For millions of years, sea turtles have instinctually returned to the place where they were born to lay their eggs. Often they travel thousands of kilometres between foraging and nesting sites, following the warmer waters as the seasons change. They move up and down the Indian Ocean, off the Eastern and Southern shores of Africa.
These animals are critically endangered and the protection of their nesting sites and migration routes is one of the essential components in their conservation. Visitors make a valuable contribution to the survival of the species, while getting to participate in a ritual as old as the dawn of time.
Between November and January, leatherback and loggerhead turtles emerge from the Indian Ocean to lay their eggs at Sodwana Bay in South Africa. On Mnemba Island in Zanzibar, endangered green sea turtle season typically runs from February to July (peaking from April to July). On Vamizi Island in Mozambique, turtle layings occur year round with hatchlings emerging approximately 55 days later.
The laying is a chance to see adult turtles. Having migrated back to the beach they hatched on, the mother turtles climb the beach and dig a hole above the high tide mark into which the eggs are laid. Once the process is complete, she returns to the sea, repeating the process every eleven days or so throughout the nesting season. Adult sea turtles can be enormous. Leatherbacks average 1.5 metres in length and can weigh up to 700kg, while loggerhead turtles are smaller at an average of 0,8 metres and a weight of up to 200kg. Both turtle species lay over 100 eggs in every clutch.
Hatchings are a different sight as the tiny baby hatchling turtles dig their way out and then make the treacherous crossing of the shore, through the rough waves and out to sea. They get picked on by seabirds, crabs, otters and an array of other opportunists.
Wilderness Safaris runs turtle night drives and walks from Rocktail Camp in Sodwana to see the turtles laying in the early season and then the hatchlings dash for the ocean later on. &Beyond has done remarkable work to protect Sea Turtles and, as part of this, has built the most beautiful lodges in remote settings that allow you access to the turtle migration in Mozambique and Zanzibar (in addition to South Africa). Like all natural sightings, nothing is ever guaranteed, but being in the right place during the right season gives you the best chance at seeing the sea turtle migration.