Swim with the Fishes, Dive with the Turtles, See Life Begin . . .
With none of the frenetic activity found at better-known and more developed beach resorts, Ushongo has proven to be one of Tanzania's hugely successful rehabilitated turtle nesting sites. The cutting down of trees on nearby Maziwe Island has rendered it unsuitable for turtle nesting -- without the trees, it's reverted to being a tidal sand bank covered by water at high tide, so any eggs buried under the sand rot before they have a chance to reach maturity. As part of a coast-wide program to protect the endangered turtles, conservation group Sea Sense relocates eggs laid on the island to reconstructed, properly protected nesting sites along the mainland beach. Several of these nests are under the watchful eye of Kasa Divers (www.kasadivers.com), a small, conservation-minded operation that runs dive courses, rents gear, and helps promote turtle awareness by inviting locals and visitors to watch carefully monitored hatchings.
Witnessing the turtles emerge from beneath the sand after 55 days of incubation is a rather extraordinary opportunity. During her lifetime, a female turtle lays around 7,000 eggs, yet only one in a thousand will live its full 60- to 80-year lifespan. The hatching phase is just one breathtaking hurdle in a series of unimaginably tough adventures that will determine whether a particular baby turtle will make it. Around 120 to 170 turtle eggs are laid at a time, and the eggs are deep enough that when they emerge from their shells, the hatchlings will take another 2 to 3 days before reaching the surface. Once they pop out through the sand, they instinctively head toward the water, crawling at -- considering their miniscule size -- breakneck speed to avoid predation by birds and reptiles. It's during this brief, momentous race to the sea that the turtles gather sensory information that will, by some profound mystery of nature, enable the females to return, some 30 years later, to the exact same beach to lay their eggs.
Of the seven marine turtle species found worldwide, five are found off the Tanzanian coast, and only the green and hawksbill turtles nest here. If you are told about a turtle hatching at Kasa Divers, make sure you turn up to witness what is surely one of life's special miracles, an experience that's greatly enhanced here by the interest shown by the children from the local village. And, once you've seen the last of the tiny hatchlings off on their epic voyage, you can sign up with Kasa for some of Tanzania's best diving and a chance to swim among the very turtles that are so desperately in need of protection. They charge $80 per dive (plus $12 in park and community fees), or $470 for a 10-dive package.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.