My visit to Oman’s Ras Al Jinz is an eye opener. And it’s not only because it’s brought me face to face with one of the endangered species of the present times. But because it’s given me an insight into the Sultanate of Oman’s colossal efforts to bring the green turtles back from the brink of extinction. Around 55 km from Sur, one of the most beautiful and industrious towns of Oman is Ras Al Hadd with the stunning Ras Al JInz beach in its vicinity. Around 15 years back the Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitors Centre was established through an Omani Royal Decree to arrest the dwindling population of the green turtles in its area. Today it doubles up as an educational centre too.
Turtles have been around since aeons now and it is believed that they were witness to the reptile reign several million years ago. Studies have indicated that turtles even witnessed the emergence and the subsequent extinction of dinosaurs. Gigantic upheavals have rocked Planet Earth’s environment several times through the centuries threatening the existence of many species and tragically wiping them off the face of the earth. Unarguably, turtles have faced great odds against their survival, and emerged triumphant.
The Sultanate of Oman’s efforts have been very timely and of large-scale proportions. No wonder then that Oman is now a haven for green turtles. Laudable are the Centre’s mammoth efforts for it has turned the Ras Al Jinz beaches into a successful and much frequented nesting ground, the largest in the Indian Ocean. Around 20,000 mother turtles lay eggs in the safe confines of the Ras Al Hadd beaches every year. It is common knowledge that Oman’s marine setting has innumerable endangered species in its bed, green turtle being just one of them. It’s one of the few places in the world that offers tourists an unobstructed peek into the turtle’s natural habitat.
Undoubtedly, these oldest and precious residents of Oman’s marine system deserve immense respect.
These cold-blooded species are generally hunted for their meat and eggs which are served as delicacies in some part of the world. Ornaments are carved out of their shells and some traders even market their bone and leather.
TIPS TO FOLLOW AT A TURTLE NESTING GROUND
*Maintain silence. You may disturb the mother turtle while she’s laying eggs and she may retreat into the water. If that happens, and she’s unable to find a safe spot soon, she’s likely to release them in the water in which case the eggs never hatch. Every time that happens, it’s the destruction of about 100 eggs!
*Don’t carry torches or torch-lit mobiles. Turtles find their way around the beach in moonlight. Too many lights may lead the turtle to a wrong direction and it is very likely that it may lose its way back to the water.
* The run up to the beach is a flat sandy terrain. Wear walking shoes. Not only will you enjoy the 45-minute walk to the beach but you’ll also not struggle to pull your feet out of the sand at every step.
* Move only when you are told to move and go only where you are told to go. That way, you won’t disturb the turtles or stamp on any.
*Only female turtles come ashore, and only to lay their eggs. The males never do. Nesting happens at an interval of approximately three years.
*The turtles are not ready for sexual maturity till almost 40 years of age!
* They take about half an hour to lay eggs–around 100 eggs are laid at one time. But post the 60-day incubation time, the hatchlings emerge in batches of only 20-25 at a time.
*They always return to the beach of their birth. Even if the turtles are miles away from this area, when it’s time to lay eggs they surprisingly find their way back home. Astonishing but true! Marvellous are the ways of Nature!
*A mother turtles digs two holes during the process of egg-laying. In one she lays her eggs and covers it back with sand. She digs another one of an identical size and covers it in a similar way. This is a defence mechanism against the predators which may harm her eggs and the hatchlings thereafter.
*The survival rate of baby turtles is miniscule considering only two out of every 100 hatchlings survive. Some are killed by foxes, crabs and other animals while others do not find their way to the sea. Baby turtles do not survive on land after sunrise as they are not ready to bear the wrath of the searing sun. Such hapless hatchings are roasted alive at sunrise.
*It is believed that eggs that incubate in cool sand hatch into male turtles while those in warm sand uncover female turtles on hatching.
*Once she lays her eggs and returns to the water the mother-child bond is severed forever. There is no nurturing or nourishing that ever takes place.
*Turtles use their flippers to dig sand and cover it. Flippers are Nature’s tools given to the turtles and trust me they use it with amazing speed and energetically. If you are standing close to them you are likely to be covered in sand too.
The accompanying images are Courtesy Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitors Centre