This adventure happened almost a year ago, and I so badly wanted to share it at the time with you all on Wandering Footsteps, but I was busy trying to get a story about it published. It finally happened: my story about searching for sea turtles in Oman was published by Global Green Travel. I’m excited to share it with you here, and to also give you a less literary version of the adventure, with lots of cool photos that weren’t published with the story.
Now we were driving away from Muscat, the capital, and were heading down Oman’s eastern coast to do what we were most excited to do in this intriguing Sultanate – catch sea turtles in the act of nesting and laying their eggs. (Read more about why this is such a wondrous experience in the official version of the story.)
Here, the coastline varied between rock that looked like coral and long white sand beaches. Photographically, it was like a fairy tale. But in actuality, we quickly learned, it was a pain in the butt. The wind was a constant nag, bringing whipping sand, goose bumps, and whitecaps on the water. Worse, as overlanders visiting a country with no campsites, it was a great challenge to find an uninhabited place in which to camp along the entire 400km stretch of coastline we crossed.
Still, we were on a turtle mission, and search for nesting turtles we would. We would just try to accomplish the mission as fast as possible.
On one of our first nights, after getting stuck in the sand on nearby White Beach and subsequently sharing a very strange session of tea with an elderly local villager, we parked on a rocky outcrop and effortlessly spotted turtle heads bobbing between the waves. Later that day, while climbing down to a little gorge near our campsite, we saw tracks in the sand that Bruno declared were those of a turtle.
If it had been this easy to spot turtle heads and turtle tracks, then surely it would be easy to spot nesting turtles, I concluded. I slept well that night, and dreamed of turtle eggs.
The following day, Bruno and I drove through Sur, a town famous for its dhow – or, traditional boat – building. We climbed a little hill and got a spectacular view of the coast. Then we carried on to Ras al Hadd, the official starting-point of turtle-territory in Oman.
Ras al Hadd is set along a long stretch of sandy beach, a beach known for its nesting sea turtles. We found a sign displaying a series of rules of conduct on this beach, set in place to protect the turtles and their nests. But other than that sign, there was no sign of anything turtle-related. Instead, the beach was strewn with fishing nets, boats, and 4WD vehicles, used in Oman to help pull in one’s catch of the day. We didn’t fancy sleeping among the fishermen here, so we carried on.
To Ras al Jinz, the turtle-nesting site of Oman and the entire Middle East. This was the place where Bruno had spent so much time a decade before, camped along the beach watching turtles quietly dig nests in the sand, nestle themselves in, and lay a hundred eggs before waddling back to the sea and leaving their future babies to the fate of cruel Nature. (Read more about that cruel fate in the official version of this story.)
Now, though, Ras al Jinz was just one big concrete building with a tourist information center and a mediocre museum. Bruno was appalled, so we moved on, deciding to continue searching for turtles further down the coast.
We spent a night near As Sulayb, a fishing village whose nets were doing more damage than good to the turtles. We spotted six turtles here, but all of them were dead. This time, I was the one that was appalled.
We drove through the Sharquiya Sands, a desert of dunes that reaches to the coastline. It was fun to climb dunes and gaze at the turquoise sea, but the wind made the sand storms too unbearable to camp here.
Instead, we chose to take a ferry across to Masirah Island, renowned for its turtle-nesting beaches. On the ferry ride, I was full of anticipation at the prospect of soon accomplishing our mission.
Once on the island, we headed straight for Turtle Beach and the Masirah Island Eco Resort. They had an interesting display of turtle conservation efforts on the island, but the receptionist told us we were too early for the loggerhead turtle nesting season, the type of turtle that nests here. We spent the night on Turtle Beach anyway, but instead of turtle tracks, all we saw were tire tracks from 4WD vehicles playing in the sand.
Disappointed, we decided to drown our sorrows the next day at the resort pool. A couple of hotel beers in a country where alcohol is hard to come by helped us swallow our turtle frustrations, and the following day we were ready to search every corner of this rugged, rocky, arid island for nesting sea turtles.
And search we did. We drove up and down the 95km-long eastern coast (where the turtles come to lay), searching for sandy beaches. When we’d find one, we’d get out of the car and walk up and down the beach, looking for signs of turtles. And eventually we found them. At first, the tracks were faint – a few days old or more – but eventually, we found fresh tracks, certainly created the night before.
So, we parked our vehicle near the beach and set in for the day, filled with anticipation. Since turtles almost always lay their eggs in the middle of the night, we busied ourselves that afternoon snorkelling in the water and walking up and down the beach while waiting for the sun to finally set.
I’m not going to go into the details of what exactly happened that night on that uninhabited, isolated stretch of white sand coast on faraway Masirah Island. For that, you’ll have to read the official version of the story. Suffice to say that it was an incredible night.
And no, I didn’t see nesting sea turtles in Oman.
Epilogue: A couple of months after searching for nesting sea turtles in Oman, Bruno and I found ourselves along the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey, another key turtle-nesting coast. I had hopes of finally accomplishing my turtle mission, but once again, we were too early.
With Phil and Angie, we visited Turkey’s premier Iztuku Beach near Dalyan and learned a lot about the local efforts to protect the sea turtles, both by Captain June (a famous sailor-turned turtle ecologist) and a Sea Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Center. The beach was well-protected, which is great to see, but also means that independent overlanders can’t simply camp out here and wait for incoming turtles. I guess my nesting-turtle mission will have to wait for the coast of Mexico!