Muscat: Some 42 species of up to half a million seabirds were recorded at Wetlands Nature Reserve in Al Wusta governorate on 2017, official numbers have revealed.
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The birds visit the Sultanate in winter during their migration path and there are more shorebirds than any other species—over 410,000. For 18 shorebird species, numbers wintering at Barr Al Hikman exceeded one per cent of their flyway population, according to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) study in 2017.
The reserve has high regional and global importance as the main resting place for migratory seabirds.
“The birds use the wetlands reserve for rest and feeding while migrating on the African-Eurasian Flyway, and stay in Oman for some two weeks. During the first week, the survey team monitored around 50 species of birds in the reserve,” Aziza Saud Humaid Al Adhubi, acting head of the Qurum Nature Reserve, said.
“Starting from March 9, 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, in cooperation with Wetlands International Organisation, is completing a programme to survey migratory birds in the wetlands reserve in Al Wusta Governorate. This year’s survey focuses on the migration of birds which travel from the African continent to cold areas during spring,” MECA announced.
“The survey includes a study of the species of birds that come to the Sultanate, their sizes, identification of their flyway, registering the bird’s data into the global seabird database, and attaching a colour-coded ring on the birds to follow them outside Oman,” Al Adhubi added.
The Al Wusta Wetlands Reserve is classified as one of the most popular migratory sites in the Middle East during winter for bird migration across the Asian and East African regions. It is also one of the top 25 sites of international importance for migratory birds during winter in the African-Eurasian Flyway.
The total area of Al Wusta Wetlands Reserve is 2,621 square kilometres.
It is located on the southeast coast of the Sultanate, within the jurisdiction of the wilayat of Mahout in Al Wusta Governorate, while part of it is located in the wilayat of Jalan Bani Bu Ali in South Sharqiyah Governorate.
The Al Wusta Wetlands reserve has a unique natural and geological profile, overlooking the eastern coast of Masirah Island. Barr Al Hikman is a largely intact coastal wetland with an extensive area of inter-tidal mudflats, shallow lagoons, islands, fringes, sea bays, and straits, together with a number of offshore islets, a small area of mangroves at Mahout, and sandy beaches.
It is a vast area of “sabkha”—sedimentary deposits of salt, silt and sand brought together by flooding, which extends for some 30 kilometres into the Arabian Sea, just southeast of Hij. In some areas, the incoming tide may advance for hundreds of metres, creating shallow lagoons which in summer may rapidly evaporate. The evaporation leaves commercially viable deposits of salt, which are manually collected.
The benefits of this wetland go well beyond those for birds, including an important nursery function for fish, internationally important nesting and feeding grounds for turtles and marine mammals, coastal defence in view of climate change, tourism and recreation, scientific study, marine biodiversity and marine ecology.
A number of endemic species not found in other parts of the world were recorded in the reserve such as the Omani clownfish species, three species of terrestrial reptiles, and many other species listed in the red list of threatened species. The most important of these species are coral communities located off Barr Al Hikman and a remarkably large reef.
The large shallow bay (Mahout Bay or Ghubat Hashish) in the Gulf of Masirah is especially important for seagrass, hosting the largest bed in the country.
There are two main species in the area, namely Halophila ovalis and Halodule uninervis, with at least two additional species occurring less commonly.
There is also a significant soft bottom fauna such as sea cucumbers, bivalves, and urchins. Of particular interest is the only known population of Holothuria scabra, a highly valuable sea cucumber. The bay also supports a traditional fishery for shrimps (mostly Pennaeus indicus), unique in Oman.