Oman seeks to further enhance environmental awareness

Continuing efforts to preserve environment

Environmental degradation and damage to the Earth’s precious resources are a global problem. But in Oman the awareness of the fragility of the ecosystem along with ways to ensure its protection have been in place for almost four decades. Indeed, the Sultanate, under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, has always been conscious of its responsibilities and role in preserving the environment and has been in the forefront of establishing sound environmental policies in the Arabian Gulf region. It is heartening to note that the country boasts of a relatively pristine environment on account of its low population and the limited scale of industrialisation. Oman’s 15 nature reserves represent some examples of the country’s rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity. These include the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in central Oman, the turtle reserve in Ras Al Hadd, the Damaniyat Islands Reserve and the khors or lagoons along the coast in the Dhofar region.
The National Field Research Centre for Environmental Conservation, set up under a Royal Decree, and its plans to create the Sultanate’s national biodiversity and environmental database to complement the one being developed by the genetic resources centre, could not have come at a more appropriate time. And there are indications that a blueprint for strategy as well as modalities for interaction with national and international bodies is being worked out. A recent workshop on ‘Strategy of the National Field Research Centre for Environmental Conservation’, held at the SQU is certainly a positive indication of the government’s keenness to tackle the issue forthwith. Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammed Al Rowas, the Sultan’s adviser for Cultural Affairs explained the government’s stance and position clearly when he stated that the Sultanate had taken initiatives for protection of the environment and such workshops would help Oman learn from the experience of other countries.
This is in line with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs’ initiatives taken previously in collaboration with other government departments and international experts to formulate the National Strategy and Action Plan. The plan ensures that biological resources are exploited in a sustainable manner. The Law on Nature Reserves and Wildlife Conservation, promulgated under Royal Decree 6/2003, establishes the legal framework for the protection and development of these resources on a sustainable, scientific basis.
The importance of all such initiatives can never be overstressed considering the irreversible damage that global warming and climate change have already done around the world. And Oman’s continuing efforts to preserve the Earth and keep it green need to be lauded. Government agencies and ministerial bodies are working tirelessly to preserve the country’s environment. A number of NGOs and youth have also played a big role in creating awareness about the importance of a clean environment and its preservation.
This year, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs signed a contract with the Japanese Agency for International Cooperation (JICA), to establish The Qurum Center for Environmental Information (QCEI) at the Qurum Natural Park, in Muscat. QCEI's concern is the collection and presentation of environmental, economic and social data.
Especially, information on the marine environment in general and mangrove trees in particular. It also seeks to train Omanis in various fields relating to the conservation of the marine environment, disseminate knowledge on the environment and spot new sites for eco-tourism in the Sultanate.
The centre will have facilities for seminars and workshops concerned with environmental issues, and screening of documentaries. The centre's laboratory can be used by specialists to conduct biological tests while surveying wildlife in the Sultanate. There will be a tower for bird-watching and it will help bird watchers identify the most important types of resident and migratory birds thai flock to Muscat in different seasons of the year. The centre will dedicate sites for this purpose.
This is the first centre of its kind at the regional level. The ministry integrated it with other centres for it to become a centre for scientific research, a museum, a laboratory, a tool for environmental monitoring and a venue for conferences and specialised seminars. It is designed to be an important eco-tourism attraction and a model for environmental conservation. The ministry signed the agreement with the Japanese government to continue cooperation with J1CA till the end of Dec. 2013.
Cooperation will be in the form of technical support through experts, training programmes, environmental education, developing a methodology for monitoring ecosystem in durum, enhancing sustainable procedures and measures for the protection a ad management of mangrove ecosystems, organising exhibitions, environmental awareness programmes and capacity building in environmental education.
The Sultanate's biodiversity includes deserts, mountains, islands, and terrestrial and amphibious species. The government has made great efforts to save wildlife from extinction. The Sultanate's unique biodiversity, in terms of pastures and forests, includes a variety of plant species. The number of species identified so far is 1208, and many types of trees and grass have been classified. The vegetation, especially trees, helps prevent soil erosion and halts desertification. Among the mammals found in Oman are Arabian Gazelle, Sand Gazelles, Wolves, Striped Hyena, Arabian Leopard, Nubian Ibex, Masirah Rabbit, the Arabian Oryx, Sand Fox, Caracal and others. More than 75 species of reptiles and thousands of species of invertebrates were identified.
There are different types of marine and coastal species, especially fish and more than 20 species of whales, dolphins and more than 130 species of corals, in addition to five species of marine turtles. Masirah is one of the most important nesting places of turtles in the world.
Such attention to biodiversity in the Sultanate is due to the high and continuing patronage of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. So far, 15 nature reserves have been established to preserve wildlife in the Sultanate.
The ministry is in charge of protection and conservation of biodiversity in the Sultanate. In coordination with other concerned authorities and in cooperation with experts from international bodies the ministry developed a National Strategy and Action Plan on Biological Diversity to ensure the use of biological resources in a sustainable manner.
In 2002, a Royal Decree ratified the Convention on the Conservation of Wildlife and Natural Habitats in GCC countries, while Royal Decree No. 6/ 2003 promulgated the Law of Nature Reserves and the Maintenance of Wildlife. This added another dimension to the attention of the government of the Sultanate to the preservation of nature and wildlife. In 2007, Royal Decree No. 1117/ 2007 promulgated the Sultanate’s accession to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The Sultanate signed the Convention on Biological Diversity during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit} held in June 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A national strategy and action plan has been developed to propose the best ways and means to raise environmental awareness. The signing of the above convention is recognition of the importance of achieving its objectives, whereas the National Strategy and Action Plan on Biological Diversity is a major contribution to the strengthening of plans in Oman.
The strategy primarily aims to protect the environment, natural habitats and renewable resources so that they are used in a rational and sustainable manner. It provides at the same time a natural world with high quality recreational and tourist facilities. In order to achieve these objectives and implement policies and programmes aimed at preserving biodiversity, the Sultanate conducted studies and surveys necessary for proposing 68 sites for conservation.
Fifteen areas have been designated as natural reserves under Royal Decrees. Such reserves contribute to the process of sustainable development by preserving the environment in these areas; reducing the dangers of floods or drought; protecting the soil from erosion; continuing ecological balance and providing opportunity for scientific research. In addition to this, a series of environmental laws have been issued such as the Law of Nature Reserves and The Maintenance of Wildlife issued by Royal Decree No. 6/2003 and the Law of The Environment and Pollution Control issued by Royal Decree Royal Decree No. 114/2001.