Five of the world’s seven species occur in Mozambican waters.
Meet our Mozambican representatives:
Green turtles of mixed sizes are commonly encountered on dives in Tofo area. The smallest green turtles inhabiting local reefs are approximately 40 cm in carapace (shell) length. Green turtles are omnivorous as juveniles, but as they mature they end up specialist feeders of seagrass and macro-algae.Its their role as a mega-herbivore in reef habitats and seagrass meadows which make them important service providers for healthy functioning ecosystems (Goatley et al. 2012).
Nesting of green turtles occurs in the Bazaruto Archipelago and further northwards along the coast towards Tanzania.
Loggerhead turtles are the most abundant turtle in Southern Mozambican waters. A major Loggerhead rookery occurs in the south in the Ponta Do Ouro area. Here in Tofo, we have Loggerheads nesting between October and February each year, although in recent years, the number of nests along the Inhambane coastline has been severely decreasing.
Loggerheads are commonly sighted on dives in the Tofo area and will often come within close proximity of divers. The average size of Loggerheads encountered is approximately 1 m in carapace length. Although the occasional juvenile or hatchling turtle is washed ashore in big swells during cyclone season (Jan-March).
Hawksbill Turtles are a rarer visitor to the Tofo area, however they may be more commonly encountered on reefs further north in the the Bazaruto Archipelago and beyond. They are specialist feeders of sea sponges and they are one of the large marine creatures to graze on sponges. By doing so they provide alter habitat or space availability for corals and algae to settle and colonise.
Leatherback turtles are highly migratory and prefer oceanic habitat although a number of these gigantic creatures are encountered in Tofo every year. Leatherbacks are commonly sighted in the Tofo area after periods of rough weather, swells and winds which often lead to the upwelling and fronts of cold productive and plankton filled water moving along the coast. When these productive fronts wash through the area, bringing large jellyfish species- the leatherbacks are never far behind! Leatherbacks are specialist feeders of jellyfish and to provide a high enough energy intake, these large marine reptile (avg 450kg) must consume up to 330kg per day, which equates to up to 73% of their body mass (Heaslip et al. 2012).
Leatherback turtles do not have a hard keratin shell like other species, but a soft cartilaginous shell. If you didn’t quite realise from the weights mentioned above, they are also very very large- they are the biggest marine reptile in the world and their size is commonly equated to that of a VW beetle.
One last species occurs in Mozambican waters, although its status in Tofo is unknown. No sightings of the Olive Ridley have been recorded on dives. Olive Ridleys are the smallest of the species and in other parts of the world are put on mass nesting events , a spectacle known as an aribbada where hundreds of thousdands of turtles emerge to lay their eggs in nests on particular beaches over a few days. Reports suggest Olive Ridleys are present in great abundances north of Bazaruto Archipelago.