A turtle’s well-kept secret

The green turtle and their migration to Oman coast for nesting, has amazed every visitor visiting Ras Al Jinz in Sur. Turtle’s legendary tales, their lifecycle, various species, their affection for this coastline — all aptly framed for the visitors at Oman’s one and only turtle museum — Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitor Centre. The 45 km long coastline of Sur stand witness to 30,000 nesting each year and the museum portrays the unseen tales of the turtle’s lifecycle that begins here. “We have a committed team of experts who deal with green turtles every day. From guiding the tourists to tracking the mature green turtles and involving in research work helps make the coastline suitable for this natural practice to endure. The main aim of Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is to boost environmental awareness among people in Oman and protect the future of turtles from extinction,” says Vijay Handa, Cluster General Manager, Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.

Understanding the hours of tussle
I was told by few marine research groups in Oman that out of thousand only two to three hatching survives the adversities of nature and human actions. A dreadful number indeed! As the awareness programmes and few major environmental friendly steps came into consideration, the survival ratio has jumped from three to eleven in recent years. A hatchling’s story begins as eggs, once laid, their mother leaving her offspring to battle their own existence. Two months after the eggs are laid; the hatchlings slowly crawl out to the surface and hurry ineptly towards the ocean. “Their surfacing is slow and steady. They take three to six days to reach the surface from under the soil, then yet another few hours to the sea. Once they survive, they will return back at maturity to this same place to lay eggs and continue the cycle. They never forget the beach they are born in. We have tracked them and found that they return back at maturity to lay eggs here,” states Said al Araimi, ranger and guide at Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.

Threatened by predators and nature
Preying on these tiny helpless turtles are foxes, seagulls and ghost crabs. It is shocking to know how even human’s and their activities pose a serious threat to these wonderful species. “It is sad to state that many people, mostly fishermen were found digging the eggs and even catching turtles to eat their meat. But people are getting aware and such actions have condensed. Littering the ocean leads them to a slow death. Sometimes these hatchlings are caught in the fishing net as well,” explained Arami. It was even revealed how locals benefited themselves from the turtle meat and even their shell to make jewellery in the past. Plankton which are rich food for the turtles, too pose as a threat, due to high concentration of harmful algae. “In recent times many have been found dead due to the algal bloom and are washed ashore,” states Said.
Rescued to be freed safely
Honouring this natural phenomenon, the Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitor Centre offers a plethora of knowledge about the species of turtle that visit Oman, the seafaring facts all well displayed. The section of the museum, where hatchlings are rescued and later released back into the ocean is a unique inclusion.
Turtle hatchlings follow the light at the horizon to reach out to the sea. Sometimes bright blue waves hit and light up the shoreline — provided by the bio luminescent phytoplankton — making it easier for them to locate the horizon. “Many are distracted by artificial lights coming from the cities on the opposite side of the shore. As the day temperature increases they dry up. So whenever we find them at this point we bring them to the museum for the day and at night we release them in the ocean,” said Said.
Why not liberate them in water immediately? What scientist call frenzy swimming, keeps this babies in shallow waters for three days before they can learn to go in the deep. “If released in the morning, chances of seagulls spotting them are high,” explained Said.
So on your next visit to Ras Al Jinz, one should be sure to encounter the endangered hatchlings that are rescued and kept at the Scientific and Visitor Centre, to be freed at night. With the audio guide and 3D movie, understanding the myths, man-ocean relation depicted through old currencies and local archaeological findings makes it a fun learning for all age.

Swati Basu Das
axisswati@gmail.com