LIFE for Mohammad al Hassani, Sultanate’s first dedicated turtle ranger, and his deputy Hassan al Qasimi, can be tough and challenging. Their joint effort to provide a better marine life for hawksbill and green turtles is simply outstanding.
Their constant watch of the turtles’ welfare means there is not much sleep for them as they work odd hours.
Both Mohammad and Hassan grew up in Qantab, a fishing village down the coast from the Barr al Jissah Resort and Spa.
While patrolling the beach overnight on January 7, Mohammed saw the first turtle nest for the year being welcomed by the Shangri-La resorts in Muscat. He came across the tracks of a female hawksbill turtle leading to the private beach cove of the resort and spa.
The yearly visitors are much cared for by the staff and guests at the Shangri-La’s Al Husn Resort and Spa and Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa. This is in line with the hospitality group’s commitment to biodiversity conservation as it launched ‘Sanctuary,’ the group’s care for nature project.
Presently there are a total of 14 nests (11 hawksbill and 3 green turtles) on the beaches of Al Waha, Al Bandar and Al Husn.
The pair professionally monitors and record turtle nesting and hatching numbers, as well as educates local communities regarding the threats facing turtle species.
Tourists staying at the resort point out about their unique experience witnessing the turtles nest and hatching.
Gill Homes, a tourist from Lincoln, England, says she found the turtle project absolutely fascinating. “This is a great opportunity to experience and learn more about the turtles and their habits so that we can do our part to protect these sea creatures. I feel that all school children should be educated on this, especially when so few turtles actually survive. The Shangri-La team is doing their part immensely and supports the turtle conservation work.”
Maggie Manwaring, from Kent, UK, is another tourist who feels the turtle programme very valuable and a wonderful learning opportunity for many overseas organisations.
“In the UK there is a great interest in sustainability and conservation of wild animals and endangered species. These sea turtles are absolutely magic and it is so important that they are protected. I don’t know any other hotel with a similar project,” she admits.
CARE AND PROTECTION
At the Muscat resort, two species regularly nest on the beaches: the endangered green turtle and the more frequent visitor, the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.
In 2018, about 3,126 turtle hatchlings were produced from 95 nests laid on the beaches of Al Husn and Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, with 51 hawksbill turtle nests and 44 green turtle nests. In 2017, 110 nests were laid, and the hatchings exceeded 4,700. During the last season, the first nest was laid in December 2017 and hatched in April 2018, producing about 70 hatchlings.
Sandro Mazza, General Manager, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, says the resort is fully committed to the care and protection of turtles and it is their privilege to provide sanctuary for mother turtles and care for the hatchlings.
“The hatching and release of these tiny creatures is a very special experience, which we are pleased to share with the guests and creates lasting holiday memories,” Sandro mentions.
Hassan al Qasimi is Mohammed’s assistant since two years, providing him admirable support. The pair patrols the resort’s beaches at night and monitors all turtle activity. They ensure the female turtles nest in peace and the hatchlings make it to sea safely.
They also keenly watch over the hatchlings to make sure they are not attacked by predators like crabs and seagulls are responsible for relocating the actual nests from the main beach area to a secluded location at the resort.
Guests gain an in-depth understanding of the conservation work carried out at the Shangri-La Eco Centre and discover how they can be part of it. Every evening at 5 pm, the resort turtle ranger hosts a dedicated ‘Turtle Talk’ to explain the initiative.
The teams are also heavily involved in the local community and regularly visit local schools to teach young children on the threats facing turtle species.
There are only five turtle nesting sites in the Sultanate and the protected beaches of the property’s Al Husn Resort and Spa and its adjacent sister property Al Jissah Resort and Spa are among them. The area has always been a turtle nesting site.
Mohammed and Hassan also host guided snorkeling tours for guests to show the locations along the resort’s shores where turtles are often spotted.
Mohammad hopes that his contribution inspires others to embrace sustainability for the future generations.
Mohammad says the hawksbill turtles begin their season earlier than green turtles, but the hawksbill species is critically endangered and the population of green turtles is actually higher as they nest in larger numbers on most Omani beaches.
When not working, Mohammad spends his time outdoors like snorkeling, camping, hiking or spending time with family.
It has been a long journey for Mohammed after he happened to save a large green turtle trapped in fishing net 12 years back.
The rewarding moment he says is, “when I notice the hotel guests, especially children, witnessing the moment of hatching. This is priceless,” he concludes.