Coast KZN

21 Oct 2016

Wetland park celebrates its marine life

Judi Davis (South Coast Herald)

Kelly Brown and Jerry Ntombela of uShaka Sea World prepare to release rehabilitated turtles into the ocean at iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay.

Last week was designated Marine Week in South Africa

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park had plenty of reasons to celebrate National Marine Week last week, not least because it is one of just 49 Marine World Heritage Sites in the world.

Together with a section of the Mozambique coastline, it is also Africa’s largest transfrontier Marine Protected Area. The entire coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, from Kosi Bay on the Mozambique border to the Cape St Lucia lighthouse, was proclaimed a World Heritage site in 1999. The 220km of this coastline , extending from the high water mark to three nautical miles or 5.6 km offshore, is a part of the wetland park.

As this marine section contains more than 1 200 species of fish, around 100 species of warm water coral, five species of turtle – including the endangered leatherback – and the world’s oldest fish, the coelacanth, the importance of conserving these marine treasures is a critical aspect of park management.

In recent weeks, the park has enjoyed a few marine conservation highlights. Last week, one hawksbill named ‘Hawk’ and two green turtles, Canelloni and Franki, were returned to the ocean at iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay section after spending time in the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation facility under the care of aquarists and the animal health team.

Hawk was sent to uShaka by staff at Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre in Plettenberg Bay after it was brought in to them by Cape Nature Conservation officials. Canelloni and Franki originated from Cape waters where they were rescued by staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town.

Canelloni, the larger of the green turtles, was tagged with an external flipper tag that will allow possible sightings of this turtle by divers to be recorded. Sodwana Bay was chosen as a release site because of its safe location.

iSimangaliso has numerous inshore and offshore reefs that are considered ideal sites as they boast abundant foraging grounds with minimal human impact. Both green and hawksbill turtles are often encountered within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, along with leatherback, loggerhead and olive Ridley turtles.

Earlier this month, three large potato bass, former iSimangaliso residents, were tagged with acoustic tags and returned to their original home after spending several years in the Reef Predator Exhibit at uShaka Sea World.

According to Simangaliso’s research manager, Nerosha Govender, the park currently has 46 registered marine research projects. These constitute 25 percent of all park research. Projects include studies on coelacanths, whale sharks, tiger sharks, coral health and the longest-running turtle research programme in the world.