By Bindu Gopal Rao
Words & Photos: Bindu Gopal Rao
It is close to 9:00 pm and a small group of people gather together at Ras Al Hadd on the eastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula in Oman. If you are wondering what is happening at this hour, well, this group of wildlife enthusiasts is waiting to start a guided tour to see the nesting of the endangered green turtles at the Ras Al Jinz beach. Renowned for being one of the nesting concentration sites of the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas), on the Indian Ocean, this is the only place where you can see the entire nesting process of these animals. Established by Royal Decree in 1996, the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Centre was started in 2008 to help in the conservation activities of the green turtle. The reserve is within a 45 km coastline and is an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category IV protected area created with the specific aim of protecting sea turtles. The turtles are currently endangered as they face several threats from humans and nature too. However while the centre cannot help with threats like birds, crabs, sharks or foxes predating on the eggs and hatchlings, they work with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs to control human induced threats like commercial harvesting for turtle meat and shells and littering.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve in Oman is doing its bit for the conservation of the Chelonia Mydas or the Green Turtles.Photo copyright Bindu Gopal Rao
As we follow our guide, the only light happens to come from a brightly shining moon and the torch held by the guide. Trooping in line behind him on the sandy beach I wonder if we will have a chance to see the turtles at all. After what seems like a long wait, our guide gestures to us to remain quiet as a large female turtle emerges from the ocean. She then finds herself a dry spot where she starts digging a hole using her flippers to scoop out the sand, and then she places herself inside and starts laying her eggs. It is fascinating to see how she starts laying the eggs one after the other – some turtles lay over a 100 eggs at one time. We are asked to watch silently without using a flash for pictures and once done the turtle actually covers the eggs with sand to protect them and allow them to incubate. She then moves ahead and starts digging another pit, and before we assume it is for another set of eggs our guide tells us that this is an artificial pit for predators to believe that the eggs are laid here. Amidst gasps in the group one thing we all agreed was the intelligence of these gentle beings and how nature has a way of protecting itself. The incubation period ranges from 50-60 days depending on the weather conditions. Heat generally ensures incubation happens sooner and warm sands usually produce more females. From here on the mother just goes back to the ocean and the eggs hatch and finally make their way to the ocean. It is this walk back that we were fortunate to see the next early morning, when the guides dug up the sand and found baby turtles that scrambled into the sea. To my utter horror I also saw one of them being eaten by a seagull but my guide tells me this is the natural cycle and there are many that make their way back to the ocean. The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve hosts an average of 30000 nesting green turtles every year and this place is known for some of the most varied and biologically productive water.
Photo copyright Bindu Gopal Rao
Photo copyright Bindu Gopal Rao
Although sea turtles spend most of their lives in the sea, they nest on land and return to nest on the same beach on which they themselves hatched decades earlier. They reach maturity between 37 and 49 years and nesting may happen five times in a season with intervals of upto 14 days between nesting and 2-3 years between seasons. At Ras Al Jinz the peak season for egg laying is June to September, but for every night throughout the year at least one turtle emerges from the seas of Oman onto its beaches to lay eggs. A stay at Ras Al Jinz is arguably one of the best eco holidays you can take; it’s a break like no other.
[Editor’s Note: Sea turtles are endangered due to human activity. Please visit: https://conserveturtles.org/ ]
- Marine turtles have no teeth instead they have beaks that they adapt for feeding.
- Adult green turtles are herbivorous feeding on seaweeds and sea grass, although young green turtles eat tiny marine animals.
- The green turtle cannot pull its head inside its shell.
- They have a keen sense of smell but not of taste, and their hearing is restricted to low frequencies.
Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bangalore in India. Wildlife protection is close to her heart. She is particularly interested in conservation and rehabilitation of wild animals. Her work is documented on Instagram: @bindugopalrao and her webpage: www.bindugopalrao.com