Muscat: Oman's eastern beaches are home to one of the rarest of turtles, but poaching and premature deaths threaten the survival of these most-prized sea creatures. The beaches of Masirah Island and Ras Al Hadd along the eastern coast of the country attract thousands of tourists each year to watch the turtles nesting. However, visiting experts say some tourists poach baby turtles, and there are also sightings of dead turtles on the sandy beaches.
"These beaches are world famous. It is a pity that some tourists help themselves to baby turtles by smuggling them out of the country. The beach wardens should be more vigilant by increasing security on the breeding grounds, otherwise there will be no turtles left," Dr Ian Surrey, a British tourist and marine biologist from Portsmouth University in the United Kingdom, told Times of Oman.
Four species of marine turtles, the loggerhead, greenback, hawksbill and olive ridley, breed on Ras Al Hadd and Masirah's beaches. Oman has the highest loggerhead turtle population in the world, and Dr Surrey estimates that about 50,000 of them nest each year on Omani beaches. Each species of turtle has its own specific nesting season spreading out over the year.
The largest cause of deaths among rare baby turtles is due to nets used by fishermen. Turtles become entangled and fishermen regularly throw these turtles onto beaches. "Big trawlers disturb swimming young turtles and some get chopped up by the blades of the engine," Dr Hose Sacramento, a marine scientist from the Spanish Marine Research Center, said.
Share the responsibility
"It is a problem that needs to be shared by everybody and not just the government. I know the authorities work hard on conservation with the public, which needs to become more responsible about the environment."
Also, officials noted that campers leave burning coals and ash on the beaches during barbeque weekends. The accompanying soot and smoke in the vicinity of the breeding grounds will kill young turtles.
"During my regular walks on the beach, I see these little turtles floating or stranded on the beaches, already dead. Some of them are completely covered by charcoal ashes," Yussuf Al Hajri, a Sur resident, told Times of Oman.
The government has established a scientific monitoring and direct conservation programme at the nesting grounds to prevent harm to these rare species. In coordination with rangers and leading universities of the world, local authorities have also undertaken the task of tagging turtles and collecting data for record keeping.
Further, the government is training local rangers to patrol beaches while looking for poachers and to schedule patrol boats to prevent illegal fishing that disturbs turtle breeding areas.