Ras Al Jinz: Watching Green Turtles nesting on the seafront under the moonlit sky, with only the sound of the roaring waves breaking the eerie silence is an out-of-this-world experience.
From the moment you arrive at the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve, nestled between the mountains, after a long 300-kilometre drive from Muscat, all traces of fatigue vanish with the excitement of getting a glimpse of the giant turtles.
With its perfect ambience and picturesque setting, this reserve is fast becoming one of the most sought-after sites for turtle watching.
People who don't mind spending a few extra bucks can make use of eco-friendly tents, featuring modern amenities, on hilltops overlooking the sea, barely a stone's throw from the main reserve. And if you don't want to strain yourself, there is even a cab available to ferry you from the luxury tents to the base camp.
Unzipping your window curtains reveals the breathtaking sight of the crystal-clear blue sea, while you remain comfortable in the cool climate created by your air-conditioner as you relax in your bedroom or take a bath.
For the safety of the turtles, only two trips, comprising two groups of 100 persons each, are conducted each day: one at 9pm and another at 4am. Moreover, an in-house restaurant serving sumptuous food adds to the experience. All of these facilities provide the perfect backdrop before the tourists set off for the beach.
This is why Western tourists have been coming to this reserve in hordes. "As soon as tourists arrive at the reserve, the officials take them on a tour of the museum, which displays many artefacts. Through a 3-D presentation, the visitors are informed of the dangers faced by Green Turtles and the efforts being made for their conservation," said Vijay Handa, General Manager, Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.
At the stroke of 9pm the Omani guide, with a torch in his hand, walks you to the nesting site of the turtles on the beach, over a kilometre away.
Once there, it is an exhilarating experience to watch the giant Green Turtles laying some 100 eggs within a span of 15 minutes and covering them with sand to protect them from foxes, seagulls, and crabs. After the turtles lay their eggs, they say goodbye to them but not before digging another hole as a decoy to camouflage the original nest.
Unfortunately, due to the vicissitudes of nature, despite their best efforts, mortality rates amongst baby turtles are very high — almost 99 per cent.
The primary danger comes from foxes, who hunt for the eggs and even the new hatchlings. Many baby turtles can often be seen strewn along the beach, even before they have seen the light of day. The eggs typically hatch in 60 days, and the baby turtles then travel to the sea. However, seagulls are lying in wait to latch onto them. At first, baby turtles swim close to the surface of the water, which further endangers their lives, and they easily fall prey to birds and fish.
The utmost care must be taken to avoid disturbing their habitat; otherwise, the turtles lay their eggs in the water and leave quickly, without taking any further precautions. Since the eggs are very soft, high tide can have a terrible impact on them. The sex of the baby turtles is dependent on the temperature of the sand.
Higher temperatures increase the probability of getting female hatchlings, and lower temperatures increase the chance of getting male hatchlings. Since turtles have a long lifespan, they start laying their eggs between the age of 37 and 49 years and may continue until they are 70 years old. These giant turtles can weigh 100-250 kilograms or more.
June to August is usually peak breeding season, but in Oman, turtles come to lay their eggs throughout the year, making it a hot tourist spot.
A sea turtle typically returns to the same nesting spot three years later, after visiting countries such as India, Australia and Somalia. More efforts need to be made to keep their eggs from being destroyed; otherwise, we will only see them in pictures.
Just as the baby turtles made their way towards the sea by following the moonlight, all the visitors, at the end of their successful trip, used the same gift of nature to return to their luxury eco-tents.
The reserve currently has 31 accommodations to offer, including 17 carapace rooms, two rooms with bunk-beds, and the 12 recently added luxury eco-tents on an adjoining hillock. The luxury tents were imported from Eco-Structures Australia and are unique in Oman. They are windproof and rainproof and have been tested in cyclone-hit areas to ensure they meet safety standards.
Guests can enjoy the panoramic view of the Ras Al Jinz beach from their tents or the sit-out area.
There is also a Ras Al Jinz View Point on one of the hills near the tent site.
Of the 12 air-conditioned tents, four are suitable for large families of four adults and two children, and the remaining eight tents are adequate for a couple and two children. Each luxury eco-tent has a separate bathing area, dressing table, tea and coffee maker, safe deposit box, mini fridge, and LCD TV.
Visitors can check in at the front desk of the reserve and are escorted to their tents in the club car. There is also a provision for parking four-wheel drives and saloon cars near the tented area.