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Ras al Had Turtle Reserve and the Heritage Site of Ras al Jinz

Date of Submission: 23/05/2013
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Sultanate of Oman to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Sultanate of Oman, South al Sharqiyya Governorate
Coordinates: N 22º 25' 313" E 59º 49' 921"
Ref.: 5840

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Ras al Had Turtle Reserve is situated at South al Sharqiyya Governorate (East of Oman), Wilayat Sur (see the attached map) and was designated as a nature reserve on 23/4/1996. It covers an area of 120 square kilometres of beaches, coastal lands, seabed and two Khaurs or lagoons (Khaur al Hajar and Khaur Jarama). It extends for 45 km along the coast from khaur Jarama in the north to the village of Ras Ruwais in the south. It is rocky in some parts, but has several steep sandy beaches, where, at certain times of the year, thousands of Green Turtles come to nest.

Within the reserve there are some archaeological sites of historical importance, requiring special investigation with the aim of protection and use of these sites for sustainable tourism. Khaurs (the mouths of wadis which flood occasionally) and rocky highlands along the beaches of the reserve provide important habitat for birds. Khaur Jarama supports scattered mangrove bushes which, along with the coral reefs in the area, provide breeding grounds for fish. All these fragile resources are sensitive to human interference and require protection.

Reserve Resources

Physical Resources:

The reserve encompasses a stretch of a coastline, with some hills behind, and the beaches are of importance for the nesting turtles. It also includes a trace of a coastline that includes two large tidal inlets (khaurs). In addition to its scenic values, the Ras al Had area contains several archaeological sites of national significance located within Ras al Had Peninsula, around Khaur Jarama, Ras al Jinz and along the coast of Ras al Khaba.

Biological Resources:

Turtles are the main biological resource of the reserve as annually thousands of people from all over the world come to watch them.  The number of Green Turtles which nest on over 275 beaches along Oman's coastline is estimated to be about 20,000. This makes the Sultanate one of the most important nesting areas for green turtles in the Indian Ocean.  Most of them nest along the 45 km stretch of Coast from Ras al Had to Ra’s ar Ruwais, which is considered one of the important areas for turtle nesting.

Turtles spend most of their lives at sea, but adult female turtles spend a short time on land each year laying their eggs.  They always choose quiet sandy beaches for their nesting.

In addition to the turtles, Khaur al-Jarama supports a population of mangrove bushes scattered along the eastern alluvial coast, as well as coral reefs along its rocky shores.  Such a fertile productive environment, abundant with crustaceans and plankton, attracts fish to spawn and provides food for the fingerlings.

Additionally, the alluvial plains are flanked by tidal mud-flats surrounding the Khaurs, providing wading birds with essential food and rest during their winter migration. Some 130 species have been recorded in the area, of which sea gulls and terns are the most numerous. The coastal rocky highlands provide nesting sites for several species, some of which are residents. The reserve also provides habitat for a number of wild animals such as the Red Fox and Mountain Gazelle.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (x): Ras al Had Turtle Reserve meets criterion X as it encompasses one of the world’s few remaining undisturbed populations of the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas).

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) also utilizes the reserve, especially at Khaur Jarama, as a migratory station away from its origin habitat during the winter season.

Criteria (ii) and (iii) are well covered by the fact that this site testifies for human occupation, which extends from the Holocene to the Iron Age.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Turtle Reserve is aimed at creating a balance between the conservation of the turtle species in Oman and the facility to observe this marvellous spectacle of nature whereby visitors can watch not only when the turtles emerge from the sea to lay their eggs but also the hatchlings’ first-time dash towards their natural habitat in the territorial waters of the Sultanate of Oman.  It is hoped that this reserve will become a model for the country and be duplicated for all equally important nesting beaches in the Oman coasts.  Current measures are in hand to conserve the feeding areas of adult turtles and to minimize the accidental catching of turtles by enforcing appropriate regulations to control fishing methods and practices in those areas.

The Reserve’s core or protection zone is awaiting to be located and its boundary delineated. Core zone should include natural nesting areas of nearly leveled ground with or without sparse growth of bushes and trees nearby  serving as cover while nesting.  Later if properly planned, a multiple land–use zone will be designated to provide opportunity to utilise the resources in a sustainable way  through grazing of their limited number of domestic animals or through fishing and different kinds of recreational and tourist activities. Needs for fishing as their main livelihood, the local fishermen may also opt to be engaged in the local tourism industry which is compatible with the conservation of the turtles.

Currently, there are 14 rangers and a head ranger taking over the resposibility of reserve administration and management, majority of whom are from the local communities. Management practices include visitor control and liaison with local people especially the fishermen. Rangers also are responsible for daily management activities like issuance of visitors permits and guiding and directing visitors as to correct behaviour and selection of suitable vantage points. They also provide assistance in the task of counting and tagging the turtles.

As a natural setting for turtle nesting, a research programme has been established even before its official designation as a reserve. It focused on population estimation, turtles nutritional ecology and migration pattern. The long term monitoring program of turtles tagging is part of an international research program. Research on predation is still on-going.

