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  WWF 19 Feb 07
Marine turtle nestings on the rise in South Africa

KwaZulu Natal, South Africa: Loggerhead nestings have reached record levels in South Africa, a positive sign for the endangered marine turtle.

According to monitoring conducted by WWF-South Africa over the 2005-06 season, there were over 2,000 loggerhead nestings found along a 56km stretch of the northern KwaZulu Natal coastline.

"This is the highest number recorded in 43 years," said Richard Penn Sawers, head of the WWF/Green Trust Turtle Monitoring and Community Development Project.

Populations of the more critically endangered leatherback turtle are also thriving here, with an average of 70?80 nestings per season.

One of the main contributing factors to the stability of South Africa's marine turtle populations is that they breed almost entirely within the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, which is a designated marine protected area and World Heritage site.

Elsewhere, populations are in decline due to the consumption of turtle meat and eggs in poverty-stricken coastal areas, and as a result of fisheries bycatch and abandoned drift nets, which continue to drown turtle species in unknown numbers.

"The overall aim of this project is to conserve and manage the populations through community involvement in turtle monitoring, conservation, tourism and education," Sawers added. This includes the introduction of an eco-education programme at several schools in the project area.

"The next challenge for the project is to extend marine turtle conservation up the Mozambique coastline," said Simanga Mageba, who is coordinating the project's 16 monitoring sites in KwaZulu Natal.

"These amazing animals are so important to the future of all people living here. Let's hope in another 43 years time we can look back to this time as a giant stride for marine conservation."

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