With people in lockdown, the sea turtles in Ras al Jinz are thriving

MUSCAT: There were eight of them on the beach when we arrived. Four were burrowing holes while the others were already quietly laying their eggs.

The tide was high and the waves were crashing on the rocky shores a few meters away but the sea turtles had adapted and moved a little farther inland creating nests where the waves wouldn’t reach the eggs.

On the sand are dozens of drag marks. The eight we were looking at were just some of the hundreds who nest on this secret beach in Ras al Jinz every year.

 

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Unknown to the masses, all the beaches between Ras al Hadd and the Ras al Jinz hotel are nesting sites. Whether they are long beaches close to coastal villages or small coves formed between crevices of cliffs, the sea turtles find nesting sites where they can and it is for this very reason why the area was declared a protected site.

The sea turtle season is an annual attraction that pulls in thousands of people interested to learn and see these fascinating sea creatures. By the end of 2019 alone, government agencies including the Ministry of Tourism recorded around 70,000 visits to the Ras al Jinz Scientific Centre.

The most popular seasons for the visits are the nesting and egg hatching seasons but while the rest of the months they don’t come to the beach, many of the sea turtles can be seen by the water either feeding or mating.

The lockdown this year, a response prompted by the growing Covid19 cases, has resulted in a lesser number of people visiting the sea turtle nesting sites.

Even the nesting beach at the famed shores of Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, one of five turtle nesting sites in Oman, has been off-limits for viewing due to hotel closure during the past period. Shangri-La will be re-opening on July 30th giving guests a high chance of witnessing the little hatchlings of the endangered Green Turtle and the most frequent visitor, the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle throughout their stay. The hatching and release of these tiny creatures take place from mid-April until September and it is a very special experience, guided by the resort’s dedicated turtle rangers.

As for the case in Ras al Jinz, a turtle ranger who requested not to be named said that without the human disruption, the sea turtles “are enjoying the peace and quiet of their surrounding.”

The site we visited received nearly 40 mother sea turtles all ready to lay eggs in 24 hours. It was, by far, the most number of sea turtles we saw in the last three years of the visit to the same spot.

Even in the morning as we reinspected the nesting grounds, we found 8 turtles waiting for the tide to rise as they use the power of the waves to help them propel forward back into the water.

“Personally, I think there were more sea turtles who nested this year. I find several of them in almost all the beaches I stop over for a visit. With less disturbance from human visitors, they seem to have gotten comfortable laying their eggs,” the ranger said.

And our Oman Observer team would have to agree. With the new lockdown in place, however, many would have to miss the nesting season this year. Hopefully, though, we will be given an opportunity to watch the hatchlings emerge from their nests as they rush back to the ocean for their first swim. Even that too, is something definitely worth seeing in a few months.