December 18, 2013

Biosphere Expeditions Welcomes Protection for Unique Marine Ecosystem in Musandam, Oman


By Biosphere Expeditions

In two secluded bays in the coral-rich waters of the Musandam peninsula in Oman, all fishing except local handline fishing has been banned by a new ministerial decree. This significant step forward in the conservation of the beauty and resources of this relatively untouched marine area has been welcomed by the research organization and Reef Check EcoExpedition partner that has spearheaded the underwater research effort and campaign towards greater protection, Biosphere Expeditions. Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of the organization, talked about the work Biosphere Expeditions has been doing in the area since 2008: “This area has a high coral coverage at nearly 60 percent of the seabed. This is greater than that of most reefs around the world, and the Musandam reefs are certainly the best in the region. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ (MoAF) decision prohibits the use of all kinds of nets and cages, and any other fishing equipment, except handlines. This is a wise and important step in ensuring the survival of this unique marine ecosystem and natural jewel in Oman’s crown.”

A senior official at the Marine Sciences and Fisheries Centre, on whose recommendations such decisions are taken, said that both the Khor Najd and Khor Hablain bay areas are rich in corals, and fishing would end up destroying them. “The destruction of corals means severe damage to the marine life in the area. So this measure not only protects reefs, but also helps in sustainability of marine resources.”\"\"

“We could not agree more”, says Hammer, “and we are delighted that our voice has been heard, that our reports have been read and our recommendations have been heeded.” But he also added a note of caution, saying that without further intervention, the low numbers of fish and invertebrate populations in the area could mean that any additional stress may lead to coral die-off. “The general fishing ban announced by MoAF is certainly a progressive and welcome step in the right direction”, says Hammer. “Moving forward we recommend that a Marine Protected Area (MPA), or a network of MPAs, is created in north Musandam. We also urge rapid action before what is at the moment still a unique natural treasure for Oman is degraded and lost. If more habitat is lost or degraded before full MPA protection is implemented, there is a good chance that fish and invertebrate populations will not be able to recover from their current very low numbers and that the current high coral coverage will be lost. As a result, the decrease in some fish and invertebrate families is likely to have future negative impacts on substrate composition and the reef ecosystem as a whole. This in turn will threaten livelihoods and treasured lifestyles around Musandam”, warns Dr. Hammer.

The next stage, said Dr. Hammer, is to obtain formal support to extend protection from fishing bans to a full MPA. Biosphere Expeditions will continue its research, now including studying the effects of the fishing ban. Ultimately, given funding and government support, Biosphere Expeditions plans to extend its efforts to comprehensive surveys (including for example, fisheries landings, stakeholder consultations, etc) and a roadmap towards an MPA.

The next Biosphere Expeditions/Reef Check EcoExpedition to Musandam is scheduled for October 26 – November 1, 2014. Click here for details.

\"\" \"\"
Photos: Kelvin Aitken