Environment Society of Oman – Oman’s Environment

TERRESTRIAL

Introduction
The Sultanate of Oman lies at the eastern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula, between the Republic of Yemen in the south, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the west. To the north, the Governorate of Musandam, overlooking the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the remainder of Oman by some 95 km of United Arab Emirates territory. The Tropic of Cancer passes through Oman just south of the capital, Muscat. The total land area is 309,500 sq km, with a coastline of 1,700 km.

Geology and Topography
The north of Oman is dominated by the Hajar Range, a chain of rugged limestone and dolomite mountains, stretching from Musandam to Sur and rising to just over 3,000m at the highest point of the Jebel al Akhdhar. They are flanked by lower mountains of ophiolite, an igneous rock originating from upheavals of oceanic crust. Along the north-east of the range is the alluvial plain of the Batinah region, whilst to the west and south gravel plains stretch to the southern governorate of Dhofar. These plains cover some 80% of the surface of Oman and border the Arabian Sea. In the west the extensive sand dunes of the Rub’ al Khali stretch beyond the border with Saudi Arabia. The separate Sharqiyah Sands, covering some 9,300 sq km, lie to the east, near the southern extemity of the Hajar range. In the Governorate of Dhofar the gravel plains rise southwards to the escarpment of the Dhofar mountains, reaching 1,800 m and comprising mainly tertiary rocks, including calcareous shale, limestone, and massive gypsum.

Climate
With the exception of the mountain regions, the climate is hot and dry, with annual rainfall less than 100 mm. The Hajar range attracts higher but sporadic rainfall, more often in the winter months, but also from occasional thunderstorms in the summer. The climate of Dhofar is dominated by the south-west monsoon, which brings dense mists and some rain to the escarpment and the Salalah plain during the months of July, August and September, resulting in a belt of grass and woodland in the mountain region, densest on the steep slopes facing south to the Arabian Sea. The remainder of the country is arid with sporadic winter rain and occasional thunderstorms in the summer. Rainfall is higher in the Hajar range, bringing more vegetation, though limited by lack of soil in the rugged terrain. Fog moisture, especially in the spring and autumn, benefits the vegetation of the central plains of the Jiddat al Harasis. The mean annual rainfall over most of the country is less than 100 mm.

Vegetation
The flora of the Sultanate reflects the influence of that of Iran in the north, with an increasing influence of African species from the Eastern Hajar mountains southwards to Dhofar. Of approximately 1,200 species found in Oman, some 87 are endemic or near-endemic – occurring only in Oman or shared with its immediate neighbours and nowhere else in the world. Of these, 75 are endemic to Dhofar, mainly found in the mountains within the monsoon belt.

Mammals
Some 86 mammal species or sub-species occur in Oman. Of the regionally endemic large mammals, the Arabian tahr – Wa’al al Arabi (Hemitragus jayakari), classified as Endangered, occurs only in the northern mountains including those of the UAE. The Critically Endangered Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr), a regionally endemic subspecies, occurs in the Dhofar mountains.

Birds
Over 480 species have been recorded in Oman, the majority being migrants travelling seasonally between northern Asia some as far north as the Arctic, and Africa. Around 100 species are breeding residents.

Other Terrestrial Fauna
Many species of reptiles, arthropods, amphibians, insects and lower order fauna occur throughout Oman. A visit to the Oman Natural History Museum at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture is strongly recommended for a closer look at the full range of Oman’s biological diversity.

The Landscape
Oman’s natural and cultural landscapes are famous for their astonishing beauty, from dramatic high peaks and canyons, ancient oasis settlements with their traditional forts and houses, dense monsoon forests, barren gravel wildernesses, sand seas furrowed by high dunes, to coastal cliffs and fiords. To geologists they tell the story of millions of years of Oman’s history because, unlike temperate countries where rock formations are mostly covered by soil and vegetation, the geology of Oman is visible for all to see. In today’s crowded industrial world, wildernesses have a special appeal to the international tourist, many of whom wish to go to places where they will not be among crowds of other tourists: Oman is able to offer this experience as well as the more conventional types of holiday.

The landscape is the foundation of responsible tourism, a sustainable way to support the economy of rural areas, through employment. It contains all Oman’s terrestrial species, so care of the landscape helps to protect what is within it. Aside from tourism, a beautiful landscape sustains the quality of life for all those who live and work within it, encouraging their sense of ownership and pride.

