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The Guardian of Oman's Sea Turtles

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In Oman, five out of seven sea turtles find refuge and solace on its coastline.

Like ancient mariners, these gentle creatures journey here silently to lay their eggs. The peaceful shores of the Sultanate have become a safe haven for sea turtles, with Oman ranked as one of the top three turtle nesting sites in the world and the second largest in terms of area for rare Rimani turtles, only behind Florida's famed turtle sanctuary. As a result of this international recognition, Oman is at the forefront of sea turtle conservation efforts, making it a focal point for the observation, study, and monitoring of these magnificent animals.

The escalating challenges facing sea turtles in Oman have amplified the urgency of safeguarding these vulnerable creatures. Increasing visitor numbers have disrupted sea turtle nesting habitats and threatened their populations.

As a result of this alarming trend, the "Turtle Commandos" were created.

"Turtle Commandos" is the brainchild of Environment Authority employee Manar al Riyami and represents a pioneering approach to sea turtle conservation. This dedicated team of volunteers recognised the dire need for enhanced protection and monitoring. Their mission: to restore order and balance to the lives of Oman's sea turtles.

The "Turtle Commandos" programme has harnessed the power of community engagement and volunteerism to enforce regulations, nurture environmental stewardship, and inspire visitors to actively participate in marine conservation efforts. Through their unwavering commitment, they have become the guardians of Oman's natural heritage, ensuring that these gentle giants can continue to grace our shores for generations to come.

As the "Turtle Commandos" continue their vital work, Oman's sea turtles are finding renewed hope in the face of adversity. With every nest protected and every visitor educated, these remarkable creatures are inching closer to a brighter future where their significance in preserving the ocean's delicate harmony is celebrated and safeguarded.

"In light of the significant influx of visitors to the area, along with their widespread presence on the beach, the turtles refrained from emerging due to perceived threats and the disturbances caused by children and the general public," shared Mohammed al Balushi, a dedicated turtle ranger.

He added, "The turtles, apprehensive of potential harm to their eggs, exhibited a cautious behaviour as they cautiously peered from the water's edge, assessing the readiness of the environment for them to come ashore and lay their eggs. When the turtles sense danger, they choose an alternate location for nesting."

The implementation of this programme, initially intended solely for reserve staff members, turned out to be a fortuitous decision. It successfully harnessed the enthusiasm of young volunteers who lacked prior experience. Our involvement in this initiative offered an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of turtles and their conservation. Through collective efforts and a substantial number of participants, we embarked on a journey to reevaluate if any turtles required assistance in this vast area," Al Balushi explained.

Mohammed further emphasised, "The proper management and preservation of our wealth is essential, and Oman possesses a wealth that demands our collective stewardship. Some may question why we limit access to tourists, but our aim is precisely to enable tourists to appreciate and observe these turtles in their natural habitat. Without protective measures, these magnificent creatures risk further disturbance and may never return to our shores. We are committed to safeguarding this precious heritage for ourselves and future generations."

Juhina al Hassani, a dedicated turtle ranger, emphasised the importance of raising awareness about these magnificent creatures. She shared, "We are diligently working towards securing a brighter tomorrow for turtles. Our efforts are geared towards creating awareness so that people can witness positive outcomes in the future. We wholeheartedly extend an invitation to everyone to join us in our mission to protect turtle life."

Al Hassani was heartened by the commitment displayed by individuals who set aside their annual vacations and travelled from distant regions to participate in this programme. She expressed his gratitude, acknowledging, "We deeply appreciate these individuals who are contributing their time and energy to the preservation of this remarkable species."

Al Hassani's commitment to turtle conservation led her to affirm, "We are focused on spreading awareness because we've observed that many people lack knowledge about how to interact with turtles and ensure their preservation. Promoting awareness is pivotal, as it's impossible to eliminate threats to turtles entirely. Therefore, we call upon everyone to collaborate with environmental authorities to safeguard these magnificent creatures."

The perils facing turtles are numerous and come from both human and natural sources. Al Hassani elaborated, "Turtles are confronted with the looming threat of extinction, driven by factors such as overfishing in certain regions and the pervasive menace of pollution. Significant hazards include the irresponsible disposal of plastic bags into the ocean, vehicular activity on nesting beaches, camping and excessive lighting."

Recognising the delicate balance of nature, Nasser al Zadjali commented, "It's crucial to understand that small turtles on the beach face a myriad of natural predators, including wild foxes, seabirds and crabs. We refrain from intervening in this natural food chain, allowing nature to take its course."

Turtle Commando Programme

Each morning, participants eagerly gather, forming groups under the watchful eye of their supervisors. Their mission is to scour the shores for lost or trapped turtles amidst the rugged rocks and ensure their safe return to the sea.

Volunteers work tirelessly, backfilling countless pits and fortifying them with sturdy rocks, ensuring that these gentle creatures won't find themselves trapped again. Juhinah, one of the team's leaders, emphasises the importance of these efforts, stressing that their actions make a significant difference in preserving marine life and the environment.

As evening descends, the entire team shifts their focus to beach cleaning. Spread out across various stretches of shoreline, they toil until the sun sets. Mohammed reminds everyone that leaving no trace of their presence is essential.

Juhinah adds her perspective, emphasising the responsibility of visitors and families who come to enjoy the beach. "Dispose of your garbage in the designated areas," she insists. "We even have a unique project — collecting discarded shoes found along the coast. It's astonishing what we've amassed. The beach reveals many surprises when you take a closer look."

The team doesn't stop at cleaning; they are also passionate about raising awareness. Tourists and locals alike benefit from their educational efforts, gaining insights into the significance of preserving this natural habitat. As night falls, the Turtle Commandos embark on a special mission: searching for small turtles that have lost their way due to the harmful effects of light pollution.

These young turtles instinctively follow the moonlight to find their way to the sea. However, any white light source misleads them, causing them to veer off course. The Commandos intervene, ensuring these tiny travellers safely return to the ocean.

To mitigate light pollution, no cars are allowed on the beach, a rule supported by most visitors and locals. However, there are some who resist cooperation, frustrating the Commandos' efforts. Al Balushi shares a sobering perspective, recounting a scenario where three turtles were stranded on the same rocky ledge, highlighting the critical role their team plays in protecting these vulnerable creatures.

Despite their large numbers, the Commandos do their best to participate in all events. Yet, on particularly busy days with an influx of tourists, it becomes challenging to cover all the vital areas.

As a special treat, the team has set up viewing points where tourists can witness the little turtles they've rescued. Containers brimming with these tiny wonders provide a heartwarming and educational experience. Juhinah's words will make you shocked: "We have a project to collect the shoes that we find on the coast. Anyone who sees it will be shocked. We made a container full of it. There is a lot here that will truly astonish you."

In their tireless efforts, the Turtle Commandos prove that with dedication, teamwork and a deep love for marine life, they are the guardians of these pristine shores, ensuring that both turtles and the environment thrive in harmony.

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