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A NIGHT WITH TURTLES AT RAS- AL HADD

 

Dr. Bipul C Bhuyan, Muscat


It was a fine March morning when we started our trip to Ras-al Hadd to attend the Ras-al-Hadd tourism festival. Actually we drove up to Sur, which is about 320 Km from Muscat. Ras-al Hadd is another hours journey from Sur by a four wheel drive vehicle. The road to Ras-al Hadd is a gravel road and somewhat bumpy and dusty with desert all around. The scenery was beautiful and we enjoyed every moment of the drive.We reached Ras-al Hadd in the afternoon and stayed in a tent by the beach organized by the tourism department specially for the festival. In fact they have put up some 100 tents and organized everything very well including all the meals. It was festival mood all around with lots of games, rides ,music etc. We attended the festival activities in the evening. However, our main attraction was to see the world famous green turtles of Oman.

Beaches of Oman in the Ras-al Hadd area support one of the world’s few remaining populations of the species and has the largest nesting population in the Indian ocean. This area believe to support a nesting population of some 10,000 green turtles. The turtles which we see to-day are very similar to those that were swimming in the oceans millions of years ago.They have survived because they are tough and adaptable through ages.

At about 9 o’clock at night our guide and driver took us to Ras-al-Jinx which is about 15 minutes drive from our Ras-al Hadd camp site. We stopped at the check post near the beach. Our guide took the permission from the official at the check post. From that point we were escorted by special guide of Regional municipalities and Environment to the beach in different small groups. It was dark night but we could still see with the help of small pencil torch. Bright lights, fires etc. are not allowed as they disturb the nesting turtles. We were in the beach in another 15 minutes walk. The guide first check the area for turtles and then he showed us few nesting turtles. It was a magnificant sight. We saw one nesting turtle digging a pit in the sand and saw another laying eggs in a deeper cavity. Then we saw another slowly returning back to the sea after completing laying of her eggs. It was really amazing and an unique experience.

An egg laying turtle weighs about 150 Kgs and a meter long. They lay about 100 eggs at one time in painstakingly digged holes in the sand. The females start laying eggs between 30 to 50 years in every 2 to 4 years. They continue to lay eggs until about 100 years old. The turtles always return to the same beach to lay eggs which is the place they were born. The best time to watch them laying eggs is between July and September, when they come to the beaches in large numbers.

The eggs hatch in about 55 days, more or less simultaneously within one clutch. They emerge at night and dash to the sea. Then they drift on ocean currents feeding on plakton initially. About a year latter , they return to the shallow water. Many eggs never hatch, sea water destroys some and foxes dig up still more. Large number of hatchlings are eaten by foxes, dogs in their dash to the sea . In sea they are easily picked up by carnivorous fish. Only 2 or 3 in 10,000 hatchlings ever survive to adulthood.. Therefore, they are considered to be endangered species and World wildlife fund is studying them in Oman for last 12 years.

It was past midnight when our guide took us back to the check gate. There we had Omani gahwa and dates. After that we returned back to our camp at Ras –al Hadd. It was an experience for all of us of one of a kind and surely an one in lifetime experience.