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Green turtles of Masirah

By Nancy Papathanasopoulou

Masirah hosts four species of nesting turtles. Some have been studied better than others and the Masirah Turtle Conservation Project, sponsored by TOTAL Corporate Foundation for Biodiversity and the Sea and TOTAL Oman with the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs in the sultanate, has attached satellite transmitters to ten loggerheads (Caretta caretta) in May 2006 and nine Olive Ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) in March 2008, unveiling their migratory paths and several of their other secrets. It was time to do the same for the much-suffering green turtle (Chelonia mydas, or khamisa as it is known locally) of Masirah, a species that, unlike anywhere else in Oman, has traditionally been eaten here. Its eggs are harvested and cherished as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac.

275 beaches

Green turtles occur throughout tropical and warmer temperate waters of the world, and are nesting in many areas in the Gulf, usually in small numbers. Like all sea turtles, they, too, are classified as an endangered species. They are known to migrate very long distances in search of food as has been demonstrated by flipper tagging over the years. They nest on over 275 beaches in Oman, the most famous of which is the 45km stretch of beach in Ras al Hadd, where nesting occurs throughout the year and at least 20,000 females emerge here for this purpose. This population is of worldwide importance and is acknowledged as such by all international organisations studying sea turtles and marine biodiversity.

Masirah Island hosts an estimated population of 250–500 green turtles a year. Studying them here is difficult, as nesting areas are more or less situated all over the island, sometimes in hidden beaches surrounded by rocks and the stretches where they can be found is over 60km long. In addition, the difficulty of access to the island itself has contributed to researchers not being able to reach these animals and study them in detail.

However, one thing is certain: This difficulty of access to them here does not affect the local population and many visitors from other Gulf countries, who traditionally eat green turtle meat and eggs. From the times when there weren’t many resources for food on the island, locals have been enjoying the taste of green turtle meat and the protein provided by its eggs. Nowadays, Omani legislation strictly prohibits this and threatens with fines, but the local rangers, despite their efforts, cannot possibly patrol the whole island day and night through the year. Nesting females are butchered and eggs are being dug out of the sand very often, especially during peak nesting season in August and September.

Endangered -  Satellite telemetry

Education, information and the presence of research teams on the island have made a bit of a difference in the attitude of Masirah Island residents towards green turtle meat and egg consumption. Schools have been informed, questions have been answered, fishermen educated on the importance of the species for their fish stocks, and now most young people won’t touch turtle meat. But more needs to be done if green turtles are to survive. According to all accounts, their population has been dwindling dangerously for the past two decades and it looks like they are now seriously threatened with extinction here. Within the context of these efforts and as a continuation of the three-year turtle conservation project, it was decided by project leaders that the depleted population of green turtles should be further investigated through satellite telemetry. Like with the previous two nesting species, here, too, post-nesting greens would show their migration routes to researchers and allow conclusions to be drawn towards more efficient protection for survival.

Gina and Najma - How they were tagged

Eastern Masirah is the best area to look for green turtles, especially between July and mid-October. The scientific team went in the end of August, but only managed to find one turtle. Gina was tagged in Ras Radum Beach (20.44’ N 58.84’ E) after long hours of searching. A second expedition was organised at the end of September, during which Najma was discovered and tagged 5km south of Nughut (20.45’ N 58.85 E). They both received a regular location transmitter, the Kiwisat 101.

To find out more about these turtles migrations and follow them on the web, follow this link online: