MUSCAT, Dec 2 – The Al Dimaniyat Islands is a natural reserve which is home to a unique constellation of species such as birds, marine turtles, whales, dolphins, fish and coral reef. Yet, it hasn’t received the treatment it deserves from fishermen and tourists alike.
The fishermen, in particular, disregard the importance of the reserve and its biological value (fish stock) in providing them with their daily subsistence.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), in its ‘Coral Reefs’ booklet, says the coral reefs are under threat, and the culprits are the abandoned fishing nets.
“Fishing nets and cages destroy dozens of hectares of coral reefs, while anchors thrown in the sea from boats or tangled with fishing nets in some locations represent a major problem,” says the booklet.
It says the heavy anchors shatter corals into tiny fragments.
“Professional divers take all the necessary precautions, unlike amateurs who balance their bodies in water by touching the corals with their hands and feet,” it says.
Such behaviours violate environmental legislations. Articles (5) and (7) of the Ministerial Decision No (112/2000) say “any actions inflicting harm on corals and marine life are prohibited” and that “fishing equipment must be preserved, stored, repaired and dried away from nesting areas…”.
In its latest edition, the booklet says although the “new development projects take into consideration coral communities, they might not be aware of the damage caused by sediments settled in water or changes in water circulation”.
It says: “Coral reefs are affected by climate change. Since they are extremely sensitive towards climate change, the minute feeding polyps have been affected throughout the past 50 years (loss of algae that support symbiosis) more than ever, while rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean in 1998 wiped out numerous coral communities.”
Cyclones Gonu and Phet that hit Oman in 2007 and 2009 destroyed large parts of coral communities in Muscat Governorate and Al Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve.
We should not ignore the environmental and economic importance of coral reef ecosystems. We should also not underestimate their tourist and health-related benefits.
According to studies, the annual return from tourism in coral reef areas around the world reaches $4 billion. Corals are also used to treat several diseases and ailments such as ulcers, cancers and vascular diseases. Oman’s 3,165-km coastline encompasses more than 150 species of coral reefs.
In 1996, the Sultanate announced the ‘National Plan for Management of Coral Reefs’. The Royal Decree No (23/96) proclaimed Al Dimaniyat Islands a reserve. It’s an archipelago comprising nine islands off the coast of wilayats Seeb and Barka.
Another important initiative is regulating diving activities. In this regard, MECA issued Regulations for Organising Diving Activities in the Marine Environment outside Nature Reserves under Ministerial Decision No (40/2009).
As per these regulations, diving in the marine environment outside the nature reserves without MECA permit is prohibited. Divers should keep distance from the diving locations designated for professional divers. Divers should also not inflict any damage to coral reefs.
The use of spear guns is prohibited, oxygen tanks (cylinders) must be properly stored aboard the diving boat, divers should be provided with a first-aid kit, while the safety equipment and emergency telephone numbers should be visible and easy to read on the diving boat.
MECA, in cooperation with Petroleum Development Oman Company and Sultan Qaboos University, has pilot projects to install artificial corals in order to gain experience for future application of this technique for rehabilitation of coral reef ecosystems.
YAHYA AL SALMANI