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Understanding the role of a turtle ranger

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There are five sea turtle nesting sites all over Oman and one of them is in Muscat. In a highly urbanised city, one of the greatest challenges is how to protect the life cycle of these sea turtles despite developmental changes happening in areas around them.

For the sea turtles in Oman, it may take more than 20 years for them to come back home, but they usually do to lay eggs and ensure that the existence of the species continues. While time is of no bearing to these sea creatures, humans are usually transforming different areas and locations at a much faster rate and while sea turtles might have been born on an isolated pristine beach many years ago, they usually come back home to an area now encroached by humans or developed to become a centre of entertainment and human social activities.

Mohammed al Hasani and Hassan al Qasmi perform an important role in making a seamless experience not just for sea turtles as they lay their eggs and the hatchlings head back to the sea but also to educate people on the life cycle of these gentle marine sea creatures and what role the human's play in the preservation of the species.

Just this year alone, the sea turtle beach at Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah already witnessed 77 nests of which 421 hatchlings already made it back to the sea. Last year, Mohammed and Hassan recorded 135 nests with over 4500 hatchlings in total. The best year according to their record was in 2008 when there were 186 nests and they've released 16,000 hatchlings to the sea.

The property is one of the most popular hospitality destinations in the country offering not just luxury stays and experiences but also, the perfect getaway set amidst towering mountains and white-sand beaches with exceptional pools and lazy rivers making it an ideal destination not just for families but international guests as well.

Oman Observer reached out to Mohammed, who's also adopted the pet name Momo, to talk to him regarding his role as a turtle ranger, what his journey has been like and why we need turtle rangers all over Oman.

Can you tell us what prompted you to become a turtle ranger?

Growing up in Qantab, a beachside enclave between the mountains, I‘ve been close to the sea since I was young. There have been many times I’ve encountered turtles while snorkelling and boating around the coast. It was when I had to help untangle a turtle caught up in a fishing net that I felt the need to embark on a journey to help these wonderful creatures. When I joined Shangri-La, I had the opportunity to undergo training with Five Oceans, an environmental consultancy organization where I learnt about the nesting process, safe handling of hatchlings, creating a safe environment for guest interactions and many more skills required to support the programme at the resort and aid in conservation.

Did you have to go through turtle ranger certification to become effective at what you do?

I was recruited specifically to take on the role of Turtle Ranger by Shangri-La in 2005. I'd been doing this job for over 16 years now. In the earlier part of my career, I had to undergo many trainings. The beach at Shangri-La is one of only five turtle nesting sites in Oman making this role a very important one. One of the trainings I underwent was with the Ministry of Environment at Ras Al Hadd where I learnt to tag and measure turtles for tracking and educational research.

Can you describe what a typical day is like for a sea turtle ranger?

In the morning I would do a patrol of the beach looking for any new nests that may have popped up in the night. If I do come across one, I will cordon the area off to ensure its safety. Then I will check for any turtle hatchlings or movements in all the nests that are due for hatching. In the event I do find a nest with baby turtles, I will ease their path out of the nest and prepare them for release. Usually, on days we release the hatchlings to sea, an area will be cordoned off allowing space for guests to enjoy this wonderful moment. Apart from looking after the well-being of the turtles, I also host daily talks from 4 pm – 5 pm, educating guests about Turtles and their behaviours. At night, my colleague Hassan and I would do a patrol on alternative dates to observe any turtles coming in for nesting.

Do you record how many turtles are coming to nest and how many hatchlings there is every season?

Yes absolutely, this is part of our daily ritual whenever there’s a nesting or hatching happening. 2008 was the best year with 186 nests and over 16,000 hatchlings. For this year, we’ve had 77 nests with 421 hatchlings that have already made their way to the sea this year. We're looking forward to welcoming more nests and hatchlings over the next few months.

What are some things people don't know about sea turtles?

Sea turtles are very unique. After a period of 20-22 years, turtles return to the shores they were born to lay their eggs. This in itself is a natural phenomenon. Another interesting fact is that the gender of the turtle will depend on the temperature of the sand. Usually, if the sand is hot, you will find mostly females hatching, if the sand is cool, the hatchlings will be mainly males.

Why is your role important?

Oman is a highly urbanised city where it would have been easy for these sea turtles to feel displaced. Part of what we do is educate people so they will have more appreciation and respect for the sea turtles. Most important is helping out the greater effort of preserving the species. Oman has been exemplary in its programme of preserving sea turtles with the creation of nature reserves where they can thrive. As turtle rangers in Muscat, we have better opportunities to interact with people. People don't have to drive far to have the sea turtle experience. With every interaction, whether it's with adults or children, it's amazing to see them gain a better understanding of how to live with nature. The role is important as we are demonstrating that the two species can co-exist and inspiring others to take the role of protector of the weaker species.

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