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Turtle hatchlings

Posted on 4 Dec 2016 | 8 comments

“There’s a turtle hatching on south beach tomorrow in case anyone is interested.” That was the message Jude received on Monday afternoon at 4.47pm. It had been sent 13 minutes prior to our Whatsapp group and needed a response before 5pm. The trip would only be organized if there was enough interest.

There was not enough interest…

So, Carla decided to see if it was possible to go anyway. The travel agency put us in contact directly with the guide from Sea Sense. Sea Sense is a not-for-profit organisation which is trying to protect turtles, dugongs and whalesharks along the Tanzanian coast. The next morning Carla spoke to Juma and was told we would be very welcome to watch the turtles hatch. We made our donation to Sea Sense and drove down to The Lighthouse, a hotel near the nest where we were going to meet our guide Juma, approximately 1.5 – 2hrs drive south from Dar es Salaam.

We arrived early and first had a drink and went for a swim in the warm ocean before checking out the nest located towards the end of the beach. Apparently the nest was ‘ready to go’ so we quickly got changed and headed back over.

a quick dip with Isla and Evan

a quick dip with Isla and Evan

Juma, our guide from Sea Sense, gave us an explanation of the nesting process, asked us to read the sign with the do’s and don’ts when the baby turtles emerge from the nest and explained this was a green turtle’s nest. It had been protected with 3 pegs and rope strung around it since the day she had laid the eggs, about 55 days earlier. They removed the rope and pegs from around the nest and created a barrier for us to stand behind. But luckily, as there were only a few people watching, we were allowed to get closer once the hatchlings moved away from the nest.

Green turtles – some random facts

  • The green turtle gets it’s name for the colour of its body fat, not the colour of its shell.
  • They can grown up to 112cm long and weigh up to 186kg, although the largest ever recorded was 1.5m and weighed 395kg! Males and females are similar in size.
  • A green turtle is a sea turtle and they can’t retract their head or flippers underneath its shell like land turtles.
  • Sea turtles don’t have an external ear opening.
  • In the wild they can live to 80 years.
  • The green turtle is found worldwide, both in tropical and subtropical oceans.
  • It is listed as endangered due to habitat loss, dying in nets and humans collecting the turtles and their eggs for food.
  • Juveniles are carnivorous, but as they mature they become herbivores.
  • Green turtles swim at around 2.5-3km per hour.
  • Females usually mate only once every 2-4 years, laying between 85 and 200 eggs in a nest, often on the same beach she was born. She will make 3-5 nests in a season. Each nest is dug with her hind flippers, about 50cm deep and covered with sand after she is finished. They hatch after between 50 and 70 days and only about 1% of all baby turtles will reach sexual maturity, which they reach between 20 and 50 years.
  • Green turtles generally stay under water for 4-5 minutes before they come up for air, but they can stay under water for several hours when asleep. To protect themselves whilst sleeping many wedge themselves under rocks or ledges, some returning to the same spot night after night.
  • Depending on the temperature of the nest, females or males are born. Nests under 30 degrees produce more males and those above 30 degrees produce more females. Eggs in the center of the nest tend to be females as it is warmer there.

Before the baby turtles started coming out, they were given a helping hand from 2 of the guys from Sea Sense. They dug out the layer of hard top soil and replaced it with a thin layer of soft and dry sand, making it a lot easier for the little turtles to dig their way out. It was around 4.30pm when the first turtle made its appearance and after a few seconds needed orientate himself he was off in the direction of the ocean, a long way away.

removing the top layer of sand above the nest

removing the top layer of sand above the nest

there goes a little baby turtle

there goes a little baby turtle

isn't he cute?!

isn’t he cute?!

They are so cute!!

It’s a long way to the ocean for a baby turtle, and in this case when they reached the water, it was a rock pool and not the ocean. More climbing was needed over the section of reef before they would actually reach the ocean. I followed one of the baby turtles all the way from the nest to the water’s edge. They move pretty quickly over the sand with their tiny little flippers.

Jude watching one of the baby turtles heading to the ocean

Jude watching one of the baby turtles heading to the ocean

wait, I'm coming!

wait, I’m coming!

still a way to go...

still a way to go…

this one is nearly there

this one is nearly there

this baby turtle feels water for the very first time!

this baby turtle feels water for the very first time!

when you are this small, seaweed is quite an obstacle

when you are this small, seaweed is quite an obstacle

I can swim!

I can swim!

coming up for a breath of air

coming up for a breath of air

the exposed section of reef the baby turtles had to cross... this one is getting a little confused and heading the wrong way.

the exposed section of reef the baby turtles had to cross… this one is getting a little confused and heading the wrong way.

they will spend most of their lives in the water

they will spend most of their lives in the water

It would take them just under 2 hours before the last one was safely across the rocks and into the ocean proper. One of the guys was giving some of the baby turtles a (gloved) helping hand to get across the rocks, making sure they weren’t going to be scooped up by a hungry sea gull or a big crab. The poor things must have been exhausted by the time they reached the ocean.

some are getting a ride across the rocks

some are getting a ride across the rocks

so cute and so tiny!

so cute and so tiny!

We had another quick drink before heading back to Dar, trying to get there before darkness fell. Both Isla and Evan fell asleep on the way home, they were pretty exhausted too. What an amazing day!

There is one more nest due to hatch in 2016, we hope we will be able to both go when it happens…

still a long way to go for this one...

still a long way to go for this one…

If you want to join a trip to see a nest of baby turtles hatch near Dar es Salaam, send info@authentictanzania.com an email and ask them to add you to their mailing list.

You can find more information on the Sea Sense website.

Update: 5 days after Jude went to see the turtles hatch, another nest was hatching on Sunday. This time Jon also enjoyed watching the baby turtles hatch. Here are some highlights from that day:

Debbie, Carl, Carla, Jude, Jon & Karl - pre-turtle-hatching dip in the pool

Debbie, Carl, Carla, Jude, Jon & Karl – pre-turtle-hatching dip in the pool

don't mind me...

don’t mind me…

quintuplets!!

quintuplets!!

Jon getting close and personal with the baby turtles - how many can you see?

Jon getting close and personal with the baby turtles – how many can you see?

I'm winning!

I’m winning!

this one made it safely to the ocean

this one made it safely to the ocean

Jude trying to find the baby turtles as they swim past

Jude trying to find the baby turtles as they swim past

green turtle meets ocean

green turtle meets ocean

this could be a postcard... safari njema (have a good journey)!

this could be a postcard… safari njema (have a good journey)!

8 Comments

  1. oh, they are so cute, would love to see them!

    • yeah aren’t they super cute?! you will have to come and visit and stay a while… it is pretty hard to predict when they will hatch. I think we were very lucky!

  2. Awesome! Can’t believe those little guys get so big!

    • 🙂 isn’t it amazing?! We saw one the other day on a dive that was as big as me…!! unbelievable! sadly only about 1 out of 100 or so baby turtles make it to adult size and breeding… so every little baby turtle counts!

  3. Super gaaf om te zien en te lezen!

    • 🙂 Dacht wel dat jij de schildpadjes leuk zou vinden! was super om te zien!

  4. Great photos Jude!! What a wonderful thing to be able to witness 🙂

    • thanks! it was, we have seen a turtle laying eggs in Australia but never saw the babies come out. E&L would have loved it!

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