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Plants play key role in restoration of biodiversity

Dr Priyanka Verma

Oman is situated at southeast coast of Arabian Peninsula. Oman has long coastal line of about 2,092km bordered by Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Arabian sea.

The 82 per cent of total area comprises of desert and 15 per cent belongs to mountains and remaining is plain. Oman is unique in terms of its origin as it’s the only country that is mostly composed of oceanic crust and rocks.

Richness of plant biodiversity and uniqueness in terms of endemism is the characteristic feature of this country as out of 1,212 existing plant species, 87 per cent was found to be endemic or semi-endemic. Oman is highly vulnerable to climatic changes like rise in temperature and desertification.

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Rise in temperature lead to ocean-deoxygeneation leading to alter marine life as well as also a cause of frequent tropical cyclones. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data showed due to climatic changes the rate of extinction of species is 1,000-10,000 times more in comparison to the natural evolution process. Frequent floods, drought, storms lead to the loss of pollinators and dispersal of seeds resulting into extinction of species. Oman faced two recent cylcones “Gonu” in 2007 and “Shaheen” in 2021 that caused extensive biological and economical loss.

Plants can overcome or compensate most of this disbalance of nature and help in restoration of biodiversity. Agroforestry practices that deal with the growing the tree species intentionally at mountainous slopes and high runoff areas to minimise the desertification, and soil-sedimentation is one of the important tools to restore the soil fertility and conserve soil and water.

Out of many, the most relevant example of this is the Wakan village located in Al Batinah South Governorate. It is situated at 2,000m above the sea level in the Western Al Hajar mountains.

Ecosystem and habitat conservation is another relevant practice to restore the biodiversity where a particular area is protected and maintained according the required species survival and multiplication.

It includes the various fauna based natural reserves like Ras al Hadd Turtle Reserve, Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Wadi al Sareen, Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve, Damaniyat Islands, Seven tidal inlets (khawrs) in Dhofar, Al Saleel national park.

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The largest flora-based reserve is the Botanic Garden in Muscat covering 9.6 land of Oman that conserves and displays the native flora. The role of scientists and researchers in the field of plant biology is one of the most relevant aspects of conservation that has already completed many milestones all over the world.

Abundance of biodiversity conservation or restoration work has been going on through developing tissue banks of rare and endangered plant species, biotechnological interventions to generate drought and salt resistant variety of desired crops, transgenics and many more in the list. Sultan Qaboos University, University of Nizwa, Dhofar University, UTAS-Sur are the leading institutes of Oman that are working on various aspects of plant conservation and multiplication. Government authorities are also highly active in terms of environment protection.

Apart from financing the conservation programmes at the institutional level, they are also putting their efforts directly to reach out the common people.

Recently in 2020, Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) along with Petroleum Development Oman has launched an “Ashjar initiative” that target the plantation of 10 million trees. Mangrove forests restoration is one of the leading government projects.

Mangrove vegetation is unique coastal wetlands that lower down the speed of cyclones and prevent the shores from erosion created by tides and water currents. It represents diverse flora and fauna and compose the complete marine ecosystem. Plantation and restoration of mangrove at six coastal governorates namely North and South Al Batinah, Muscat, South Sharqiyah, Al Wusta, and Dhofar are the prime manifesto. Recently 10,000 mangrove saplings have been planted in Shaleem & Al Halaniyat Islands of Dhofar and 7,000 in Khor Ghawi in Al Wusta. Directorate General of Nature conservation planted 3,000 mangrove seedlings in Bakhur Salan in Wilayat of Qurayat.

To conserve the mangrove ecosystems, Sultanate of Oman also joined UN Environment’s “clean sea campaign” through beach cleaning activities.

Along with all these ongoing efforts, experts also suggest to plant trees that can withstand cyclones.

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Trees should be planted along the coastal line that have strong roots, flexible wood and solid trunk structure that can withstand high speed winds.

The trees should be planted in rows altering the types providing plenty of room to spread the roots. It was reported that, Azadirachta indica, terminalia bellerica, and Arjuna terminalia trees withstood the high wind speed during cyclones and lost only 50 per cent of branches in comparison to the other plants that were totally uprooted during the high-speed winds.

Some of the wind resistant trees that grow in saline conditions are Quercus geminata, Sabal palmetto, Phoenix canariensis and Olea europaea.

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