iSimangaliso celebrates Marine Week

17 Oct 2016

iSimangaliso is one of only 49 Marine World Heritage Sites globally – and also comprises Africa’s largest trans-frontier Marine Protected Area together with Mozambique. The entire coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a proclaimed World Heritage site (1999) under the World Heritage Convention Act. From the Mozambique border at Kosi Bay to the vicinity of the Cape St Lucia lighthouse south of St Lucia, a 220km stretch of coastline which extends from the high water mark to a distance of three nautical miles (5.6 km) offshore is part of the greater proclaimed iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

With over 1200 species of fish and around 100 species of warm water coral; five species of turtle including the endangered leatherback; and the world’s oldest known fish – the coelacanth – the importance of conserving our marine treasures is a critical aspect of our Park management.

In recent weeks, the Park has enjoyed a few marine conservation highlights worth sharing.

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

Last week, one hawksbill (‘Hawk’) and two green turtles (‘Canelloni’ & ‘Franki’) were returned to the ocean at iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay section after spending time in the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation facility and turtle exhibit under the care of aquarists and the Animal Health team. After receiving final health clearances from resident veterinarian Dr Francois Lampen, all three turtles were loaded into transportation crates and driven to Sodwana Bay for their release.

‘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 and ‘Canellloni’ 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 which will allow possible sightings of this turtle by divers to be recorded.

Sodwana Bay was chosen as a release site because of its location within the safety of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. iSimangaliso has numerous inshore and offshore reefs that are considered ideal release sites as they boast abundant foraging grounds with minimal human impact, which is imperative for healthy rehabilitated turtles.

Both green and hawksbill turtles are often encountered within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, along with leatherback, loggerhead and olive Ridley turtles.

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Earlier this month, a few former Sodwana Bay residents were returned to their original waters. Three large potato bass, weighing between 25kg and 30kg, were released after spending several years in the Reef Predator Exhibit at uShaka Sea World. Dr Camilla Floros joined them in the water (above left) (Photos Stuart Laing, ORI).

Prior to the release of the potato bass each was tagged with an acoustic tag as well as a yellow ORI (Oceanographic Research Institute) spaghetti tag, by Dr Camilla Floros who is currently conducting an acoustic telemetry project under the auspices of iSimangaliso on both potato bass and green jobfish in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Acoustic tags emit a unique “ping” for each individual fish (like a cell phone number or identification number) that can be identified by underwater listening stations which have been placed at strategic locations within iSimangaliso.

“The listening stations can detect an acoustically tagged fish up to a radius of 300m, and will provide valuable information on their natural ability to establish territories after being in captivity for a number of years” said Floros.

The potato bass were tagged in September and monitored in quarantine for five days before they were given their medical clearance and driven to Sodwana Bay for release on Two-mile Reef.

iSimangaliso’s Research Manager Nerosha Govender says, “We currently have 46 registered marine research projects – 25% of all Park research – the data from which is very useful in informing the management of our World Heritage Site. These include studies on coelacanths, whale sharks, tiger sharks, coral health, and the longest running turtle research programme in the world.”

Media enquiries should be directed to Bronwyn Coppola +27 83 450 9111 or bronwyn@abetterworld.co.za.