The Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve on the Gulf of Oman is one of the few places in the world where you can see baby turtles emerging from their sandy beach birthplace and race to the sea. You can also see females building a sandy mound over their recently laid eggs. Watching the female lay her eggs is prohibited as it disturbs her. This stop is a must on the tourist agenda for visitors to Oman.
With 30,000 nests (of about 100 eggs each) hatching every year, there is a good chance there will be a sighting on the night you are there. On nights were there is no activity, the Reserve refunds your money. My group was fortunate to see both in a very moving and nature-communing experience.
The tour begin around 9 PM. Almost 100 of us are gathered in the waiting area, i.e. near a turtle-laden gift shop. Called in groups, we started out on a 20 minute walk toward the beach. The evening was dark with only a half moon and some stars to barely light the wide, hard sand path. The temperature and humidity were that perfect combination that mother nature occasionally serves up to make man feel an intimate part of the environment. With the dim light and requested near silence, we are quickly communing with nature, the well lit gift shop long forgotten. The moon dims the stars but leaves enough to create the feeling of awe we all experience under a horizon-to-horizon star-filled sky. Our path swerves left and right and out of sight of any building. As our eyes adapt, the sand beside us whitens. A larger force is welcoming us to something intimate and private. Shortly we hear the surprisingly unexpected sound of waves gently crashing on the shore. Unexpected because we are so in-the-moment with the beach and sky that all else is forgotten. We wonder if the waves will come in far enough to grab the turtles before the predators get them.
Finally we reach the beach. We can see the waves crashing but no sign of turtles or anything else. We are asked to wait quietly and turn off the few dim flashlights we have. Shortly we are called a two minute walk to the right where we see a 5 foot wide circular depression in the sand. The female has laid her eggs and is now covering them in a mound of sand maybe 3 feet higher then the depression in which she is digging and throwing the sand back with her powerful flippers. Most of the sand goes over the pile and 8 feet away reaches the guide’s dishdasha, and my shoes, ankles and shins. A welcome and reassuring touch from Mother Nature. When she is satisfied with the mound, she moves 2 1/2 meters (always) along the beach before taking a right turn and heading for the ocean. She has nothing to fear. Her hard shell is over 3 feet long, and she looks to be well over 100 pounds. She easily makes the ocean, is battered twice by the crashing waves and disappears. She has no more association with her eggs.
We walk up beach and see another female building her mound. But now we are wondering if we will see a nest hatch, the main event. We anxiously wait while a scout guide goes off on a search. Within minutes we are rewarded as the guide tells us to hurry over. He lights the area and we see tens of 3-4 inch immature turtles spread out and race for the sea. A few strays run between our legs, over a few toes, and struggle successfully to climb out of sand depressions deeper than they are long. Some wander a bit left or right but always turn to the ocean where the waves reach out and grab them. All have made it to the sea. The human presence has kept the foxes away, and the birds apparently do not come by at night, which is when most of the hatching takes place. But reaching the sea is not a guarantee of safety. Predators, including small white crabs will still take their fill. We saw a few white crabs on the sand, but they seemed disturbed by our presence and our light, and did not reach for the turtles.
The trip was a success. The race to the sea is primal and touching. Maybe 10 minutes for this whole nest to pass by. Simple and quick, but never to be forgotten.
The guide say the tour is over and we begin a slow walk back. No one is in a hurry. The earlier silence, no longer necessary, is maintained, even among the children, as we try to understand why this simple nature display is so profound and moving.
Walking back, we look up to the sky and see Cassiopeia, as always, pointing to the North star, setting our direction. Orion, unusually low (for North Americans) is nearly prone on the eastern horizon, and the Pleiades are covening somewhere in the middle. No one wants the evening to end.
All is well in the cosmos.
William Pike October 30, 2017