At Thonga Beach Lodge we are privileged to host some of the most hardcore turtles in the world – the famous Leatherback. Of course, we do our very best to keep these rugged giants happy, keeping our beach in pristine condition so that when they travel so many miles to select just the right safe spot to lay their turtly eggs, they choose our protected shores. Leatherback turtles are one of the two species of turtle that lay their eggs in the Tonga Bay area of the North coast of South Africa. The largest breed of sea turtles, Leatherbacks, can weigh as much as 900kg. Amazingly, they are also the fastest swimmers in the reptile family, and can reach speeds of up to 35 km/hour! This is 4 times higher than the fastest recorded human swimming speed which is 8,6 km/hour.
Not only are they the heavy swimmers of the ocean, they dive deeper and travel further than other turtle species, and where other turtles rest for a few hours a day while they are migrating, leatherbacks rest for only 1 minute a day. They feed on jelly fish, eating roughly their own body-weight in jelly fish each day.
Leatherback turtles lay about 1000 eggs each year, but of these only one tiny baby turtle is likely to survive into adulthood. The female turtles dig a hole in the sand and lay around 100 eggs in the hole, burying the eggs carefully afterwards. They do this about 9 times in different nests in one summer season. After about 70 days the tiny baby turtles hatch and start to make their way to the sea, hopefully escaping the sea birds and other predators on their way. If you are lucky you can see some of these baby turtles hatching at Tonga Bay.
In spite of being such huge, fast swimmers, leatherback turtles are critically endangered. They do not have any natural predators, but their numbers are dropping drastically because of human irresponsibility. Many beaches have been ruined by buildings or mining, leaving fewer and fewer places available for turtles to build their nests. Many turtles are caught by accident in large fishing nets, and others choke because they have eaten plastic packets, mistaking these for jelly fish. Some turtles have also been injured or killed because of plastic straws in the ocean. Tonga Bay are very concerned about the natural environment, and therefore have a careful conservation policy, for example avoiding the use of straws and other environmentally damaging practices.
The other species of turtle that you can see in the Tonga Bay area is the loggerhead turtle. You can read a lot of information about these two turtle species on the Tonga Beach Lodge website at https://www.thongabeachlodge.co.za/portfolios/turtle-tracking/