a haven for rare turtles
know that the marine environment is home to a number of endangered
species as well. That is why conservationists throughout the world
have taken serious steps to prevent these species from fading
of the many turtle nesting beaches at Ras al Hadd
One such species whose origin cannot be taken for granted is the
turtle that lived at a time when reptiles ruled the earth. The
first turtles lived more than 185 million years ago. Fossils of
marine turtles date back to 200,000,000 years ago. It is understood
that they were witnesses to the emergence of many dominant species
like the dinosaurs.
Well, considering the great odds against their survival, it is
amazing that turtles have successfully braved through massive
upheavals in the world's environment witnessing the tragic extinction
of other species of their times.
The turtles, therefore, belong to a very ancient species that
deserves a lot of respect. But unfortunately it is threatened
with extinction! People hunt them for their meat and eggs to be
used as food. Turtle shells are used as ornaments and for purposes
like combs and frames for glasses. They are also hunted for their
bone, oil and leather. In fact the most threatened species are
the most economically valuable ones. With demands for modernisation
barging in, their natural homes are destroyed too! However, scientists
are experimenting on methods to raise certain species on turtle
Coming to Oman, turtles
are amongst the oldest and important marine species living in
the Omani waters. Archaeological evidence shows that turtles have
been hunted here for more than 7000 years.
Marine turtles are cold-blooded reptiles and their distribution
is restricted to the warmer areas of the world. Oman is one of
the very rare places in the world where turtles can be watched
freely and calmly. Turtle nesting attracts hundreds of visitors
to Ras al Hadd each year to watch the site at close quarters.
Five different species of turtles swim the Omani waters. Four
of them nest here. These include the endangered Green Turtle,
Loggerhead Turtle and the Olive Ridley Turtle and the critically
endangered Hawksbill Turtle. The the Leatherback Turtle
is a visitor in offshore waters.
It is believed that turtles live longer than any other backboned
animal. Turtles that live in water have a flatter, more streamlined
shell than turtles that live on land. Sea Turtles cannot withdraw
into their shell and so they depend on their size and swimming
speed for defence. They have large flattened limbs or flippers,
which they beat while swimming. They move clumsily on land but
are excellent swimmers. The fastest reptile in water is the Pacific
Leatherback Turtle, which can swim at over 30 km/hr.
Hard scales cover the head
of most species of turtles. They have no teeth. Instead they have
a beak with a sharp cutting edge with which they cut food. All
turtles lay their eggs on land. Female sea turtles do not normally
leave the water except to lay their eggs. Most of the males never
return to land after entering the sea as hatchlings.
Nesting activity is carried out on beaches like the Ras al Hadd,
famous for its Green Turtles nesting population, which is probably
the largest in the Indian Ocean. The Masirah Island hosts all
four of Oman's nesting turtles. The Loggerhead nesting population
on Masirah is probably the largest in the world, and may constitute
nearly half of the Global nesting population. The nesting population
of the Hawksbill Turtles occurs on the Damaniyat Islands. Their
global significance here is due to its size and density.
The Green Turtles: The Green Turtle's local Arabic names are 'Sul
Hafah Al Khuthera', 'Hamas' or 'Shiree'. This is a very common
species in the Indian Ocean. It is a popular food in many parts
of the world. The use of its meat and eggs by humans has seriously
endangered its survival. Green Turtles feed on luxuriant seaweeds
and other green plants. They are found everywhere in Omani waters
and travel further than other sea turtles. They can be seen in
the hundreds, even thousands over the larger feeding areas. Green
Turtles lay about 110 eggs in a clutch.
The beaches of the peninsula of Ras al Hadd, which stretches between
Ras Ar Ruwais and Khuwr Jaramah, attract the largest number of
Green Turtles nesting in Oman. This is one of the only three very
large nesting aggregations of Green Turtles known in the Indian
The Hawksbill Turtles: The Hawksbill turtle is one of the smallest
of all the sea turtles. They resemble small green turtles and
occur wherever there are coral reefs. In local Arabic it is called
'Al Sherfaf'. It eats just about anything it can find in the water.
The Hawksbill turtle is the only sea turtle that is classified
as a critically endangered species. They lay about 100 to 160
eggs in a clutch. This is a difficult species to protect because
they nest in low numbers spread over a wide area.
The Loggerhead Turtles: The Loggerhead Turtles, locally called
'Rimani' or 'Murah', have a relatively flat carapace (upper shell),
which is often light brown in colour. They are carnivorous. Their
heavy powerful jaws enable them to easily crush even the thickest
of shells. In Oman, the majority of Loggerheads nest on beaches
of the Masirah Island, which is the world's largest nesting population.
Their egg clutches average 100 eggs.
The Olive Ridley Turtles: These are best known for their huge
synchronised nesting. It is a small turtle, which feeds on crabs,
shrimps, jellyfish and seasquirts. The local name for this Turtle
is 'Al Zaytooni'. They lay about 100 eggs per clutch. The migration
of this species is not known.
The Leatherback Turtle: Called 'Al Niml' locally, this is an unusual
turtle. It does not have plates like other turtles but a leathery
skin over its shell. It reaches a weight of more than 600 kgs
and is a giant among turtles. The largest on record is reputed
to have weighed nearly 1000 kgs and measured 3 metres in length
about the weight of 10 large men! The Leatherback Turtle
is carnivorous. In Oman the Leatherback Turtle feeds regularly
in offshore waters. Roughly 85 eggs are laid per clutch.
Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for errors.