Turtle Conservation South Africa
About Turtle Conservation South Africa Project
Turtles have complex life histories that involve long, solitary periods at sea before returning to the (original) beach they hatched from to nest. During nesting periods, turtles and nests become increasingly susceptible to both natural and human threats. Nesting turtles make soft targets for their meat and shells and are easily disturbed by lights, vehicles driving on the beach and an array of other human activities that can disrupt the nesting process. Natural threats to nests and hatchlings include beach erosion, flooding tides and natural predators (honey badgers, bush pigs, ants, monitor lizards, wild cats, crabs, etc.), while non-natural threats include egg harvesting, non-natural predators such as dogs and trampling by cars or people.
The coastline of northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and southern Mozambique – as the only location in the Indian Ocean where leatherback turtles nest and home to a geographically distinct loggerhead breeding population – represents a small yet ecologically important population for both species during the summer nesting months.
Leatherback turtles are considered critically endangered on the IUCN red list and, although extensive conservation efforts are being made, abundances of nesting leatherback turtles along this section of coastline remain low. In recent years the local population of nesting turtles has increased, partly as a result of legislation banning all vehicles from driving on KZN beaches, as well as conservation efforts via continued monitoring and research by scientists, members of the local community and volunteers.
Volunteers stay in the research hut at the beach in sharing rooms, although some volunteers opt to sleep on mattresses on the porch, under the stars. There is an outhouse toilet and a bathroom/shower with hot and cold water in the research hut and a dining/common room and kitchen. The kitchen is equipped with gas-powered fridge/freezer and oven/stove.
Volunteers prepare their own meals and are responsible for daily cleaning of their own living space. At times there may be a camp cleaner for maintenance and servicing of other communal areas. The camp’s electricity is supplied by a generator, which is only turned on for a few hours in the evening (generally 5-10pm) for charging of electrical equipment and data entry on the laptop.
WEI staff stays on-site in the marine camp; this is an ideal opportunity for volunteers to gain firsthand knowledge from experienced staff about the challenges and rewards of living and working in a marine environment.
What will you do?
Each night volunteers are required to walk along a specified beach route, searching for and recording details on nesting turtles, nests and hatchlings in early and late shifts.
A series of key variables need to be recorded on data sheets whenever a nesting turtle or nest site is encountered. These include species, locations (GPS), size and nesting activity, while individual turtles will be photographed and checked for tags. If no tags are found, the turtle will be tagged. At nesting sites, egg sizes and numbers will also be recorded, while during the hatching season, nest success and the number of hatchlings will be recorded for each nest, as well as certain nesting information.
At the completion of each shift in the field, volunteers are required to return to the research camp to process and enter the data that has been collected into a computer database. Training on how to perform monitoring and research tasks will be provided by the marine biologist and/or other researchers, who will continue to support volunteers throughout the monitoring period. The annual monitoring period is limited to 5 months of the summer season, from 01 November to 31 March.