Life is fragile. But even the most vulnerable of creatures can triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.
One such experience brought tears to my eyes on a cool, windy August evening in Ras Al Jinz, Oman. It was well past sunset, and the deserted beach was dark except for the light of a nearly full moon. The waves of the Indian Ocean crashed against the shore as the tour began.
The first sighting was a green sea turtle – an adult female, in the process of nesting.
This process is an impressive feat of instinct and physical effort. After pulling herself to shore and digging an egg chamber, she lays 100-150 eggs. The eggs won't hatch for 55 days, so she protects them by covering them tightly, flinging sand backwards with her front flippers, and packing it in place with her back flippers.
This takes about an hour, and she stops to rest from time to time. After she is done, there will be a trail of packed sand nearly a meter long "“ this is to confuse predators as to the location of the nest. The predators on land are many, including foxes, crabs, seagulls, and other birds of prey. The sobering fact is that only one out of every 1,000 sea turtles will survive the journey from egg to hatchling to adulthood.
The struggle of the newborns is what I witnessed next, as the guide pointed out two hatchlings who had emerged from a different nest. The soft-shelled hatchlings, completely on their own, had to find their way across the beach and into the ocean. It was a long distance for creatures that were only the size of a sand dollar.
On this protected reserve, I could not interfere with Mother Nature. So, unable to help, I observed from a distance. My whole heart hoped those babies would make it to the ocean. I watched and waited as they flopped back and forth, using their flippers to pull themselves awkwardly over the mounds of sand.
They were nearly there, and for a moment I held my breath as they started to run parallel to the waterline rather than toward it. Then, suddenly, a large wave rolled over them and carried them away. They had made it.
Of course, their struggles weren't finished. There are predators in the ocean, too. However, they had made it through the first, very dangerous part of their journey, and I like to imagine that they will make it to adulthood, too.
When you go:
- The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, located on the eastern coast of Oman just a three hour drive from the capital city of Muscat, is one of the world's most important nesting sites for the endangered green sea turtle. Here, at least one female turtle comes to nest every night of the year. The hot summer months are peak nesting season.
- In order to protect the turtles, access to nesting beaches is strictly regulated by the government in Oman. Out of over 200 sites, only Ras Al Jinz allows visitors, and only via a tour with trained guides. During the tour, English-speaking local guides teach you about the turtles, and go over rules of conduct to ensure that the turtles won't be disturbed.
- Tours run twice daily at 4am and 9pm (times may vary by season), must be reserved ahead of time, and cost 5 OMR (13 USD) per person. Try to wake up for early morning tour, which is less crowded and has good visibility during sunrise.
- Tours depart from the hotel at Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve. You don't have to stay at the hotel, but I recommend it. As a guest, you can join both the morning and evening tours at no charge. Plus, rather than commuting at 4am, you can just walk downstairs.
- The hotel is basic but adequate, and very isolated. Stay here for the turtles, not the hotel itself. The stay includes breakfast, but you'll have to purchase other meals from the hotel (there are no restaurants nearby) or bring your own snacks. During peak season, one night's stay is typically enough time for turtle sighting.
- For tours and accommodation: www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com/
Written by: Tammy Powell
Tammy Powell is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Boulder,
Colorado. She is enthusiastic about traveling, reading, meditating, and
ballroom dancing. She maintains a blog of her travels and life lessons at:
All Photo Credits: Tammy Powell