is one of the vital treasures of any nation. A healthy biological
diversity can contribute immensely to the economy of a nation-albeit
indirectly. Each country has a unique biodiversity of its own and
protecting this natural heritage is very important for many reasons.
Unfortunately, lack of awareness, increasing economic activity on
and around the bioreserves etc, threaten the very existence of the
flora and fauna of many countries today.
Convention on Biological Diversity opened for signatures at the
fabled “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.
This convention was one of the outcomes of the world community’s
commitment to sustainable development.
Its major objective is to develop national strategies for
the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components
and the sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
The countries that signed the convention when it entered into force
in 1993 are committed to produce national biodiversity strategies
and action plans.The
Sultanate of Oman being one of the signatories, commissioned relevant
agencies to come up with appropriate strategies and action plans.
With the help of all government ministries and Sultan Qaboos University,
the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment (MRME)
has recently concluded the exercise of producing the National Biodiversity
Strategy and Action Plan for the Sultanate of Oman (NBSAP Oman).
The implementation of NBSAP Oman is expected to be the basis of
all future biodiversity conservation in the Sultanate.
discussion on biodiversity conservation requires the explanation
of certain basic terms. Biological diversity or biodiversity
refers to the variability among living organisms from all ecosystems
and their associated ecological complexes including variability
within species, between species and of ecosystems.
Ecosystem is a complex functional unit of
interacting plant , animal and microbial communities and
their non-living environment. Habitat is a place or site
where an organism or population occurs naturally.
Conservation is of two types: in situ conservation refers
to the conservation of ecosystems and habitats in their natural
surroundings, while ex-situ conservation means conservation
of biodiversity outside natural habitats as in zoos and botanical
gardens. Endangered species are those facing extinction,
while endemic species are those restricted to a particular
area is a geographically defined area where specific conservation
objectives are regulated and managed.
Sustainable use means the prudent use of biodiversity
to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of the future generations to meet their needs. This implies that
the rate of use of biodiversity components at present should not
lead to their long term decline.
The analysis of biodiversity in Oman should relate to three major issues,
the flora, the fauna
and their conservation. Despite the publication of several checklists, the flora of Oman is still
under investigation. So
far, 1204 species of vascular plants are known.
In addition, there are 14 species of liverworts, 30 species
of mosses, 35 species of lichens and 55 species of marine macroalgae.
The freshwater and marine phytoplankton are also poorly known.
Based on available data, the threatened flora form 4.6% of
the total number of species and 80% of these occur in southern Oman.
Critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable categories
respectively are 0.7, 0.2 and 2% of the total number of species,
while 1.5% belong to low risk category.
Data are not available for 0.3%.
A rough estimate suggests that 136 plant taxa should be placed
on a critical list.
procera, a plant of the milkweed family in the empty quarter near
Shisr in the Dhofar region. Locally known as shakr, it is a good
indicator of overgrazing, a threat to plant biodiversity.
(photograph by Prof. Reginald Victor, SQU)
all, there are 100 endemic and regionally endemic species.
Of these, 63 are in Dhofar, 12 in Central Oman and 25 in
the northern mountains. These
exclude 22 yet to be described species that are also likely to be
endemic to Oman. Endemism
is high in the southern region and 46% of these endemics here are
also endangered. The
major centres of endemism are (i) Northern Oman mountains including
Musandam region, (ii) Limestone plateau of central Oman and (iii)
the escarpment woodlands of Dhofar.
All these regions support unique flora and are of extreme
conservation importance. Data
on terrestrial, marine and freshwater invertebrates are incomplete.
There is an urgent need to compile data from scattered literature
and acquisitions in various local and international museums.
Some groups (e.g. marine and freshwater mollusks; dragonflies)
are better known than others.
Certain groups of invertebrates exhibit a high degree of
statuses of many species are not known.
Likely centers of endemism for invertebrates are (i) Al Hajar
Mountains, (ii) Batinah coastal plain, (iii) Central coast, plains
or steppes and (iv) Dhofar region. Among
vertebrates, marine and freshwater fish fauna of Oman are well known.
