From panoramic mountain views and endless deserts to pristine beaches, the Sultanate of Oman is a popular beach and holiday destination, but it's a little-known fact that Oman's beaches are also home to five of the world's seven species of sea turtles. Throughout the year, they flock to the country's shores to lay almost 60,000 eggs each year. Then, less than two months later, the beaches are flooded with newly-hatched baby turtles. Watching the nesting process of these gentle marine giants in such close quarters is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it has become a significant eco-tourism attraction in Oman.
The Turtle Watching Experience
Sea turtles typically lay eggs in the darkness when they are less likely to find predators, so most tours take place in the night (from 9 PM onwards) and early morning (from 5 AM onwards). Watching these majestic creatures emerge from serene dark waters and laboriously pull themselves towards the shore, using their paws to dig little holes and lay eggs, is a unique chance to watch nature at its finest.
Flash photography and the use of flashlights are banned due to their startling nature. Instead, tour guides typically use red lights to point out turtles in the sand. When the turtles are moving, tourists are encouraged to move out of their path and watch them from the sides or behind to avoid scaring them away.
When the eggs hatch, the baby turtles have a dangerous journey back to the water for they face many predators on the way such as crabs, foxes, and birds. They move in hordes, little paws still trembling, as they manoeuvre across the sand. Watching these little hatchlings dash to the ocean is a truly beautiful opportunity. Better yet, these tours are handled by knowledgeable, respectful guides who don't make the experience feel invasive in any way.
Turtle Watching Tours
Oman is believed to be home to the largest number of nesting turtles in the Indian Ocean. Multiple species can be found here like the Olive Ridley turtle, the Hawksbill turtle, and the giant Greenback turtle. The Leatherback Turtle can be found in Omani waters, but they don't nest on the country's shores.
There are around 275 turtle nesting beaches along its coastline, but most of them have been closed off from the public to protect the turtle's habitat. Today, the best-known areas for turtle watching are Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz, Masirah Island, Ad Daymaniyat Islands, and shores of the Dhofar region.
Ras Al Jinz is a fishing village that is home to the Turtle Reserve since 1996. Managed by the Oman Tourism Development Company, it is the only official place to watch the nesting process of the sea turtles. It is world renowned for the nests of the endangered green turtle, chelonian mydas.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is around three hours away from Muscat and forty-five minutes from Sur by road. It includes an interactive museum for visitors to learn more. Tourists are not allowed to visit the beach by themselves, and bookings must be made at the Turtle Reserve for an excursion. There are limited numbers of visitors allowed each day that is enforced by Oman's Ministry of Environment, so bookings are required.
For guests staying at the Turtle Reserve rooms and tents, or the Turtle Beach Resort, turtle viewing is inclusive of the room rates, but the Turtle Reserve fees for non- guests are OMR 7 for adults, OMR 1 for children between 5-12 years, and complimentary for children below the age of four.
Best Season for Turtle Watching in Oman
Although sea turtles visit Oman's shores across the year, the months of May to September are the best time to visit. It is in these months when turtles wander closer to the shore to feed and procreate.
The overall viewing excursion takes between three to five hours. Much of this is spent observing the turtle slowly travel along the sand towards their nest, or returning to the water. During peak months, tourists have reported almost twenty turtle sightings in a day.
The Government of Oman is committed to the preservation of these beings, with many strict laws enforced to ensure their wellbeing. Turtle watching in Oman gives visitors a unique opportunity to view these majestic creatures up close while still being respectful of their nesting processes. Apart from the many mosques and souqs to be visited in the country, take in the beauty of nature with some turtle watching in Oman.