Turtles in a Half Shell

Junn Island, Damaniyat Islands Oman
On a moonlit night we followed our Omani guide to the beach at Ras Al Jinz, shoes crunching softly on the gravel and then softer as the ground beneath turned to sand.   His white dishdasha swooshed, like holy tent flaps in the wind, and he illuminated the path for those behind with a small flashlight.  This is a route he has taken dozens, hundreds of times over the past few years since the Sultanate of Oman reclaimed the area as a nature preserve to stop tourists from disrupting crucial nesting periods of the endangered Green Turtle with garbage, noise, light pollution and the ubiquitious white range rovers that cruise the peninsula.     

Our Driving Route
Ras Al Jinz and its neighboring Ras Al Hadd are some of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world.  The magnificent coral along 2000 kilometers of Omani coastline, including these two spots, provide important feeding grounds and Oman’s relative geography is integral to the migratory route these critters undertake each year.  Although 5 species of sea turtles can be found in Oman (Green, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, Hawsbilll, Leatherback) Green are most common and what we saw that night.

A mother turtle, at least 70 pounds, heaved out of the ocean and slowly, very slowly, dug herself into a nesting hole with her flippers.  The beach is pocked with holes like this ranging from 3 to almost 5 feet in diameter.  Egg laying complete, we watched a few turtles make their way back into the ocean, disappearing into the waves and the night.  On a 4 AM run back to the beach we saw two baby turtles scamper, that’s really the only word, into the surf for the first time.  Mothers lay up to 100 eggs each of three nesting trips a year before leaving the turtles to hatch and make their way to the sea. 

Or not. 

Some estimate that in natural conditions only 2 or 3 hatchlings in every 10,000 survive to maturity.  Seagulls and desert foxes await the new turtles on the beach and once they enter the sea a new band of predators stand guard. 

To get to Ras Al Jinz, we drove south along the coast from Muscat, past crags of limestone that nosedive into turquoise oceans below.  Sand pale and fine where it isn’t made up entirely of ground shells.  On an earlier day of our Winter Break we swam in the Bimmah sinkhole a few miles inland from these beaches – water saltier than the ocean and clear blue/green until the caverns below disappear into the earth.  The depths of the sinkhole caves are unmeasured and largely unexplored at this point.  Back on the beach we set out a picnic under a limestone crag at low tide and hunted for shells, sea urchins, octopus and hermit crabs.  

Bimmah Sinkhole
On our way back from the turtle reserve we stopped at the only remaining traditional dhow shipbuilding yard in Oman and saw a few massive sea vessels being built.

 The Saturday before our winter break ended we set out for one last adventure at sea and spent the morning snorkeling around the Damaniyat islands, 45 minutes north of Muscat.  I’d heard stories of whale sharks lurking in the coral but didn’t see one this time around.  My locally produced snorkel guide assures me that whale sharks surrounding Oman aren’t dangerous to sensible humans….  But on an early trip out, floating above hundreds of fish popping in and out of coral, Max and I saw a turtle not 2 meters away from us.  Having been “trained” in the ways of turtle observing at the reserve a week before we were cautious, but being excitable humans we were also curious and followed him.  We kept out distance behind and never touched him (big no no) but the thrill was incredible.  We saw quite a few more turtles in the reef and then beached ourselves on the sand to take it all in.

1 comment:

  1. I loved my trip to these islands and saw turtles too, but only on the pictures once I looked at them on my computer! They were babies! Love your posts and I hope to make one more trip to Muscat before I depart this region for good in Jne!