The blind variety of Garra barreimiae, a freshwater
fish in the cave systems of northern Oman and coral reef fish communities
are of special conservation interest.
are represented by 86 species, while there are three known species
of amphibians. Lizards
form the largest group with 53 species.
There are 28 species of snakes and nine of these are sea
snakes. Five species
of sea turtles are known from Oman waters.
Overall, 37 of Oman’s species are endemic at regional level,
of which six, all lizards are national endemics.
The centers of endemism are northern Oman Mountains, the
Dhofar Mountains and the Central Desert Plains.
Conservation of nationally endemic reptiles is of considerable
importance. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals has four species of
nesting sea turtles only and therefore, requires revision.
are probably the best-studied group and 454 species of birds have
been recorded to date. Of these, about
85 are considered residents and others are visitors for only a part
of the year. There
are no endemic species. Oman is an extremely important stopover
place or wintering area for countless birds.
Millions of birds pass through Oman during spring and autumn
migration. About 125
species of birds either breed or probably breed in Oman.
The endangered species that visit Oman on a regular basis
need protection. Threats are land use and the establishment of alien
species such as common mynah.
Bee-eater. Migratory species
wintering in Africa. Arrives in Oman around March and returns
in September- October. Most birds pass through, but some stay
to breed on the Batinah, especially around Sohar (Photograph
by Hanne & Jens Eriksen, SQU).
mynah. Established from escaped caged birds in the 1980s.
Now very common in the capital area and has spread all along
the Batinah. (photograph by Hanne & Jens Eriksen, SQU).
status of the terrestrial mammals in Oman has been well documented.
Apart from the known IUCN status for these species, a preliminary
red list showing Oman status is also available. There are 58 extant
species and subspecies. Of
these, three are critically endangered, and six are endangered.
Lower risk – least concern status has been assigned to 17
taxa and 31 taxa with insufficient information are considered data
deficient. One taxon
is assigned the status of lower risk – conservation dependent.
Four taxa are regional endemics and one taxon is endemic
to Oman. Threats are
human development, habitat destruction, illegal hunting, poaching
current status of in situ conservation measures in Oman is
are 14 designated conservation areas and 12 of these also have management
protection of habitats has been achieved through the environmental
permit system under Royal Decree 10/82. Expansion of ranger units
has improved the protection of conservation areas and wildlife.
However, biodiversity conservation is severely threatened by economic
development in various forms.
The promulgation, funding and implementation of management
plans for conservation is at present considered as an urgent priority.
major proposals submitted for the conservation of the nature reserves
are, (i) 1987 - IUCN proposals for a system of Nature Conservation
Areas (NCA), (ii) 1988 - The Coastal Zone Management Plan (IUCN),
(iii) 1990 – Subregional Land Use Plan for the Southern Region and
(iv) 1991 – Study for Wildlife and Conservation Areas master plan
for the Coastal Areas of Barr Al-Hikman and Masirah Island.
for wildlife protection and nature conservation is mainly in the
form of three Royal Decrees (6/79, 75/98, 10/82) and two Ministerial
Decisions (4/76, 128/93). The proclamation of protected areas are by six Royal Decrees
(4/94, 23/96, 25/96, 48/97, 49/97, 50/97).
The management and action plans for all these protected areas
will soon be implemented.
main objective of ex
situ conservation is to help endangered and threatened wildlife
avoid extinction .
effort is internationally guided by the ‘World Zoo Conservation
Strategy’ drawn up by the World Zoo Organization and the Captive
Breeding Specialist Group of the IUCN-SSC (International Union for
the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission).
In the Sultanate, ex situ measures for the large mammal
species are practiced at Ja’luni Arabian Oryx Sanctuary and at Oman
Mammal Breeding Centre, Bait Al Barakah.
These two places should also be considered as repositories
for genetic material. Six
species of large mammals, Arabian oryx, Arabian tahr, Arabian gazelle,
Arabian wolf, White-tailed mangoose, Striped hyaena and Gordon’s
wild cat are currently
breeding in captivity. Two species, Arabian oryx and Arabian gazelle
bred have been reintroduced in the wild.
situ conservation of flora is a neglected area in the Sultanate.
Threats to plant species are from introduced exotics for
agriculture, ornamental horticulture, rangeland management, including
overgrazing by livestock and desertification.
