One of the remarkable features of Bandar al Khayran is that it hides many small coves and beaches that if you’re looking for exclusivity, there is definitely a place for you. The greater Al Khayran area and its neighbouring Yitti are two places closest to Muscat that are best for hiking, swimming, diving or a day or two of camping. Comprised of several islets, Al Khayran’s emerald waters are hard to resist and hidden underwater are thriving sea life — different species of corals, colourful fishes even dolphins and sea turtles. This piece of heaven barely an hour drive from Muscat offers peace, quiet and relaxation — an escape that gets you very close to nature.
But underneath the calm of the water and the sparkling joy of the sand is a story quite prevalent all over the world — Al Khayran, beyond its visible charm, is also a dumping site for plastics.
Armed with dozens of trash bags, Oman Outdoor Adventure through the leadership of Ahmed al Jaabri, Munther al Jaabri and Mohammed al Hadi, in cooperation with Eshraqa, the social development arm of Khimji Ramdas, organised a day trip with the primary purpose of cleaning two of the area’s popular beaches.
The initiative came about when the team’s freediving enthusiast Ahmed al Rawahi brought to the group’s attention an alarming report posted by the Environment Society of Oman of how massive the amount of trash found in some beaches in the Sultanate.
While great efforts are being made to protect beaches like Ras al Jinz, and beautiful islands like Masirah and Dimaniyat, those that are closest to Muscat are sometimes left on their own without anyone paying a special attention that they too suffer from plastic pollution.
The group mobilised a campaign amongst their trekking partners and as a result, about 20 participants signed off to join the clean-up effort. The team was a good mix of expats and locals who all believe that preservation and protection of nature rest in everyone’s hand and not just environmental groups or government authorities.
An alarming case
While a cursory look of the beaches in Al Khayran would make one say that everything is in pristine condition, a closer inspection would reveal otherwise.
The trash that plague the area are often the unnoticeable ones — plastic caps, straws and food wrappings buried underneath white sand or sometimes too small that one would mistake they don’t matter.
“These small plastics, especially these soda caps can be poison for turtles and some fishes,” clean-up volunteer Binesh Shashidharan commented.
Binesh was actually on point and proof of what he said are the myriads of sea life carcasses found all over the world and shared on social media where the insides of animals like sea turtles are filled with plastics which accumulated in their organs for years.
As the World Economic Forum noted in their article ‘How much plastic is there in the ocean?’ uploaded on January 2016 on their website, in 2015 alone, “a study estimated that around eight million metric tonnes of our plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.”
But other than the noticeable big plastic waste, it’s the microplastics that are actually the most worrisome. Microplastics are what remain after bigger items were broken down.
WEF shared, “Our new estimate of floating microplastic is up to 37 times higher than previous estimates. That’s equivalent to the mass of more than 1,300 blue whales” and explained that is cause for worry as “ocean plastics pose a threat to a wide variety of marine animals, and their risk is determined by the amount of debris an animal encounters, as well as the size and shape of the debris.”
Jasmina, a regular fixture of the group and an outdoor lover said, “Just because Oman is not my home country doesn’t mean it’s not home. Every country I go to I consider my own.”
She noted “This is a small beach and there are a lot of trash on this very small area. Just imagine how much you will find in even bigger beaches closer to majority of the country’s population.”
On their first stop at a beach area being developed as a trendy destination but was eventually abandoned, the group collected 10 huge bags of plastic garbage.
“At first glance, these beaches look fine. It’s like all the dirt were swept under a rug,” one of the volunteers commented.
The group spend about two hours on the first location and moved to the next location where a group of about 30 girls were having their camp. People also kept on pouring on as time drags on.
“We’d really be setting a good example to those people if we clean up that part where they are at,” Peter Varenkamp, a Dutch volunteer commented when he saw the area filled with trash.
The constant movement of the group roused the interest of some of the campers already in the area inquiring what they were doing. In barely 15 minutes, the rest of the campers were already helping Oman Outdoor Adventure clean up.
“I appreciate what you are all doing here. This is really good. Now, when you look at it, it’s even better. It looked okay earlier but now that its clean and all the trash were taken out and placed on the proper bin, it looks more beautiful,” one of the camp leaders said.
“Sometimes, people just need to be inspired to do the right thing,” Munther shared.
“We do what little we can to help the environment. We enjoy its bounty and its blessings and from time to time, it is also our responsibility to take care of the places we get to enjoy,” Al Jaabri said.
By the time the group finished, another 10 garbage bags were filled.
For Al Rawahi who spend most of his time underwater, “The ocean is my home. I spend a lot of my time underwater. I might as will be categorised as a fish and it is for this reason, I know that a lot of people share the same sentiment as I do, that it deserves our protection.”
The team identified several other areas, not only beaches, that needed cleaning up and vowed to make it a regular activity of the group. To get future updates on activity like this, make sure to follow Oman Outdoor Adventure on Instagram: oman_outdoor_adventure.
YERU EBUEN & TITASH CHAKRABORTY