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Nature reserves to boost biodiversity

19 Jan 2021 By MOHAMMED TAHA

Over 350,000 people visited nature reserves in Oman in 2019, an increase of 15% over 2018

Nature reserves in Oman are a major tourist attraction, offering scenic nature, camping and diving to enjoy coral reefs and other underwater treasures.

As many as 359, 225 people visited Oman’s nature reserves in 2019, compared to 305,405 at the end of 2018, marking an increase of 15 per cent, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).

Speaking to Muscat Daily, an official at the Environment Authority, said, “The authority seeks to conduct scientific studies and provide tourism and entertainment facilities for guests inside nature reserves. We have 20 nature reserves through which we aim to preserve biological diversity and promote the sultanate in the world of ecotourism.”

The official added that efforts are on to support eco-tourism in the sultanate’s nature reserves in a sustainable manner.

The Implementation Support and Follow-up Unit (ISFU) at the Diwan of Royal Court, which is responsible for monitoring and following up on specific national projects – chief among these being Tanfeedh programme – has outlined eco-tourism as an important part of the sultanate’s diversification plan. This plan aims to improve, preserve and capitalise on Oman’s eco-tourism offerings. At the same time, it aims to ensure long-term sustainable growth of the tourism sector as it plays a vital role in boosting Oman’s economy.

The plan includes three projects – Geo-Heritage Tourism Development, Operationalisation of Ras al Shajar Natural Reserve and Operationalisation of Qurm Nature Reserve – according to ISFU’s Annual Report 2019. 

Under the Geo-Heritage Tourism Development, the Al Huqf Geo Park in Al Wusta has been identified as one of the promising developments that aims to leverage eco-tourism and geotourism assets in the governorate. 

The proposed Al Huqf Geo Park will cover an area between the wilayats of Mahoot and Duqm, in Al Wusta governorate, and include the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve, Duqm Rock Garden and the area surrounding the two wilayats of Mahoot and Duqm.

Operationalisation of Ras al Shajar Natural Park has been included in the plan for its rich biodiversity and close proximity to the capital. Located in the wilayat of Quriyat, Muscat governorate, its proximity to the capital makes it an attractive and feasible project, according to ISFU. 

The Qurm Nature Reserve project aims to continue developing Oman’s eco-tourism offerings by inviting more responsible investment and activity into the reserve without compromising its intrinsic ecological value.

The Tanfeedh programme also seeks to transform natural sites into tourist hotspots. The programme laid out various requirements for private companies to invest in nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. One of the notable decisions made recently was the establishment of the Starlight Reserve in the Al Hajar al Gharbi in Jebel Shams.

The decision, apart from encouraging stargazing as a tourist activity, aims to curb light pollution due to the growing use of outdoor lights.

An important announcement was also made through a Royal Decree establishing the Rustaq Wildlife Nature Reserve in the Governorate of South Batinah.

The reserve has more than 110 species of plants and trees, six different types of mammals and over a dozen species of birds. The establishment of these reserves reinforce the role of the Environment Authority and other competent government agencies in the protection of the environment.

The Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve is home to more than 11 species of wild animals, including Arabian oryx, Arabian gazelle, Rhim gazelle, Nubian ibex, red fox, ostrich, brown eagle and wild rabbit. The Office for Conservation of the Environment recently launched a programme to release wild animals (Arabian antelopes) into the wild, setting them free in the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve. 

Following their release, the antelopes were traced through satellite and radio devices. The move came in the wake of a success story that began with a project for the settlement and breeding of the Arabian oryx in the 1970s. 

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