Beside the Natural site of Ras al Had Turtle Reserve importance, there is another Heritage site situated within the area itself “The Ras al Jinz Archaeological Site. It is located about eleven kilometers South of Ras al Had, considered the most eastern point of Arabia and first land mark along the Arabian coastline for ships sailing to West of India. Due to the large area covered by the archaeological remains, the coordinates of the most important investigated site (RJ-2) are used.

Archaeological remains cover approximately one square kilometer. One hundred sites had been documented and registered from Ras al Jinz (RJ-2). Other discoveries provide evidence that the sands covered many other sites.  The archaeological material is distributed in sites of various heights above sea level. The area contains graves and settlements near the coastline.  Three hundred and fifty graves are reported on the mesa overlooking khaur Jarama and Shiya coast, the fossil lagoon behind Ras al Khabbahandal Swayh. The most important site of Ras al Jinz is located among the turtle reserve.

The settlements and graves are prehistoric and indicate the continuity of human occupation from Early Holocene Period to the Iron Age. Archaeological excavations provide information about the wealth and complexity of a community that had exploited and relied on marine resources.

The lagoons stretched along Ras al Had to Ras al Khabba must have been potential setting for marine resource exploitation. They are separated from the sea by a limestone cliff extending from North to South.

This setting provided for rich marine ecosystem and facilitated fishing. The significance of at Ras al Jinz is projected

by the discovery of a Bronze Age Harrapan potsherd in 1982. It bears four signs of Harrapan inscriptions from the Indus valley in the Northwestern India. The discovery of the object indicates ancient commercial contacts with the centers of civilization in Sumar, Akkad in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley during the Third Millennium B.C.

The most studied sites in this area are located within the turtle reserve where fishermen find direct access to the sea. It is also the area where green turtles lay their eggs. The richness of the preserved finds at the site provides a unique resource for reconstructing the relation between man and sea in this area, where earlier settlements were discovered in the lower part of the area adjacent to the coastline. Settlements were dated as old as 2000 B.C. they are located on the mounds away from the coastline.

Archaeological excavations also revealed many remains and artifacts such as pottery, stone vessels, bitumen, and stamp seals. Pottery objects, related to the Early Bronze Age assemblage of Oman and Indus valley were discovered. Also, a large percentage of pottery jars were discovered in RJ-2.  The presence of this kind of jars indicates that there was an early maritime relation between Oman and other civilizations. Steatite vessels dating back to 2300 B.C were discovered. Sandstone incense burner still containing remains of the burnt material was found in the ruins of one of the houses. By far this object, is considered as the most ancient incense burner ever found in Arabia dating back around 2200 B.C. Metals such as pins, rings and fish hooks imported ivory comb from India and a copper stamp seal engraved with Harrapan inscription were among the finds. Even in a small fishermen village, a wealth and complexity of the society of that time is reflected by a large variety of objects discovered.

Comparison with other similar properties

Ras al Had Reserve can be compared in global terms with the following sites:

  • Pacuare Nature Reserve in Costa Rica’s.
  • National Gang Kou sea turtle Reserve.
  • Turtle Islands in the Philippines and Malaysian waters
  • Florida Turtle Sanctuary 
  • Sandspit and Hawksbay beaches in Pakistan

Pacuare Nature Reserve is located on Tuguero Canal and the Caribbean Sea in  Costa Rica.  It’s area is 800 ha and it is famous for its nesting site on its six- kilometer deserted beach that support nesting Leatherbacks, Green and Hawksbill Turtles. It is situated between coastal lowalnds and the country’s highest mountain range.  There is high annual rainfall and hundreds of acres of pristine lowland rainforests.

In 2006, the Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site following Criteria 1x and x. Located in the right edge of international treaty limits, it is composed of 10 islands of varying shapes and sizes. Seven of the islands belong to the Philippine territory while the other three islands to Malaysia.  It is known as the only nesting area of Green Turtles where at least 1000 are nesters. It is the only living area of the Green Turtles in Asia and the whole world.

Huidong Gangkou Sea Turtle Natural Reserve is one of its kind in China and established in 1985.  The reserve expands to an area of four square kilometers where it is surrounded by mountains and sea. It covers an area of only 0.1 square kilometers sandy shore set in a tranquil environment. Near shore is sandy with patches of coral reef on the seabed while the tiny grains of sand on the slightly sloped beach are enticing for the nesting turtles.  Seawater temperature in summer and autumn seasons is a comfortable 28C. The reserve is an important field research facility for the country.

Florida Turtle Sanctuary hosts five endangered and threatened marine turtles in the world that include the Green, Hawskbill, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting studies on the turtle’s biology, life history, distribution, abundance, migration and threats to the turtles.

Green Turtle nesters frequently visit the Sandspit and Hawksbay beaches in Karachi, Pakistan throughout the year with peaks from September to January. Every year, an average of 800 nests have been reported at Karachi beaches and selected coastal areas of the Balochistan province.