fe4b1d28cda49210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2008-Q2Oman limits 'turtle beach' visitsee4b1d28cda49210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Oman limits 'turtle beach' visitsA project aimed at protecting Oman's turtles could be a model for other eco-tourism schemes in the region.A project aimed at protecting Oman's turtles could be a model for other eco-tourism schemes in the region.<p>RAS AL JINZ, Oman // A project that aims to safeguard turtles that lay their eggs on Oman's beaches and also generate revenue from visitors could be a model for similar ecotourism projects across the region, conservationists say.
Under the scheme, strict limits will be imposed on the number of tourists allowed to visit the popular "turtle beach" at Ras al Jinz each evening, in the hope that this will ensure the survival of the reptiles for generations to come.</p>
<p>Conservationists are concerned that the hundreds of tourists who visit the beaches unsupervised each night could upset the turtles as they lay their eggs.
"This is very much ecotourism - we are protecting [the turtles] in parallel with getting enough funds from tourism," said Ahmad Kronfol, a consultant with the project.
"Probably other projects in Oman later on will be done with this same mentality. We will be using nature, but helping nature as well.</p>
<p>"With this initiative we can compete with similar projects in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada."
Each year about 40,000 people visit turtle beach, which is about a 30-minute drive from Sur and is a popular destination with tourists from the UAE.
Archaeological evidence shows that turtles have been hunted in Oman for more than 7,000 years.
Female green turtles nest every two to four years, digging a hole in the sand and laying scores of eggs. Between seven and 10 weeks later, usually at night or in the early morning, hatchlings emerge and try to make their way to the sea.</p>
<p>Local guides take groups to turtle beach in the evening to watch adult females dig nests and lay eggs.
People are free to go to the beach without supervision in the morning when the hatchlings struggle out of nests, and the adults complete their egg-laying and return to the water.
Mr Kronfol said visitors were not guided in "a professional way", so new guides would be recruited and current ones given training in subjects such as archaeology, environmentalism and hospitality.</p>
<p>A limit of 100 visitors to turtle beach per evening will be enforced, and tour groups will not be allowed to take more than 15 people each.
As many as 40 people might accompany a single guide, Mr Kronfol said, leading to concerns that the turtles could be disturbed and return to sea without laying their eggs.
Tourists hoping to visit the beach in the evening will have to book in advance. A visitors centre for scientists and tourists will also help control access.</p>
<p>"We will be providing people with some activities to do [during the day], but they will be under strict supervision," Mr Kronfol said.
Rangers will continue to prevent tourists from visiting other beaches where turtles lay their eggs, but access will still be granted to local fishermen who have fished off turtle beach for generations and know what areas to avoid.
The centre, funded by Oman's Ministry of Tourism and grants from Oman Liquefied Natural Gas, is set to open in June and will operate year round. There will be an aquarium and, later on, a museum.</p>
<p>To ensure the turtles, which follow the moon's light, are not confused by lights from the centre, wooden slats will cover the windows.
"When you're sitting on the beach and looking at the building, you will see nothing. It will be black," Mr Kronfol said.
The building also takes account of global concerns about energy use; its design aims to reduce electricity consumption through natural ventilation, for example. Construction has taken about two years.</p>
<p>There will be accommodation in the building for visiting scientists who are researching the area.
"International and local researchers can study marine life and archaeology. The priority is for research," Mr Kronfol said.
Recruiting local people into the project is a priority and Mr Kronfol said that within three years all of the staff would be Omani. There will be local people at the centre demonstrating techniques used in creating Omani crafts.</p>
<p>Mr Kronfol said the scheme should be self-funding within three years, although he added the government was not looking to generate large profits.
"They don't aim to get money, they just aim to make it sustainable for coming generations," he said.
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