Stop desert dumping: It’s time to protect the beautiful ecosystem

As part of our cultural tour of Oman, our four-wheel drive vehicles left the highway at Bidiyah for the desert track leading to our overnight camp.  As we journeyed onward sunset turned the high dunes on either side a soft yellow ochre, reminiscent of a Gauguin painting. We had left the world behind and were in ancient Bedouin lands.
The camp was as natural and pristine as promised. But we wasted no time before setting off to the top of the dunes which yielded a view that must have been just as stunning to travellers’ centuries before.  As the sun began to disappear behind endless rows of desert hills, an unexpected (on our part) wind sprang up that blew our coats and scarves behind us as if we were flying. With shoes off, we soon marvelled at the sand, cool and soft as the finest talcum.
We learned from our guides that one could never get lost in this desert. The prevailing winds blowing from the south continually build the dunes on a north-south axis with the dunes always higher to the north side. It was a compass any desert traveller could follow as surely mariners followed the North Star.
Next morning, we took our vehicles deeper into the desert along the sand trace used by Bedouin trade caravans as they journeyed to and from the Arabian Sea. Along the way, we saw only the occasional truck passing opposite, but lots of goats and camels grazing on the sparse clumps of grasses. If we stopped, camels came close, as curious about us as we about them. Near midday our sand road merged with another to mark a single way south to the Arabian Sea.
960056Towards the end of the day we would see in the distance the pure white dunes of the approaching Arabian Sea. Soon we would stand along its shore and have our pictures taken against a backdrop of turquoise water. That surely would have made those left at home wish they had come.
Was this the perfect desert trek and tourist experience in Oman?  I would like to say so, but one constant marred this perfect picture. From the time we turned onto the desert track from Bidiyah to our arrival at the Arabian Sea… discarded garbage… plastic bags, soda cans and debris left along the tracks or seemingly tossed helter-skelter out of car windows or left by camping sites. We even saw it displayed like an unwanted necklace along the high tide line as we approached that otherwise beautiful beach and sea at journey’s end.
Our guides Saud and Mohammed asked for our help. They spend a great amount of time picking up this trash, which is not only unsightly but also dangerous to their grazing animals that die needlessly from swallowing plastic bags. The Omani government has done much to try to curtail littering, including enacting higher fines and placing additional trash receptacles along highways and byways. But clearly more must be done.
There is no easy answer, yet perhaps additional creative solutions and ideas need to be considered, not only to protect one of the most beautiful ecosystems left in the world but also to ensure that Omanis, their animals and yes, even us tourists continue to contribute positively to Oman’s future.  To this end, we have included several suggestions below.
Education at all ages, particularly in schools, of the need to protect the environment and recycle.  Begin a campaign, as reflected in public pronouncements: Keep Oman Beautiful.  Use social media to update campaign and garner support.
Introduce biodegradable and paper bags for shopping. Provide consumers with a small credit for using them or bringing their own bags. Implement a small fee for each plastic bag used.  Collect used plastic bags outside of stores and provide awards for Omanis who have collected the most or done the most to eliminate unsightly trash.
Install larger refuse containers at entrances to important desert and beach sites and provide attendants to give out litter bags with sponsor logos when entering these areas for camping or travel. These bags of trash can be returned upon exiting the area. Begin an organised pick up of trash in the desert and beach areas with small incentives. Consider offering a new programme utilising park rangers and natural resource officers.  (Contributed by our readers Tanya Haralampieva, Beatrice Brickell & Salim Sultan)