Felicity Glover witnesses the birth of a new generation of endangered green turtles, whose journey has only just begun.
It’s just after five o’clock on a warm and humid Sunday afternoon and the crowd is beginning to build on the beach at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.
The excitement is palpable, with both adults and children gathering around a small roped-off site waiting for a rare moment in their lives: the chance to watch a nest of green turtles hatch and make their way to the gently lapping shoreline to begin their journey of a lifetime.
Keeping everybody in line is the Shangri-La’s dedicated turtle ranger Mohammed al Hassani, who has spent the past 11 years protecting Oman’s critically endangered hawksbill and endangered green turtles at the resort.
“I grew up in Qantab, the small fishing village just along the coast from the resort,” says Mohammed. “Fishing and the sea is a way of life for all the people in Qantab. I have always been involved with fishing and going out to sea on boats.
“Over the years I have seen many turtles in trouble, tangled in fishing lines or nets. I have always helped them as much as I could.”
These days, however, Mohammed says his passion for marine protection has become his “dream job” – and you’ll often see him patrolling the beaches at night to ensure nesting mothers are able to lay their eggs safely, as well as protecting their young.
“Obviously, there are greater threats facing the newly born hatchlings,” he says. “The most dangerous time is on the shoreline or beach right after they have hatched. They are vulnerable at that stage and that is the reason we screen and give them a little helping hand. While they are heading into the sea, water birds, crabs and desert foxes are potential threats.
“If they make it to the water, big waves can get them. It doesn’t get any less demanding once they are in the sea as they can be attacked by all sorts of predatory fish.”
Nesting season in Oman begins in January and carries through until August. There are four main nesting sites in the Sultanate, from the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, where hawksbill and green turtles nest, to the Daymaniyat Islands (hawksbill turtles), Ras Al Hadd (green turtles) and Masirah Island (loggerhead turtles).
So far this year, Mohammed has ushered in more than 1,500 baby turtles as part of the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa’s Turtle Care Project. The year 2011, however, still holds the record of 10,174 hatchlings.
Jürgen Dörr, the general manager of the resort says they have been protecting the turtles since the hotel opened more than 11 years ago, while its Eco Centre was opened in March last year.
“The building of the resort was monitored by the Ministry of Environment, with guidance from the Five Oceans Environmental Services to ensure minimum disturbance and gain maximum benefits for turtle awareness once opened,” says Jürgen.
“Part of the agreement with the Ministry was that the resort would employ a full-time turtle ranger to professionally monitor and record the turtle activities, nesting and hatching numbers, as well as to educate local communities regarding the challenges facing the turtle species.
“We work with local schools and regularly host school trips to the Eco Centre so we can educate children, the next generation, and help them understand their part when it comes to protecting our environment and these critically endangered turtles. It really all comes together when we take the children to the beach area to show the nests and see the turtle hatchlings take place. It’s great when they see the little hatchlings climb out from the sand and make their way into the sea.”
But back to today’s green turtle hatchlings, which are just beginning to emerge from the sand and into the world. They might be tiny but they are determined to climb out of their nest – their natural instincts kicking in to reach the water as fast as possible.
But part of Mohammed’s job is to ensure that every one of today’s 71 hatchlings make it to the ocean safely. So he gathers them up in a specially fitted basket and enters another roped-off area – this one much larger than where the nearby nest is.
The crowd clicks away as Mohammed gently places the tiny turtles on the sand and they make a run for it, awkwardly shuffling towards the water. Some are faster than others and enter the water after just a few minutes. Another trips and lands on its back, its little legs still moving in what appears to be frustration. But Mohammed puts it back on its legs and away it goes, joining its siblings in the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman.
According to Mohammed, the hatchlings born today are all female because of the current weather conditions – if it’s hot, then the hatchlings are more likely to be female, while cooler weather means they will be male.
It will be another 15 to 20 years before these hatchlings make their way back to the beach at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa – where they will give birth to a new generation of hatchlings. While not all of them will make it, we are sure that Mohammed will be there to welcome them home.
Source: Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Turtle Care Project Booklet