I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t exactly get excited about turtles! – cute yes but I can take them or leave them! When planning for our trip to Oman, turtle viewing seemed to be one of the ‘must do’s’ so we stuck it in the itinerary. The place seemed isolated and a bit off route but there was accommodation on site so we booked in for a night.
This was the absolute highlight of our trip!
Ras al Jinz forms the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula and is a nesting site for the Green Turtle of the Indian Ocean. The Reserve itself was established in 1996 to help preserve the species by protecting the beach and educating the public about its threats. Income is generated through tours and accommodation. Most activity is at night so visitors come from the town of Sur – 40 minutes away – for the 8.30 pm tour or else book into the Reserve which includes the night tour, a 4.30am tour and breakfast in the room cost.
There’s no huge advantage in arriving too early – you cannot access the beach in the afternoon and there is no pool or leisure facilities. We arrived in the evening and had enough time to whizz through the on site museum before dinner.
(There are plenty of displays in the museum)
(Baby turtles who lose their way are rescued by rangers and returned to the sea after sunset)
Armed with an impressive array of turtle trivia and facts, we headed for dinner at 7.00pm – a buffet for 8 Rial (about €18) which included meze starters, soup, curries and stews, rice, deserts coffee and water. The dining room was full and included both residents and visitors who were there for the 8.30pm tour.
The Night Tour
There must have up to 100 people gathered in the lobby at 8.30pm. Residents were called ahead of other visitors and once outside we were split again – about 20 -25 of us in each group and we were out for about 1.5 hours. Our guide stressed the need for silence and the absence of light. The torches from our bedrooms were only for the 15 minute walk to the beach and flash photography was forbidden. Spotters had gone ahead to find turtle activity and signaled as we approached.
Under the cover of darkness, the adult female approaches the beach and find a nesting spot.
Perfect timing – we’re there for the main event! She can lay 80 -100 eggs. They are soft so they don’t break each other.
She buries the eggs in the sand and spends hours covering them. She moves sand around to mislead predators – mostly foxes.
She scoops out a large pit close by with her flippers – this pit will be used by another turtle for laying and therefore eggs won’t be disturbed.
The turtle returns to the ocean.
Incubation lasts 55 – 60 days.
If the eggs haven’t been destroyed by predators, the babies make their way to the water as soon as they hatch. They navigate by moonlight which is why its important that no artificial light disturbs their sense of direction.
Our guide scanned the water’s edge with his torch and we saw hundreds of crabs awaiting the babies. The staff at the reserve do not interfere with the cycle so do not create a safe passage.
About 2 in every 1000 eggs makes it to adulthood. After about 26 years the females come back to the same beach to lay. The males never return to land.
We spent about an hour on the beach and saw 4 adult turtles. At peak season – July / August – there is usually about 80 – 100 per night (however this is also the quietest season for visitors as its too hot).
Residents (only) have an opportunity to head out again at 5.00am. With day breaking, its easier to see what was happening on the beach.
There were a few more females finishing up and heading back to the water.
I’m not a morning person but…..
With sunrise came the fishermen…
Meanwhile, off goes another one…
Watch but in silence…
Its hard work….
….don’t get too close to the scattering sand!
The beach revealed itself in the light to be full of turtle tracks and pits which would be used by the next visiting females.
No sign of the crabs in the morning light. A few more babies reach the safety of the ocean.
Some of them weren’t so lucky!
The beach is accessible until early afternoon but most of us had wandered back to the reserve by 6.15 / 6.30am. We spotted a few foxes – heading home too or waiting for us to leave?
Breakfast is served from 6.00am so its ready when you arrive back from the beach. Some residents went to their rooms for a few hours sleep but most just headed off after breakfast.
What a night!