Tuesday, January 13

Dodging ghost crabs after dark

Mum and I have enjoyed the most extraordinary experience.  Our turtle safari struck gold last night. Less than 15 minutes after driving on to the beach at Sodwana Bay we stumbled across a Leatherback turtle laying eggs above the high tide mark. The animal was enormous.  Our guide estimated she was at least 2 metres from head to tail with a flipper span of a similar size.

We found the turtle just as she was extracting the last few scoops of sand from her nesting hole.  The hole itself is surprisingly deep - at least 80cms.  We then knelt behind her and watched as she laid a large clutch of perfectly round white eggs at its base.  Our guide was almost beside himself with joy. He hadn't seen such a large animal on the beach for quite some time.

As we watched the Leatherback covered the hole, then created a series of decoy "hole impressions" before slowly making her way back down the beach into the Indian Ocean.  Our guide was incredibly conscientious about the animal's welfare throughout the experience.  We were shown how to keep our torch lights away from the turtle's upper body and flash photography was forbidden until the animal had finished laying and covering its eggs.

The ghost crabs were a final highlight of our late night excursion.  The beach we drove on to was relatively narrow.  In places less than ten metres separated the receding tide from enormous coastal dunes and crumbling cliffs.  This narrow fringe of sand was brimming with thousands upon thousands of stark white crabs scurrying madly in the beam of our headlights.  The sight of these dazzling white crustaceans darting about was most unexpected.

Ghost crabs are incredible creatures. The largest crab is rarely more than a few centimetres wide. They hide from predators by burrowing themselves in the sand during daylight hours. Then, as darkness falls, they surface in their millions to scavenge for food. Despite their tiny size they're incredibly agile. Until now I'd never seen one beyond an occasional television image.

I'm still in awe of the entire experience. We both agree that it was well worth staying up to 2am. The turtle was so large and so solid it's hard to describe was we witnessed. It was honestly one of the most incredible natural events I've ever had the privilege to see. Mum was simply blown away and said afterwards it was one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Earlier in the day we also took our final safari drive.  We were rewarded with an equally extra-ordinary viewing of a large male lion watching over two equally impressive lionesses. Then, as the sun sank low over the African landscape, Mum and I toasted the success of our safari.  We're now off to Johannesburg to witness life in one of Africa's largest cities.

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