Turtles conjure up magical imagery of large creatures gracefully swimming across the ocean. The idea of a swimming “tortoise” has both amazed and delighted many generations of visitors to the ocean.
Zanzibar is no different in that two types of turtles are found along its coast, these are the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle. Green turtles are the larger of the two with a wide smooth shells. These turtles are found around the world in tropical and subtropical waters. Their name is not due to the colour of their skin. These animals can weigh in excess of 700 pounds making them the largest type of turtle in the ocean. They typically eat seaweed and algae. As with all turtles, green turtles are unable to retract their head into their shell. Males are slightly larger than females and have longer tails.
Green Turtles breed every two to four years, with females returning to the exact beach where they were born. Once there they will lay between 100-200 eggs. These eggs are buried in a large pit and hatch after two months.
Green turtles are highly endangered. Animals are hunted for their meat and turtle eggs are seen as a delicacy. Numerous animals are also injured or killed by boat propellers as well as being caught up in fishing nets.
Hawksbill turtles are found throughout the tropical waters of the world. Unlike green turtles, they prefer shallower waters and are found around reefs ages. These turtles are quite small in size, only growing to 45 inches and weighing about 150 pounds. Their shells are incredibly beautiful, with large overlapping plates and striking colours. Hawksbill turtles have small tapered heads which end in a sharp point resembling a beak, hence their name. Also, they have a pair of claws and longer tails than the females and their shells are more brightly coloured. Hawksbill turtles mate every 2-3 years and lay their eggs in a pit on the beach. These eggs take about 60 days to hatch. Large numbers of hatchlings are eaten by crabs or birds as they make their way toward the ocean.
As with green turtles, hawksbill turtles are highly endangered, yet their eggs are still eaten and they are hunted because of their shells. They are also accidentally captured and injured in fishing nets.
Zanzibar Island has a variety of natural aquariums that house and protects these beautiful and graceful creatures. A visit to these places creates a sense of wonder as you get up close and personal with these animals. Also, the income generated by these visits ensures that the turtles can be conserved for future generations to enjoy and marvel at.
Pondi Ali Hamadi discusses the sea turtles swimming toward him across the lagoon as a father would his children.
He’s raised more of the creatures than he can remember for new life in the Indian Ocean Island Zanzibar.
From a small corner of Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar, he and his team at Mnarani Marine Turtle Conservation Pond nurture newly hatched babies to adolescence and nurse rescued adults to good health.
But one of the hardest jobs has surely been convincing fishermen, in a country where poverty is a prominent reality, not to eat the stricken creatures or sell the shells of Hawksbill turtles caught in error.
“If the turtle is injured and bleeds it will attract sharks, but now they bring it to us, “says Hamadi.
During our visit, the sanctuary was hosting 15 green turtles and two Hawksbills alongside more than 20 babies hatched from salvaged eggs.
More arrive each May as eggs buried in a secured area of sand stir into life.
The infants are raised until they are mature enough to be set free.
“Every February we release them and it is a big day for us,” says Hamadi.
He is worked at a community-based organisation for 15 years.
“If the babies go by themselves to the sea, many are going to die, so if I get 100 eggs, I know I have already saved 100 turtles.”