"The Green Desert"

Eco-friendly marine expeditions*

HIS year (2001) being the “Year of the Environment”, in Oman some marine-based companies have planned special trips to explain the tourists about marine life and the importance of maintaining and improving our environment.

New tours of Arabian Sea Safaris, including coastal geology trips, educational snorkeling trips, bird watching and yet to come live-boat diving have become big hit with tourists.

Al Riyami, with his guests, ensures effective protection of dolphins and whales when leading his tours

Short cruises within Muscat area and expeditions to nearby sites such as the Damaniyat and Quriyat are popular. Last year it launched theme trips that focus on different aspects of Oman’s vast natural beauty, marine geology, conservation and a host of other interesting topics like the maritime history of Oman as well as the whale and dolphin fauna.

Welcoming the Year of the Environment, Mohamed Al Riyami, of Arabian Sea Safaris, says one of the best ways to protect the environment is to make sure that your activities are sustainable.

That is they help you achieve your goals without in any way compromising the ability of the future generations to achieve their goals.

Taking care of the environment is important. For, marine tourism can have adverse environmental impacts. In coastal areas uncontrolled tourists may damage coral reefs with anchors.

An yellow fin tuna weighing over 80
kgs caught off Muscat by guests of Arabian Sea Safaris

Fast boats and jetskis may disturb or kill turtles and dolphins, while camping parties on beaches may disturb laying turtles or disorient hatchlings. Camping parties may leave litter and other human waste.

Therefore tourism to environmentally sensitive areas must be established on the basis of prior study of ecosystems and planning, admits Riyami.

When he undertakes dolphin watching trips he not only ensures that effective protection is in place before tourist activity starts but also invites experts to deliver talks on different topics during the cruise.

Sea tourism, which includes a wide range of marine trips and adventure such as dolphin and whale watching trips, sunset cruises, game fishing, snorkeling, and diving to name only a few, calls for exacting requirements of discerning tourists for whom quality is paramount.

Tourists on dolphin watching cruise off Bander al Khyran
Oman being a seafaring nation is well aware of this and has attracted world attention to its professionally managed cruises with eco-friendly activities.

No matter what kind of holiday you seek, Oman’s sea tourism can provide it to you in terms of thrilling experience, peace of mind, and new knowledge about the marine mammals.

Oman’s marine destinations like Bandar Al Khayran, Al Hallaniyat, Bandar al Jassah, Damaniyat, Quriyat, and Masirah offer world’s most exciting vacation areas.

In addition to Arabian Sea Safaris, several outstanding cruise companies, including Zubair Tours and Bahwan Tours, to name only a few, have been operating in the Sultanate, and their destinations offer extraordinary variety — from the natural wonders of Oman, historic creeks and islands, peaceful coves and sculptured mountains, to the exciting sport of fishing, snorkeling and diving.

Ad Rutten, Executive Vice President of KLM ground Services said, “being back in the Netherlands where it is wet, cold and windy my wife Tilly and I look back at a most enjoyable week in your beautiful country.

Especially the ‘Dawn with the Dolphins’ experience and the close view of the whales has been the most outstanding part of our stay. Friends here at home cannot believe that it is possible to observe these mammals so close by.”

During the usual dolphin watching trips, other most regularly seen species are spinner and common dolphins. Spinner dolphins are usually about 2 metre long and weigh from 55 to 75 kg.

Their bodies have a three-part colour pattern: Their backs are dark grey or black, their sides a pearl-grey and their chins and bellies are light grey or even white. Males are generally larger than the females. Spinner dolphins are slender in build and have long, thin beaks to which the distinct forehead slopes gently.

Their beaks have a diagnostic black tip. The flippers are long and pointed and a dark stripe links them to the eyes and beak.

In Oman, Spinners travel in large groups of a thousand individuals or more. They are most often seen in schools of two hundred or less.

Omani fishermen search for tunas among many spinner and common dolphins near Bander al Jissah

They are often found in association with common dolphins, spotted dolphins and yellowfin tuna. Spotting spinner dolphins in large groups offers a thrilling experience to visitors.

