There are seven species of sea turtle found around the world. Five can be found on the beaches of Oman. These magnificent creatures can live to be 250 years old. It can grow to be more than two metres in length.
Tourism in Oman has developed at a rapid pace over the past ten years. Like many others in the Middle East attempts to shift its economic reliance on oil to tourism revenues. At first glance, it might seem that turtle nesting sites on some of the most popular beaches in the sultanate might be at odds with the tourism development. That has taken place there, however the stakeholders within tourism in the country have, so far, managed to delicately balance the needs of both sides.
I recently had the opportunity to stay at the Shangri La Bar Al Jissah resort on the outskirts of Muscat. The resort is sandwiched between rocky cliffs and the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman. It is only accessible via a tunnel cut into the rock. So it is easy to see why the turtles made this once isolated beach one of their nesting spots.
The resort appointed Mohammed Al Hasani as the first turtle ranger in the country. He is responsible for monitoring and protecting the nesting turtles and later their hatchlings as well as providing daily talks to the guests in the hotel’s eco centre about his work.
He explains to guests how he and his colleague identify where the female turtles have made their nests. Either through observing the turtles or by identifying the tracks made in the sand by the two different species which are found here. We also discovered that the ratio of female to male turtles born is influenced by the temperature of the sand which incubates the eggs. At higher temperatures, hatchlings are more likely to be female, whereas in lower temperatures, more males hatch.
We had the opportunity to leave our name and phone number so that the rangers could call our room. Unfortunately there were none to be seen on the nights we were there. The rangers also explain the rules that need to be followed when turtle watching. Including not using flashes on cameras as these disorientate the turtles and make it difficult for them to find their way to the sea.
Along the soft sandy beach in front of the hotel, there are several roped off areas, which bear laminated notices detailing when the eggs were laid, the species of turtle that they were laid by and the approximate dates when the turtles are expected to hatch. These help to generate interest and enthusiasm for the turtle care project amongst the guests.
Mohammed can be seen around the beach area, chatting to guests and answering their questions about the turtles. The passion that the turtle rangers display in their work enthuses visitors and colleagues alike and it is clear that the work they are doing is highly valued and respected.
The talks and turtle watching opportunities at the Shangri La Bar Al Jissah resort are only available to guests of the hotel. But 150 miles along Oman’s rocky coastline lies another key site for turtle nesting. The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve which was established by the Omani government in 1996. The reserve also incorporates the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Centre, which describes itself as being a “truly Eco-tourism project”. This is the only official site in the country where the general public can watch the turtles nesting.
The reserve is not only an opportunity to visit the beach and see the turtles nesting; there is also accommodation available for visitors wishing to stay for a longer visit. This which naturally increases the chances of seeing the turtles. The reserve seeks to both educate visitors about the turtles, and their delicate habitat. But also protecting the turtles from what they describe as being “human induced threats” such as pollution, poaching and disturbance. The reserve is also home to an interactive museum about turtles and the local area and scientific research facilities.
There are many challenges which turtles around the world face from humans, both directly and indirectly. In some parts of the world, turtles are bred for their meat and for use in traditional medicines. In other areas the rising temperatures linked to global warming have been found to increase the percentage of females born as high as 99%. However in Oman it appears, that the authorities and businesses are actively engaging visitors and the host communities to ensure the ongoing protection of these beautiful creatures.
Thanks to Rachael Harrison for sharing her article with us. Rachael is a travel and tourism lecturer and freelance travel writer with a passion for adventure and independent travel. She blogs at www.travelandbaking.co.uk and can be found on Instagram (@travelbaking) and on Twitter (@travelandbaking)