Strategies for ex situ conservation include the establishment
of Botanical gardens and repositories for germplasm collections.
Qurm Nature Park and the Botanical garden at Sultan Qaboos
University support the ex situ conservation of plants to
some extent. These facilities, however, require expansion.
The future of biodiversity conservation in Oman should follow the options
proposed by the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
Scientifically, these include the following key issues: (a
) the establishment of a national database for the flora and the
fauna, (b) upgrades and proposals for
national red-lists using IUCN criteria, (c) appraisal of
identified threats and proposals for protection under conservation
framework and legislation, (d) identification of specific protection
areas at centres of endemism, (e) commissioning of
biodiversity projects for acquisition of data on poorly known
flora and fauna, (f) proposals for the protection of habitat diversity,
(g) studies on alien and invasive species to evaluate effects on
biodiversity, (h) the
use of scenic reserve concept as a measure of economic development,
(i) studies to evaluate traditional conservation systems, (j) promotion
of environmental education at all levels to improve awareness and
(k) the sustainable development of natural resources.
mira (Primulaceae) A rare species. Found in some localities
in the high altitudes of the Jabal Akhdar range in Northern
Oman. (Photograph by Amina Al Farsi, SQU)
From the administration perspective, the future of
depends on (a) the strict implementation of legislation for
wildlife protection, nature conservation and protected areas as
stipulated by Royal Decrees and Ministerial decisions, (b) promulgation,
funding and implementation of management plans for all proposed
protected areas, (c) official implementation (not voluntary cooperation)
of environmental permit system under Royal Decree 10/82, (d) ranger
unit expansion to link capacity building with knowledge base by
providing training programs, (e) improvement of inter-personnel
relationship among participating government organizations and private
sector (f) the use of international expertise to resolve environmental
problem solving, (g) expansion of infrastructure and provision of
funding for uninterrupted scientific support and (h) prioritization
of biodiversity initiatives and
allocation of responsibilities to various institutions based
on available manpower and expertise.
is often argued that existing knowledge on Oman biodiversity is
poor and therefore, strategies and plans produced at present are
rather premature. However,
there is an overwhelming national and international support for
the conservation of animals and plants that are ‘prominent’ and
‘popular’. Some examples are the Arabian oryx, the Arabian tahr,
sea turtles, whales, juniper trees and Prosopis woodlands.
Conservation of biodiversity is by no means limited to specific
groups of animals and plants. It is also true that biodiversity
data in Oman are incomplete and it is likely to remain so in the
near future. Therefore, the conventional use of taxa numbers, conservation
status and percentage of endangered species in biodiversity conservation
is of little value at present.
Instead, conservation strategies should immediately aim to
protect habitat diversity and integrity.
of biodiversity data and sustainable utilization of biodiversity
components are other priorities.
of biodiversity in terms of absolute economic values is neither
possible nor necessary. Even the most sophisticated cost-benefit
analysis in favor of economic development over conservation is not
adequate to justify the lack of commitment to our natural heritage.
Strategies for biodiversity
conservation should rely on heuristic values and value judgments.
Conservationists are often accused of raising “false alarms”
when in fact there are no real threats to biodiversity. The history
of global decline in biodiversity suggests that “false” alarms are
better than “no alarms” at all. The “precautionary principle” of
the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) strongly
recommends that scientific uncertainty should not be a reason for
postponing urgent measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Awareness of impending threats to biodiversity is the first step
in the development of descriptive and empirical models for biodiversity
author wishes to acknowledge the following for their contribution
to the compilation of biodiversity data in Oman: Drs. A. Patzelt, J. Eriksen, M. D. Robinson, D.M.
Roberts, D. A. Clayton , Miss A. A. Al-Farsi, and Prof. A. McLachlan
(all from SQU), Drs A. S. Gardner, M. Fisher and S.A. Ghazanfar
(formerly of SQU), Dr A. Spalton (Diwan of Royal Court), Messrs
M.D. Gallagher (formerly of ONHM), A. A. Al Kiyumi, D. Insall, M.
Grobler, S. Al-Saady ( all from MRME), and R. J. Wood (OMCBC).