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Flora, fauna to get safe home

 Jeta Pillai

MUSCAT

The Sultanate’s efforts to protect the environment and flora and fauna are set to get a big boost with a new nature reserve for turtles on Masirah Island and special status for Barr Al Hikman, a site for migratory birds.

The loggerhead turtles nesting areas along the coast of Masirah Island will be declared a nature reserve by the end of 2017. Alongside, work is also on to designate Barr Al Hikman, an important station for migrating birds as the second Ramsar site in the country.

The nature reserve, on the lines of Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve near Sur, is expected to prevent further decline in the number of turtles nesting along the beach, which has fallen from 30,000 in late 1980s to 13,000.

Director of biodiversity department at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs Ahmed Al Shukaili told Oman Tribune that the turtle nesting areas lie along an 82-km stretch and “hopefully by the end of this year or early next year the ministry will take a decision to give it the status of nature reserve. This decision will require the approval of the Cabinet and also His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said”.

The rules and regulations that would come “with the Royal Decree declaring it a nature reserve will strengthen our efforts to protect the turtles,” he added.

The turtles that nest in Masirah belong to the Northwest Indian Ocean Loggerhead subpopulation and its habitat extends from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Gulf. It is now classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. This is the highest threat category and the species face high risk of extinction in the wild.

Once the nesting area is declared a nature reserve, a management plan will control human activity in the area and clear waste along the coast, protecting nesting turtles, their eggs and hatchlings. It will also have additional rangers, facilities and scientific advice.

Al Shukaili said there might have been a slight overestimate of turtle numbers, as satellite tracking had revealed that some turtles go to nest five times in the May to August period rather than four assumed in earlier counts.

Barr Al Hikman will be renamed Al Wusta Wetland Reserve and by the end of this year the information sheet containing technical data, including boundaries and satellite maps of the wetland, would be sent to the Ramasar Convention’s depository, said Wetland Environment, Marine Environment Conservation Department, MECA, head Badar Al Bulushi.

The Sultanate joined the Ramsar Convention in 2013 and committed to conserve and wisely use all its wetlands. Qurum Nature Reserve is the first on the list of Ramsar sites in the country.

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