About 50 km south-east of Sur, is the Ras al Jinz nature reserve. It is a nice drive, past blue, blue ocean and interesting mountains, and also an acacia forest, with trees about 100 meters apart! The reserve was established in 1996 when the Ras al Jinz national nature reserve and the Ras al Hadd national scenic reserve were merged into one order to better protect the sea turtles and their natural environment. The protected area stretches over 120 square kilometers with a 45 kilometer coastline, extending for one kilometer into territorial waters. As well as the turtle beaches, the reserve houses numerous six thousand-year- old archaeological sites of fishermen villages and tombstones. Excavations, too have unearthed several important relics- most notably Oman’s first wooden boat and the peninsula’s oldest incense burner. They are not open to the public right now, but hopefully one day we will be able to see them as well.
There is a hotel right there on the beach, with simple clean rooms, a good dining room (buffet) and you are right there when it’s time to see the turtles nesting. This is a real bonus, because the times they go out are 9 pm and 3:45 am! When you stay there, you get both tours free.
We were ready with bells on when it came time for the tour. There was no moon, so it was quite dark as we made our way to the beach. I was lucky to have just downloaded a “flashlight” app on my phone, so Sue and I could see the dips and rocks along the path on the 10 minute walk to the beach. No flashlights are allowed on the beach itself except for the guides’, as the light may disturb the turtles and scare them away without laying eggs.
It was a slow night for turtles…… we waited while one dug her hole, but then, instead of laying her eggs, she just covered it in again. We were allowed to come close when she was finishing covering, and expected to watch her head back into the water. Imagine our surprise when she started right toward us. It seems that she just decided to lay a bit farther from the shore.
Sea turtles are very interesting creatures. There are 4 species of sea turtle that nest in Oman…. we were out to see the green turtle… so named because they eat algae and their fat is a green colour. A female will begin laying between 37 and 45 years of age….. she always goes to the beach she was born on. Turtles tagged at Ral Al Jinz have been seen as far away as Australia, so that is no mean feat! They lay eggs every three years, making 203 nests of 100 eggs about 2 weeks apart. Then it is off into the sea for three years. The males never return to land.
It was about 11 pm when we turned out the lights…… and the alarm got us up again at 3:20 am. Still bleary-eyed, we made out way down the stairs…. and sat in the lobby. Not too many people go on the 3:45 tour… just the ones staying at the centre. We waited and waited….. and waited… Finally, they came and said they were still looking for turtles to take us to see.Finally, about 4:30 we headed out. It was still really dark… again my trust iPhone came to the rescue.
This time, we watched a turtle finish covering her nest, as, by the light of the guide’s flashlight, we were allowed to take a few photos. Then we watched as she made her way to the ocean at the end of a long night. She was really tired… taking a few steps and then resting, even when she was within a few feet of the water. A turtle digs a large hole, and then a smaller tube-shaped nest deep into the sand with her back flippers, into which she will lay the eggs. When she is done laying, she covers it up with a meter of sand, and goes one for about 2 meters this way. She then digs another hole, a dummy hole, to fool foxes and other predators before she is finished. We had to be careful in the dark not to fall into these holes Just the digging alone can take about 1 1/2 hours… no wonder she is tired. Everyone cheered in their hearts (we had to keep quite so as not to disturb her or any others) when the water finally floated her away. She came up for one last breath of air, and then was gone. She can stay underwater for up to 5 hours before having to surface.
It is interesting that when the eggs are layed, the sex is not yet determined. It all depends on the temperature of the sand they incubate in. Sand near the water is cooler – below 28C – and only male babies are produced – they are often washed away by the tides as they move the sand around. Far away, the sand is warmer – over 29C, and only females hatch there. The best hatch rates are in the middle beach area, where the sand temperature is between 28C and 29C, and a mixture of male and female are produced.
We were also able to watch a handful of newly-hatched turtle babies make their way to the ocean. They are about palm-sized, and can really move. They go toward the light…. there is a phosphorescence in the water that attracts them during the night. If you turn on a flashlight, they will follow the beam. It is quite funny to watch. The staff at the turtle reserve comb the beaches for babies that emerge during the daytime, and keep them safe until dark, as they would just wander all over, and be easy pickings for gulls and foxes. One of the ones we watched scamper into the ocean was picked out by a gull… very sad, but that’s a turtle’s life. That’s why they have to lay 300 eggs each.
Some of these photos are by Dawn Ewen, taken during our visit in February… others I took last week. Enjoy.