Friday, June 25, 2021 | Dhu al-Qaadah 14, 1442 H
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Protecting our turtles from extinction


An ever-growing list of animals make their way to Oman to join the already existing local animals especially during the migration season where they travel from the colder parts of the world to the warmer, stopping at the Sultanate to rest, breed and raise their young before starting their journey again.

There are currently around fourteen protected areas in all areas of the Sultanate, which are under the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, who play an important role in the conservation and protection of these regions — not only keeping these animals (some of which are endangered) safe, but also creating a space that will attract tourists and local and help spread awareness about the importance of conservation and protection of our environment and fauna.

Famously making their way to the sandy beaches of Oman are the amphibian sea turtles, that make their way to the coast seasonally to lay their eggs and enjoy the diverse marine food sources like fish and algae. Sea turtles are animals of habit — a hatchling makes it way straight into the sea, following the light of the moon. Once adults, the females will come back to the same beach they hatched out of, to lay and bury their eggs before scurrying back into the Arabian sea.

With rapid growth and expansion along with unethical fishing practices, many of these beaches that have been home to these turtles for generations have come under threat, along with dwindling the survival chances of this already endangered species.

With rising concerns all over the world about the protection of our flora and fauna, many individuals have risen to the cause and taken active steps towards making sure that not only is the habitat of these animals kept safe but also educating locals and visitors that come to the area about the significance of these animals and why it is important to keep the ecosystem safe and functioning.

One such person is Ali al Muhrabi. A 36-year-old guide at the Ras Al Jinz resort is on a mission to preserve the environment and protect these beings that share their land with us. A full-time guide, Ali also dedicates his time and efforts towards educating his clients and those in his community about the preservation of these engendered species along with the maintenance of the environment to ensure that we and they can thrive in harmony.

It was due to the efforts of people like Ali that the reserve was created in the first place. Located in a region that is slightly away from the hustle and bustle of urbanisation — the reserve was set up to not only protect these animals and their homes but to address issues surrounding unethical overfishing of turtles and fish that can disrupt the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Every evening, Ali can be spotted with a big smile, confident and proud, whilst speaking to a group of tourist or guests visiting the reserve — his sincerity and dedication to the cause are unmissable as you watch his enthusiasm remain constant whilst he shares his knowledge about these creatures of the sea. Whilst parting knowledge onto the visitors, he also shares ways in which they can get involved and help the environment.

“Between the months of October to March whilst the temperatures stay moderate, we receive an average of 250-300 guests per day, but this goes down to 100-150 between the hotter months starting April to September. During long weekends or holidays, the number of visitors’ spike — sometimes the reserve gets fully booked during the shorter breaks.” Ali shared.

Ali shared with us his knowledge about these reptilians, he said, “Oman has five types of turtles — the green turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the olive ridley turtle and leatherback turtle. Their populations are distributed in different places such as Island of Masirah & Halaniyat. Here at Ras Al Jinz, adult green turtles can be seen laying eggs, digging or burying their nests, basking in the sunlight or making their way back into the sea. If you get lucky, you might even see the hundreds of newly hatched baby turtles making their way out of the sand and scurrying away making their way into the sea — only to be back once they reach adulthood.

These turtles are also known to migrate to different places in the world like Yemen, Australia, India, Somalia and the Maldives every three years they come back to the same place. Turtles tend to be out in the open more when the temperatures are warmer and the tides are high which makes seeking shelter easier for them. The process of making their nest starts with digging up two holes with the use of their front and back flippers. They then set up one nest as a decoy for predators and then go on to lay around 80 to 120 eggs in a single clutch, a sticky liquid ensures that the eggs not only stay moist but stick together. Once she’s done laying, the turtle with cover up the hole and leave her nest, either making more decoy nests to confuse her enemies or makes her way back into the waters only to come back in a few years again.

The eggs incubate in the sand for around two months and once ready, the hatchlings take a couple of days to dig their way out from the pit that their mother had laid them in.

Once the hatchling breaks free and makes its way out of the pit, following the natural light of the moon they run for their lives, avoiding predators like birds and foxes — fighting the odds to make it to the sea. If they survive and reach adulthood, the same turtles will come back to the beach once they reach maturity at about 25 years.

While baby or young turtles eat small fish, bigger turtles tend to eat a more vegetarian diet of algae and seaweeds. These ancient animals if left unharmed can live for over 80 years and at full size weigh between 68 to 250 kgs!

Ras Al Hadd is considered to be the first place in the Arab world where the sun can be seen rising. 46 kilometres away from the city of Sur, it is also popular amongst turtles for nesting — which led the government to declare the area a protected space and nature reserve in a royal decree that was issued on April 23, 1996. An important move towards the preservation of these species of endangered turtles and their habitat.

Each year there are about 6,000 to 13,000 turtles nest in this region, according to official statistics, reaching the Sultanate from other areas such as the Red Sea and the Somali coast.

Mohammed al Shabibi & Titash Chakraborty

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