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Critical decline in myrrh trees; study calls for urgent conservation

24 Jul 2023 By OUR CORRESPONDENT

Muscat – Results of the second phase of ‘Survey of Arabian Myrrh Trees in the Sultanate of Oman’ have revealed that the species is going through a ‘very critical stage’.

With less than 250 trees remaining in Oman, Environment Authority (EA) advocates an urgent reassessment of the species’ national classification in line with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s guidelines. EA also underscored the need for a concerted effort from all stakeholders and relevant authorities at regional and international levels to safeguard the species.

The myrrh tree resin has been used throughout history for a variety of purposes, including perfumes, incense and medicine. It is a resin similar to frankincense, produced by trees of the Commiphora genus. Frankincense originates from the Boswellia trees.

The study, carried out by EA’s Office of Conservation of Environment in Dhofar, identified the leading threats to myrrh trees. Overgrazing emerged as the most significant challenge, accounting for 62% of the threats, followed by insect activity – 22%, drought – 10%, and unsustainable harvesting methods – 6%.

The second phase of the study expanded the scope of the survey, using around 15 scientific indicators to determine the species’ current status. It documented and took samples from all 59 surviving trees, which were recorded in a local database.

In response to these alarming findings, EA is planning to establish a garden specifically for myrrh trees. This initiative aims to conserve several ‘mother trees’ and set up a nursery dedicated to producing myrrh seeds and seedlings.

The study employed precise scientific methods and categorised indicators into four categories: spatial, vital tree indicators, degree of threat indicators, and documentation indicators. This comprehensive approach allowed for the collection of various data, such as location specifics, tree health indicators, threat factors, and sample collection of gum.

Additionally, the study conducted an initial assessment of the age of the myrrh trees. The oldest tree is estimated to be around 40 years old, while the youngest is about nine months old.

The overarching goal of the study is to discern the vital indicators of myrrh trees and identify the natural and human threats causing their number to dwindle. The study also seeks to collect updated and precise scientific data on the trees, potentially leading to a new classification of threat level for the species both locally and globally.

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