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MARINE

Introduction
The seas of the Sultanate of Oman occupy an isolated corner of the Indian Ocean, where some of the world’s most varied and biologically productive waters are found. In the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea, vast open-ocean plains, canyons and trenches of extreme depth abruptly meet the coastline forming underwater cliffs several kilometers high. This contrasts with the gently sloping continental shelf of the Arabian Gulf and northern Gulf of Oman and has resulted in a great diversity of marine habitats.

Most of Oman’s waters lie within the tropics, but they nevertheless exhibit among the greatest seasonal variability found in any of the world’s oceans. The two main climatic influences are the winter and summer monsoons. The winter monsoon is characterized by a relatively gentle and variable, dry northeast wind, known locally as ‘Shamal’. This wind occurs between November and April, leading to modest increases in productivity and a current that flows to the southwest. The vigorous summer monsoon, or ‘Kharif’, forcefully reverses this circulation pattern and has a dramatic effect on the Sultanate’s seas. Cold, nutrient-rich waters well up in the Arabian Sea, and once at the surface, sunlight triggers phytoplankton blooms that persist for three or four months of the year and fuel the region’s primary productivity.

Musandam Region
The ragged coastline of the Musandam region, includes spectacular cliffs that plunge into the sea along fjiord-like inlets and promontories that characterize the region’s coast. The shelter afforded by the many khayran, harbour some of the most well-developed corals reefs in the country, whilst the cliffs themselves provide a roosting place for seabirds. Offshore, the seabed slopes gently southwards into the Gulf of Oman.

Al Batinah
The low-energy shoreline of the Batinah region in the Gulf of Oman, extends seaward as a wide continental shelf, that is generally desert-like and relatively featureless. A string of islands breaks the monotony; Oman’s only marine protected area, the Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve. Coral reefs thrive in clear waters and support a fantastic range of associated reef life, from sea anemones to whale sharks. The islands are also home to internationally important nesting seabirds and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

Muscat Region
The long-sweeping beach of the Batinah gives way to the rocky shores of Muscat, studded with coral reefs along a shoreline carved from limestone. Once used by ancient seafarers, the many bays, inlets and coves continue to shelter fishermen and attract tourists with their scenic splendour and promise of diverse and exciting marine life. Dolphins and whales are frequently seen in offshore waters that rapidly descend to depths of over 3,000 metres.

Ash-Sharqiyah
Rocky coastline extends southwards throughout much of the Sharqiyah region, reaching the easternmost tip of Arabia at the famous beaches of Ras al Hadd. Green turtles nest here throughout the year in numbers that probably exceed those of any other turtle rookery in the Indian Ocean. The Wahiba Sands meet the shoreline south of Ras al Hadd, separating it from Oman’s other major turtle nesting site; the island of Masirah. All four of Oman’s nesting turtles find space to nest here, but the majority are loggerhead turtles. As many as 30,000 females have been estimated to congregate here to nest between the months of March and August, forming possibly the largest nesting population in the world.

Al Wusta
Intense productivity in the waters of the Al Wusta region make the generally shallow seas here almost permanently green in colour. The vast swarms of phytoplankton attract a wealth of fish life, many of which apparently spawn here. Coastal whales, such as humpback and Bryde’s whales are attracted to this area and seabirds feed in their thousands. Onshore, still more birds, possibly over a million each year, dot the white sandy beaches and salt flats or wade in the shallows at Barr al Hikman, many of them passing through on migration. Barr al Hikman is also special for another reason. A coral reef, perhaps thirty square kilometers in extent, lies in shallow waters off the south coast of the area and is uniquely made from a single coral species, the Oman cabbage coral.

Dhofar
Dhofar’s spectacular coasts and seas differ markedly from those further north in the country. Like Musandam, cliff’s plummet into the sea from coastal escarpments, whilst elsewhere khayran and sweeping beaches are reminiscent of Batinah or Muscat shorelines. However, it is here that the ‘Kharif’ is centred, turning both the shores and the seas green as it fuels prolific primary productivity.
The kharif begins in May, when southwesterly winds race across the Arabian Sea, driving surface waters seaward. Cold, nutrient-rich waters well up and over the cliff edges, spawning a tremendous abundance of marine life. Kelp-like algae flourish and form acres of swaying fields of seaweed, growing side-by-side with corals; a phenomenon that can only be witnessed in this part of the world. Fish life is spectacularly abundant, attracting large marine predators, like sharks, dolphins and whales in high numbers. In undisturbed offshore areas, such as at the Halaaniyat Islands, pods of sperm whales may number over 50 individuals, whilst Arabian long-beaked common dolphins can school in their thousands.

This piece is taken from the website of the Environment Society of Oman.

See on-line at: http://www.environment.org.om/environment.php 

 

 

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