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Diversity is key

Making the turtle nesting grounds of Masirah island a nature reserve will go a long way to conserve the Sultanate’s biodiversity. The move that could result in properly protecting the island’s beaches that act as the nursery for some of the rarest sea turtle species deserves all praise. It is expected that a royal decree will be out this year itself enhancing the protection of this area that is vital to conserving the nation’s biodiversity. The Barr Al Hikman area that lies on the mainland side next to the island is already a protected area as a Ramsar site for water birds. This is a haven for the survival of many rare migratory bird species. The significance of naming the area a nature reserve is that the population has been on the decline. Dana Sarhani, board member of the Environmental Society of Oman (EOS), has said the number of turtles visiting Masirah has fallen to 13,000 now from 30,000 in the 1980s. The International Union of Nature (IUCN) has classified as ‘critically endangered’ the northwest Indian Ocean loggerhead turtle, the subpopulation that uses Omani and Yemeni coasts as nesting grounds. This category used by IUCN marks the most vulnerable species. Masirah has the only Omani beach where loggerhead turtles nest. Moreover, experts say, Oman provides nesting ground for nearly 90 per cent of this subpopulation. A closer scrutiny was possible only because IUCN’s Marine Turtle Specialist Group divided loggerhead turtles found across the world into ten subpopulations and studied them separately. EOS attributes the population decline mainly to intrusive human activity. These chelonians are remarkable in that they are found to return to the same beach where they hatched. With a limited number of such beaches from Gulf of Aden to Arabian Gulf, disturbances in traditional nesting grounds affect their reproduction. The Sultanates also have nesting grounds of other less endangered species of sea turtles like green sea turtle and Olive Ridley turtles near Sur.

The Sultanate’s biodiversity conservation efforts have been underscored by meticulous planning and sustained efforts.

The nation’s environment managers have persisted with programmes that help enhance the habitats of key animal and bird species. The Sultanate’s success with programmes to protect Arabian oryx and Al Reem gazelle has been widely acclaimed. The Sultanate is lucky in that it is home to a wide variety of animals and birds, some migrant and some resident. Habitat preservation has been the key to the nation’s success. The citizens and other residents of the Sultanate should be sensitised to the need for conserving biodiversity. The nation’s environment managers must be applauded for the continuing efforts to increase people’s awareness. Maintaining the balance of the coastal ecosystem is important for the species that keep returning to the Sultanate’s coast. It may be true that the Sultanate’s tourism managers have spared no effort to increase the awareness of coastal communities about the need to protect turtles. The Ministry of Tourism has raised the stake of these communities in protecting the species by employing local people on its staff to act as guards and tourist guides. The awareness of the visitors also needs to improve commensurately if the conservation efforts have to succeed.