Spinner dolphins can be very playful and curious and they often bowride. They are dramatically acrobatic and often perform somersaults, high spinning leaps and other aerial movements and can perform jumps up to three meters in the air. Spinning on their longitudinal axis is their trademark.

By the means of splashing or landing on the water after the jumps the spinner dolphins might dislodge parasites on their bodies, they might use the jumps as a means for communication or just display playful behaviour through it. The groups found off Muscat are probably year round residents.

As their name implies spinning in the air is characteristic of this species. Spinner dolphins are found both offshore and inshore in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide.

They often occur within 2 or 3 kilometres off the shore in Oman and are frequently to be seen between Fahal Island and Bandar Khayran and often associate with common dolphins. Their life span is 15 to 25 years. Their predators are sharks, killer whales and tune fisheries.

Studies around the coast of Oman have confirmed that about 20 of the nearly 80 species of whales and dolphins are found here. Around the coast of Muscat you will encounter hundreds of spinner dolphins mixed with common dolphins.

On a ‘Dawn with Dolphin Trip’ tourists notice that all around their boat the sea becomes alive with dolphins, spinning, somersaulting and generally frolicking around. They eat, sleep, give birth and suckle their young in the hostile marine environment, for which they have become well adapted over millions of years.

Common dolphins, found in large numbers in Oman, are slender, streamlined and are conspicuous for their criss-cross, hourglass colouration pattern. Their blackish grey of the back extends down as a large V-shaped saddle from the relatively large, upright dorsal fin.

Oman’s sea tourism offers several unique destinations and activities. Take, for example, the game-fishing trips. Game fishing is more exciting here than anywhere else in the world for two reasons.

First, the sport is much more affordable here than elsewhere. Says Riyami, “You don’t need to be a millionaire to catch a 300-kg black Marlin”. Second, Omani waters are known to be a favourite haunt of large pelagic game fish, including the Tuna, Swordfish, Sailfish, Barracuda and Black Marlin. According to tourists making repeated visits to Oman “these fishes are quite often depleted at other popular game fishing locations”. So game fishing in Oman offers great potential and virgin territory.

You may think game fishing isn’t an eco-friendly affair. That, however, is not true, argue marine-based companies.

Promoted by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA), game fishing is essentially confined to ‘Tag and Release’.

With tag-and-release fishing, a plastic tag with a tiny barb attached is inserted into the shoulder of the fish when caught.


Game fishing boats of Arabian Sea Safaris are equipped to international standards

The tag carries a number and the address of the issuing authority. Details such as weight and length of the fish are recorded, as well as precisely where and when it was captured.

This gives rise to a databank, which provides useful information on growth rate and length of life and migration patterns of these fish.

Tagged fish have turned up in some unlikely and far-off places. If a tagged fish is captured, the tag is removed and returned to the supplier, who maps the fish’s progress.

Large ocean dwelling fish swim at speeds of 4 to 15 knots constantly without stopping for rest. According to Riyami, Black Marlin and sailfish can travel up to 120 miles in a day.

A tuna fish tagged by New South Wales Fishery in Australia was once caught in the Gulf of Oman, indicating that the fish had travelled 450 kms. A blue marlin caught off the northeastern coast of the US and tagged there was recaptured in off the West Coast of Africa.

During the past few years, Oman has emerged as an exciting new destination for game fishermen because Omani waters are a haven for bait fish — the sardines, mackerel and squid — that is the staple diet of these large pelagics.

Fishing has long been an important source of income for Omani fishermen, who follow tuna in season. About eight miles off the coast of Oman, there is a drop off where the seabed goes down from 260 metres to depth of 2,000 metres.

The deepest parts of the ocean off the Sultanate are in the Indian Ocean between Sur and Masirah Islands, which reaches depths of 3,400 metres.

About 160 nautical miles off the coast between Sur and Masirah Island is a deep-sea ridge that ultimately runs into the Somalia basin.

Deep-sea ridges are a favourite haunt of the game fishermen because it is at these ridges in the deep sea where the bait fish hide in large numbers.
For information visit website: www.arabianseasafaris.com

* Adapted from Oman Observer Newspaper. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for errors.