near threatened or critically endangered. Of the marine turtles listed as vulnerable, iSimangaliso’s protected coastline has five species.

This World Heritage Site’s pristine beaches are one of the last significant nesting sites in Africa for loggerhead and leatherback turtles. The number and rate of hatchlings produced on iSimangaliso’s beaches are some of the best in the world. Poaching is rare, natural predation is low, and the nests are well protected.

To conserve these shy giants of the sea, the Department of Environmental Affairs, together with iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is working with the Park’s surrounding communities to conduct turtle monitoring over 220km of iSimangaliso’s coastline.

Local community members are employed from October to March each year to monitor nesting, numbers and sizes of leatherback and loggerhead turtles on the 56km stretch of beach between Kosi mouth and Mabibi. With less than 100 nesting females coming ashore each year, iSimangaliso’s leatherback turtles, are rarer than Black Rhino.

The turtles of iSimangaliso, have received significant conservation attention, producing a noteworthy increase in the loggerhead turtle population since the start of the turtle monitoring programme. The challenge for the iSimangaliso Authority is that once turtles leave the Park’s shores and swim across the high seas, they are extremely vulnerable to threats such as longline fishing methods, pollution and harvesting.

The project is a Department of Environmental Affairs flagship programme that shows how sustainable livelihoods can be developed through conservation.

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