The Sultanate of Oman has been planting hundreds of thousands of mangrove seedlings over the past 17 years.
Historical and archaeological evidence indicates that dense mangrove woodlands covered much of Oman's coastline and islands in ancient times. Now efforts to restore the natural mangrove habitat are beginning to bear fruit: Once again they are providing camel fodder, mangrove timber, cleaner air, more productive fishing grounds, resistance to salinity, and protection against tidal storms.
Since 2000 the government has been working with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to plant seedlings in seven of the country’s 11 governorates.
“This is a pioneering activity that can inspire the development of a region-wide strategy for the management of marine and coastal ecosystems, and its future implementation,” says Kanako Hasegawa, a UN Environment ecosystems expert.
The Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME – members are Bahrain, The Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), JICA and UN Environment are working together to support member states on the strategy.
Molluscs, crabs and a great variety of fish abound in the numerous Omani creeks, channels, and mudflats associated with this habitat. They shelter among the mangrove roots and feed on leaf detritus.
“Over the years people have become more aware of the value and importance of mangrove ecosystems, and have increasingly participated in mangrove seedling plantation efforts.”
The government has been protecting existing mangroves, and organizing, coordinating and implementing the planting of seedlings, and conducting awareness-raising campaigns across the country. Re-seeding mangroves in Oman is an uphill task: when the transplantation site is properly selected, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the seedlings planted mature into trees. Seedlings take five years to grow into trees and start the natural germination process.
“Our priority is to conserve existing forests, and expand them by replanting seedlings,” says Aziza Saud Al Adhubi, an environmental planner in the Marine Environment Conservation Department within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs.
The aim of the ambitious long-term project is to plant about 1 million mangrove seedlings. Roughly 700,000 seedlings have been planted so far.
Who will benefit?
Local communities up and down the coast will benefit as they gradually get back the healthy ecosystems they had lost over past decades. Mangroves are breeding grounds for many fish species and other fauna, and also soak up carbon dioxide, thus contributing to mitigating the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. They protect the shore from coastal erosion. Mangrove boardwalks can also be a tourist attraction, bringing in additional income to locals.
“Over the years people have become more aware of the value and importance of mangrove ecosystems, and have increasingly participated in mangrove seedling plantation efforts,” says Aziza Saud Al Adhubi.
The Qurm Reserve near the capital Muscat (“the lungs of Muscat”, according to locals) is a nursery ground for juveniles of many commercial fish species, including mullet, milkfish, croakers, snappers, cragnids and seabream, according to government scientists. It was declared a Ramsar wetland site of international importance in 2013, and is being promoted as an ecotourism destination.
The Sultanate of Oman joined UN Environment’s Clean Seas Campaign in November. It’s the second Arab country to do so, after Jordan. The Government is planning a series of beach clean-ups in support of the campaign.