Green Living: The Turtle Ranger in Oman

Turtle hatchlings make their way into the sea (Muscat Daily)

Mohammad al Hassani places the hatchlings in a tray to take them nearer to the sea

Hassani releases the turtles into the tracks he drew with his hands on the sand

Born in the fishing village of Qantab, Mohammad al Hassani grew up as a child of the sea who loved playing in the lap of waves and discovering the myriad mysteries of the deep. 

Mohammad al Hassani

Having known the sea intimately, it was no wonder that he was privy to its secrets. He never doubted that whatever his future held, it would always be connected with the great blue world.

And so it turned out, Hassani is the only turtle ranger in Oman today. It didn’t take him long to figure out his passion for turtles.

“Right from childhood, when I was eight or nine years old, whenever I used to go snorkelling and fishing, I used to see a lot of turtles getting stuck in the nets. So from then, the love for turtles was born and I wanted to learn more about them,” he says.

Hassani has been a turtle ranger for 11 years now. He works with Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa as a dedicated turtle ranger. He patrols the beaches of the resort at night to ensure that mother turtles are able to nest in peace and their hatchlings make it to the sea.

Oman boasts of three species of turtles, says Hassani. Hawksbill, Green and the Loggerhead Turtles that are found along the vast coastline of the sultanate, of which the first two are found where Hassani works.

The process

Hassani explains the hatching sequence - a sight that he will never get weary of. “The mother turtle takes about ten to 15 minutes to find a place to hatch. She then digs a hole about half a metre into the sand, which takes about one and a half hours. Then she starts laying eggs, which number about 100-120. She then covers the eggs and goes back into the water. She never returns to see her eggs.”

The sex of the hatchlings is dependent upon the atmospheric temperature, says Hassani. “If it is hot, females are born, and if it is cold, males are born.”

Out of a batch of 120, about 90 survive. “They are lucky here because we are looking after them. Otherwise, there are fewer chances of survival for most among those who grow in the wild,” says the seasoned ranger.

Sometimes, when it gets too hot, the eggs tend to break. In such cases, Hassani moves the eggs to cooler locations on the beaches. While he tries as much as possible to not interfere in the natural process, he facilitates the hatching process and sees that development takes place smoothly. In this way, he is also able to protect them from the heat as well as predators.

When the turtles lay eggs, Hassani puts fences around the nests to prevent people from walking on them. Turtle nesting season is from January till September. The incubation period is two months.

After birth, the turtle hatchlings make their way into the sea after sunset. Hassani releases them at around 6pm when it gets a bit dark, so they are safe from the heat and predators.

Turtle hatching is a much sought-after sight that people from all parts of Oman and even abroad flock to. It is an unforgettable emotive experience that one will cherish and take back. It is also an educative experience that teaches about the Green Turtle, which is endangered and the Hawksbill Turtle, which is critically endangered.

“We have strict guidelines for visitors - they are not allowed to use torchlights at night, and the use of flash from cameras is also prohibited, as exposure to strong light hampers their development,” says Hassani. “The hotel adjusts the lights to ensure that turtles are not affected. Guests are also not allowed to touch the turtles.”


Bidding farewell

Hassani creates a path on the sand with his hands, like a red carpet path, from the nest till the sea. This simplifies the journey for the baby turtles. “It is a way of making sure that they don’t lose their way or tread onto difficult paths filled with pebbles,” he says.

The experienced ranger demonstrates the manner in which the baby turtles should be handled.

He says that hatchlings should be picked up only by placing the hand underneath their bellies. “Never pick them up by their shells as they are very soft.”

A turtle hatchling that is born and survives, never forgets its place of birth, he says. “They go into the sea after they are born and return to the same beach after 20 years. The females always come back to the same beach to lay eggs.”

Being a turtle ranger, looking at the tiny hatchlings struggling to make their way into the vast waters, it might be tempting to make life easier for them by lifting them and placing them directly into the sea but Hassani warns against it.

He says, “It is important to let the hatchlings find their course into the sea by themselves because that is how they will remember their path and the place of their birth for them to return 20 years later.”

Hassani is a sentimental ranger. He likes to name his turtles as he sends them out into the sea. The first ever batch of turtles that he cast away was named Alia. Being a storehouse of information on turtles, Hassani disseminates his knowledge through Turtle Talks held at the Eco Centre of Shangri La’s Al Bandar Hotel, from Saturday to Wednesday at 5pm.

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