How I met the turtle’s mother

Baby green turtles at Ras al-Jinz, Oman (Photo by Andries Oudshoorn — httpscommons.wikimedia.org)

Oman has classic sand dunes and postcard-pretty oases. But turtle watching in July could easily be the highlight of your trip


The phone rings. Bleary-eyed, I look at the watch. It’s 3.30 am. I want to tell the receptionist I’m on vacation before slamming the receiver. Instead, I say, “I’ll be down in 15 minutes.”


This isn’t your usual holiday.

You don’t wake up late, go for brunch, stroll down to the beach in your shorts.

The beach at Ras Al Jinz ( ‘the circle of life’) in Oman belongs to turtles. And I’m here to meet them. Which means, I’ve got to be down in 15 minutes. In time for the 4 am tour conducted by the Turtle Reserve.

Circle of life
 
Sea turtles have fascinating life cycles. The males almost never leave the water, so it’s just the females that come on shore to lay eggs. And they often travel hundreds or thousands of miles to do so.

Different species prefer different beaches for reasons not entirely known, and amazingly, females return to the same beach every time. Once the eggs are laid (we’ll get to that), they return to the water. The new-borns must make their way out of the egg, through the sand and into the water on their own.

This circle clearly works well. Or has worked well so long. Evidence suggests that turtles might be older than dinosaurs. But now, human activity, beach erosion and artificial lighting have significantly hurt the egg-laying process and led to some turtles becoming endangered.

Meet the turtles

Back at Ras Al Jinz, our dawn party looks like a platoon of sleepy soldiers. It’s a good thing. Turtles are terribly shy, and we’re going to watch them in a rather intimate performance. You’d rather be the sedate, gently amazed tourist than the super-excited sort trying to capture it all on a pocket digicam.

It’s pitch dark, save for the light from the platoon leader’s dim torch. He issues a warning about scorpions in the sand. I can’t tell if he’s joking, but I’m glad I’m wearing shoes. We start the march.

We meet our first Green Turtle. It’s very big, very slow and, right now, very busy laying eggs. I feel like an intruder spying on a private moment. But then, I’m Indian and toughened by shows like Bigg Boss. Besides, Mrs Green doesn’t seem to mind. Some believe turtles go into a trance of sorts while laying eggs. I just think it would take some serious disturbing after all the work she’s done.

Mrs Green has first used her flippers to dig a body pit slightly bigger than herself. Then, just using the rear flippers, she has dug the egg cavity. This is where she is dropping eggs (they can lay over a hundred at a time) that look like the hard-boiled poultry variety, but covered in mucus. Yum!

Once this is done, she will cover the pit with sand and drag herself back to the water.

At the reserve

July is one of the best times to go to Ras-Al Jinz. This is when the massive Green Turtles come ashore.

The Reserve itself is a shining example of animal conservation and responsible tourism. Apart from star-hotel-like facilities, they also ensure that the beach (a 40-km protected stretch) is maintained in its pristine state. The museum at the centre is also a must-visit.

But right now, that can wait. I’m famished,and I need some breakfast. I’m hoping the buffet won’t have boiled eggs.

The protected beach at Ras-Al-Jinz (Photo: By hotshoe! (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons)

Know your turtles

  • Green Turtle: They are among the biggest turtles (they can measure up to 5 ft and weight upto 300 kg). Seen in June-August.
  • Olive Ridley Turtle: A small, heart-shaped variety. They visit in February.
  • Loggerhead Turtle: Another large variety, with a reddish-brown shell. Seen here in June.
  • Hawksbill Turtle: They have tapered heads, like a bird’s beak. Seen here in April.

Visit www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com for more information.


The writer travelled as a guest of the Oman Ministry of Tourism.

This story was originally published in Hindustan Times.

Tweet to me at @saritray2001