An appointment with the green turtles of Sur

While darkness embraces the rather quaint surrounding of Ras al Jinz in Sur, something slowly crawls in the sand. These creatures love total darkness. As they crawl, they barely make a sound. In the morning, the only way to tell that they were there is because they made drag marks on the ground.
They come from the deep, and every once in a while has to go on dry land to lay their eggs. They have distrust for anything that moves in their path. Any sign of threat and they are back to the sea looking for a more suitable place for their young ones to hatch.
Their coming to dry land to lay eggs is something Ahmed Ali Saif al Jaabri finds fascinating. He has witnessed several instances of the adults coming to the beach, and he has witnessed several instances of their hatchlings rushing back to the shore and despite the many time he has seen them, he still found it an amazing sight to behold.
Although the turtle beaches of Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz in Al Sharqiyah are a few hours’ drive from his home, Ahmed likes taking the trip. An outdoor person who has penchant for camping, photography and exploration, he considers being out in the open an opportunity to learn more about his immediate environment. And he is proud of Oman for everything it has to offer.
He has explored many parts of the Sultanate. His Instagram and Facebook accounts were peppered with several of the trips he has taken and he has amassed quite a following who supports and loves his adventures.
Knowing some of the best spots that tourists and travellers would love, he started taking visitors on tour since 2010.
“I love travelling in my beloved country and exploring the beautiful places and I have visited quite a few of them. I don’t have a company per se but I’d been organising trips and camping for those who wanted to take an off-road adventure of Oman,” he shared.
His most recent trip to Ras Al Jinz happened a couple of days ago. There was no particular reason for his going there except that he is in the mood to see something mesmerizing.
Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz are popular breeding grounds for green sea turtles. And contrary to what many believe, they were named green turtles not for the colour of their shells but rather the colour of their skin. They inhabit tropical and subtropical coastal waters and can weigh up to 700 pounds making them among some of the largest sea turtles in the world.
Green sea turtles have nonretractable heads. And males, who also have longer tales, are usually bigger than females. They are graceful swimmers and are usually herbivorous preferring to eat algae and sea grass (although some green turtles eat crabs, jellyfish and sponges.)
They are listed as an endangered species with some hunters comparing their meat and eggs to that of the taste of chicken. The destruction of their nesting grounds by humans is one of the top reasons why their number continues to decline.
Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz are their haven — protected and preserved because the country recognizes their importance.
For Ahmed, walking on the sand of this sanctuary is in itself an adventure. He has done his study to make sure he catches them at the right time.
“The best time to visit is between July and October. It’s a totally different kind of adventure since it will definitely require patience and you must really have this adoration for nature,” he said.
“During the night, just like what we see couple of days ago, turtles drag themselves out of the water and silently crawls on the sand several metres from the water. Once they make an estimate and find the right spot, they start digging a hole on the sand. The sea turtles will lay their eggs and after that, cover it with sand again. Then they slide back to the sea,” he shared.
“It takes about 55 days for the eggs to hatch. Once they hatch, they would emerge from the sand and thus begin their difficult journey back to the water,” he said.
“Just barely a days old, and they would soon learn of the various dangers around them. Not all hatchlings make it to the water. Most will be eaten by birds, crabs and foxes among other predators. But the lucky ones, the one who reach the water, will have an opportunity to grow and explore the ocean,” he said.
Green sea turtles migrate far from their nesting grounds but females usually go back to the shores where their mothers lay their eggs and do the same there. After digging a pit on the sand with their flippers, they normally leave behind 100 to 200 eggs.
Green sea turtles usually mate every two to four years and normally on shallow waters close to shore.
“Visiting the turtle beaches, one must be aware of several dos and don’ts,” Ahmed warned.
“Turtles are sensitive to light and requires total darkness to lay their eggs which is why flashlights are not allowed. If the turtles sense white light, they will consider it as a threat. Once threatened, they will not lay their eggs, go away and will not comeback. Red lights are acceptable though but usually, it’s the guides who handles them and it is how we see the green turtles in the darkness,” he said.
“One also has to be wary of where you stand. Do not stand in front of them else they will feel threatened. You can look at them from the side or from behind,” he said.
“It is quite an experience to wake up very early, get on the beach and spot wild adults and baby turtles leaving their nest and sliding back to sea,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed shared that there is a hotel that offers air conditioned rooms and cottages in the area. He said that fortunately, these rooms come with satellite television. Other amenities include a free private beach, a restaurant that offers traditional buffet and breakfast buffet.
“Activities on this part of Sur is quite limited,” Ahmed said.
“Other than observing the turtles, you can visit the Museum which offers a glimpse and education regarding sea turtle’s life. You’d also enjoy swimming at the beach. Personally, Raz al Hadd and Raz al Jinz are two of my favourite places. I’d been here many times taking tourists with me most of the time,” he said.
“If you like camping, I would recommend camping for the night rather than rushing a day visit. It’s about 3-hour drive from Muscat so spending the evening would be most ideal,” he said.
“Usually, I can’t wait for the weekend so that I can go on my next trip. Then I go wherever I can gain inspiration from my trip,” he said.
Ahmed said he is looking forward to opening his own company and museum that focus on the traditions and cultures of Oman.
To get recommendations, personal travel itineraries or organized tours, he can be contacted via his Instagram: ahmed_aljaabri or email him at ahmedaljaabri@gmail.com

YERU EBUEN

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