Can We Eat The Turtles?

I anxiously watched the little blue dot on my Google Maps app as we drove to our weekend get away.  I had waited almost a year for this.  We drove four hours, turned off a paved road, and followed the blue dot a bit further.  We pulled into vacant lot near a large blank building without signage.  Had we arrived?  It was completely dark and from the howling of the wild dogs nearby I didn’t even want to get out of the car, but we did. My partner approached the dark glass door and discovered that, in fact, we had arrived at the Raz Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.

We checked in, drove our car up a gravel driveway and found ourselves facing a small circle of permanent tents.  The searing heat and humidity were palpable.  Inside the tent a tiny air conditioning unit managed to keep our small space cool.  The timing of our visit, during Ramadan, meant that dinner was later and breakfast was earlier. However, considering we had arrived late in the evening we only had a short sleep before dinner and the first tour.

We managed a nap and a steaming hot dinner at the property hotel.  We moved to the lobby to wait for the tour where hotel guests, visitors from nearby hotels and locals had already began to gather.  In only a few moments the space was bustling.

A tiny child was rushing around with flashing, squeaky sneakers driving most of us completely nuts.  I asked the front desk if the shoes would be allowed on the tour.   I was told to wait and ask the guide.  I wasn’t feeling entirely confident, but they were removed without incident and I forgot about them quickly.

We loaded on an old white shuttle bus and were transported about one kilometer out to the beach.  The darkness engulfed us.  To protect the turtles and avoid disturbing them we were not allowed to carry our own lights.  We could only see with the single light of the guide.  We broke in to groups of ten.  I expected we would hike for a while looking for turtles, but we barely moved.  I walked a few steps.  I wasn’t even aware the tour had started when the guide waved his hand at us to shush and pay attention.  He pointed at the ground near our feet.  There were so many green turtles we had to walk cautiously not to fall into a nest or step on a turtle.  We were shocked into silence.

Our guide explained the process of the tour, including what we should expect to see and provided us with the limitations of our behavior so we would not disturb the turtles.

Within minutes we were silently filing by a turtle laying eggs.  I felt like I was crouched near an ancient dinosaur.  The eggs were white, flexible, and leathery. As they dropped into the nest it was obvious they were an evolutionary marvel.

Green Turtle laying her eggs (photo during night tour).

Green Turtle laying her eggs (photo during night tour).

We moved from that turtle to another digging a nest.  The guides watched us dutifully and cautioned us at every moment so we wouldn’t scare the turtles away. 

Green Turtle digging her nest (photo taken during dawn tour)

Green Turtle digging her nest (photo taken during dawn tour)

Our guide gestured us to circle around him.  We obediently follow his instruction.  He squatted, drew the life-cycle process in the sand and whispered to us about the life of a sea turtle. 

He asked the group if there were questions. I was surprised when one guest asked if the Green Turtles were endangered.  I guess I thought that was obvious.  However, that was just the start of the surprising questions. I was completely shocked when the man next to me spoke out of turn to ask about the eggs.

“Can we eat the eggs?” he said.

“No” replied the guide.

“But why not, they taste good,” retorted the man with a creepy grin.

Green Turtle eggs already hatched.

Green Turtle eggs already hatched.

Passionate about conservation and honored to be observing this life process I felt sick.  Our guide slowly and purposefully stood to his full height.  You could see the fury in his eyes, but his face was calm.  He straightened his spine, stepped closer to the man and stared directly into his eyes.  His voice was no longer a kindly tour guide.  Instead, it became solid, purposeful and filled with authority.  Unflinching he said,  “Maybe in some cultures, maybe in yours, but not here.  Here we protect them.”  The guest was wide-eyed and no longer willing to speak.  Our guide turned on his heel and continued the tour. 

I eagerly followed after him.  I was proud to be an expat in Oman that day.  Months later I still tell that story whenever I get the chance and am excited to share it with you.  Conservation is an uphill battle and is not perfect, but I appreciated the effort of the guide to stick by his mission so firmly. I urge you to check our Raz Al Jinz if you get a chance, and no, you cannot eat the eggs.

Returning to the sea exhausted (photo taken during dawn tour).

Returning to the sea exhausted (photo taken during dawn tour).