Turtle Talk with Trevor Smith, Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Director of Sports and R

To celebrate World Turtle Day on May 23, we talked with Mohammed, the turtle ranger at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Sultanate of Oman to find out more about his passion for turtles. Along with Mohammed, we also talked to Trevor Smith, director of sports and recreation at the resort, about the turtle protection program and its importance to protecting the endangered hawksbill turtles.

Sustainability: When did the Turtle Ranger program start, and what led to its advent?

Trevor: The area where the resort is built has always been a turtle nesting site. The building of the resort was strictly monitored by the Ministry of Environment with guidance from the 5 Oceans Environmental group to achieve minimum disturbance to the turtles during the construction and to gain maximum benefits once the hotel is operational. Part of the agreement with the Ministry was that the resort would employ a full-time Turtle Ranger to professionally monitor and record the turtle activities, nesting and hatching numbers as well as to educate local communities regarding the threats facing all species of turtles.

Sustainability: Is there a team of Turtle Rangers at the resort?

Trevor: At present we have Mohammed who is assisted by one other team member during hatchling release.

Sustainability: When it is not hatching season, how do you (and the team) support the local endangered turtles?

Trevor: We organize regular beach and ocean clean ups, both inside and outside of our resort. We also visit local schools to teach about the life of the turtles and the threats they face, i.e. illegal hunting, plastic in the ocean, discarded fishing lines and nets, etc.

Sustainability: How does the resort prepare for hatching season? About how long does it take?

Trevor: Actually, there is not too much preparation required. We arrange sticks and rope to mark each nest. Once a nest is found, we mark it with a sign, giving the approximate date of hatching.

Sustainability: What threats are posed to both the turtles that lay their eggs as well as the hatchlings?

Trevor: Turtles laying their eggs can be very easily disturbed, meaning they either simply head back into the sea or, if they are in the process of actually laying their eggs, can become very stressed. This can occur if guests approach them too closely and/or use flash photography. This is why Mohammed takes a pro-active approach and invites guests to witness the nesting in a very controlled manner. He uses this opportunity to educate the guests about the ‘Turtle Watchers Code of Conduct’.

Obviously, there are greater threats facing the newly born hatchlings. While they are heading into the ocean, water birds, crabs and desert foxes are the major worry on land. If they make it to the water’s edge, heavy waves can kill them. It doesn’t get any easier once they are in the sea, as they can be attacked by predatory fish.

Sustainability: What does the team at the resort do to protect the hatchlings from threats as they go out to sea?

Trevor: Mohammed does an excellent job of monitoring the turtle nests when they are due to hatch and gives them a little assistance in the process. If they reach the surface during daylight hours then Mohammed will keep them away from predators until it is safe to release them, usually at dusk. This gives them the maximum chance of survival. Unfortunately, once they have entered the sea, they are on their own.

Sustainability: About how many turtles hatch at the resort per year?

Trevor: Last year, we had a total of 129 nests with 6,967 hatchlings released into the wild.

Sustainability: Does the resort have a tracking system to determine if the same turtles lay their eggs on the resort beaches year after year?

Trevor: Habitually, studies show that the females return to nest on the same beach where they were born. However, at present we do not have any tracking units to confirm this at the resort. This is something we are currently working on with the assistance of the Ministry of Environment and will hopefully have in place for the next nesting season. This would then allow us to have an ‘Adopt-a-Turtle’ scheme sometime in the near future, where the guests can register with us and we can send them updated information regarding the well-being and location of tagged turtles.

Sustainability: Is Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Sultanate of Oman the only resort in the area that has a program in place to help endangered turtles?

Trevor: Yes, and we are very proud of this fact. As far as I am aware, it is the only hotel in the whole region with any type of turtle program.

Sustainability: Does the resort have a program in place to educate guests and the local community about the endangered turtles?

Trevor: Yes, Mohammed gives a very informative ‘Turtle Talk’ every day for the guests. He also delivers a presentation for all our new employees during their orientation. He also regularly visits local schools to give this presentation and discusses the turtles with the children.

Thanks for taking the time to talk about turtles, Trevor!