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Fri 26 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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The hard shell

ATN talks to EI-EMC International marketing manager Céline Géraud about Oman's primary eco-tourism resort, Ras al-Jinz, which boasts an abundance of sea turtles and archaeological sites.

ATN talks to EI-EMC International marketing manager Céline Géraud about Oman's primary eco-tourism resort, Ras al-Jinz, which boasts an abundance of sea turtles and archaeological sites.

How did you get involved in the Ras al-Jinz sanctuary?

EI-EMC International was awarded the management of Ras al-Jinz Scientific & Visitor Centre by the Government of Oman. Our company has a long track record working on development projects in the MENA countries.

Thousands of turtles come ashore all year round, but the peak season is during the summer.

For how long has the sanctuary been in operation?

The Ras al-Jinz Sea Turtle Reserve is part of Ras Al-Hadd Nature Reserve and has been open to the public for more than a decade.

The Ministries of Environment and of Tourism decided to implement a world-class pioneer eco-tourism project (Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Research Centre) to cater to high tourism demand.

It will be launched officially in November 2008 but guests can start visiting from September 2008.

How many turtles reside or nest at the sanctuary?

It is believed the reserve is one of the largest nesting areas for green turtles in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of turtles come ashore all year round, but the peak season is during the summer.

How do you conduct the turtle observation sessions for visitors?

Turtle observations are divided into groups of 10 to 12 people. Guests are escorted by professional eco-guides who are able to speak Arabic and English. In addition, audio guides in different languages will soon be available.

However, the site is not only about turtles and nature preservation; we are also developing a cultural product related to archaeology. The area houses some of the oldest settlements in the country.

Green turtle facts

• An average of 30,000 turtles nest on the beaches of Ras al-Jinz each year.

• Green turtles are the largest of the hard-shelled seat turtles (adults are 1.2 metres in length).

• They breathe air, swimming to the surface every few minutes to breathe.

• Young turtles eat plants and other organisms such as jellyfish, crabs, snails and worms.

• Adult turtles are herbivores, mostly eating sea grass and algae.

What are the challenges of running the sanctuary?

Turtles were sharing our planet in huge numbers back when dinosaurs walked the earth.  Today, the seven marine species are in danger of extinction.

Educating people (locally and internationally) on the importance of protecting sea turtles is a big challenge.

What is your client profile?

Tourists and families are the main visitors. Foreigners (tourists and expatriates) mainly visit the beach during winter whereas locals do not hesitate to come during the summer. What do you hope to achieve when the new reserve opens?

Our achievements should be in line with our three main objectives:

• Contributing to the conservation of the natural heritage and cultural heritage.

• Ensuring a sustainable management of the site.

• Contributing to the socio-economic development of the local communities.

Is this facility a pioneer for green tourism in Oman?

Yes, the Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitor Centre is a pioneering eco-tourism project that the Omani Government is keen to develop and promote. The proceeds from client visits to the centre are re-invested in the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage resources in Oman.

How advanced is Oman in terms of implementing green tourism initiatives?

There is a close collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs on tourism development matters. Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitor Centre is a pilot project that the government wishes to replicate in other areas.

What more could Oman do?

There is always a compromise to be made between the need for development and conservation. Oman is putting all its effort to manage this vital balance between the needs of today and preserving its natural heritage and resources for the future.

The sales pitch

Raz Al-Jinz:an eco-tourism resort and educational centre located in the Ras al-Hadd Nature Reserve.

Distance from Muscat:around four hours by road - 389 kilometres.

Interactive Sea Turtle and Archaeology Museum and 3D Ocean Experience:set to launch in October this year, the museum will provide visitors with an interactive and educational journey through the entire life cycle of sea turtles.

Carapace Lodge luxury accommodation:there are 12 VIP rooms, two of which have bunk beds for kids, located in the turtle sanctuary.

Nomadic dining:corporate groups and tour operators can request outdoor catering or picnics in a Bedouin setting.

The Sambuk restaurant:offers international and oriental cuisine as well as theme nights.

Tours available:night turtle-watching guided tour; night tour and dinner; dawn turtle-watching tour; night and dawn tours with or without dinner and with accommodation if required.

Contact:call +968 96 55 06 06; email reservations@rasaljinz.org; or visit www.rasaljinz.org

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