This October saw the eighth expedition of Biosphere Expeditions’ annual coral reef survey of the Musandam Peninsula. Fifteen divers from all over the world (Canada, France, Germany, Oman, the UK and USA) spent a week of their holiday time to assist with reef conservation in Oman. Diving two or three times a day, they conducted surveys all over northern Musandam.
Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, a coral reef expert from the Marine Conservation Society and the expedition’s chief scientist, summarises the expedition: “Our surveys have taken place during a particularly rich plankton bloom, so visibility in water has been quite low. Many sites hosted large numbers of snapper, way in excess of 1000 per kilometer square, which is encouraging. But the average size of the snapper is quite low, which indicates overfishing. Also, the large numbers of Diadema urchins continue to be a threat to the corals, because they are overgrazing the bedrock and base of some corals. Grouper (hammour) numbers are reasonable, but size ranges continue to be small due to overfishing, which is a worry, since only larger groupers can breed and produce more fish.”
Dr. Matthias Hammer, the founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, this year led the expedition himself, “because we are now at a crucial stage of development in Musandam. The discussions we had with fishermen are encouraging. They have been told about and are respecting the Khor Hablain ‘closed area’, declared in 2013, where only line fishing is now permitted. We commend the government of Oman for its foresight in closing such a large area of the Musandam for all but line fishing. This is far-sighted and will surely help with the conservation of fish stocks and coral reef health around Musandam. However, Kumzari fishermen are concerned over illegal fishing from Iranian waters and believe this has resulted in significant catch declines in the past decade. We therefore encourage the Oman government to heed the fishermen’s concern and also continue its marine conservation efforts by putting marine conservation high on the agenda. After all, conservation management is essentially good overall management.”
Indeed, successful marine conservation efforts will always include the local fishermen. History has shown that the most successful marine conservation areas are those that are created bottom-up, with the help and acceptance from local fishermen and communities, rather than top-down governmental decisions that are not understood or accepted on the ground, and therefore often ignored. “With a bottom-up approach, the chance of everyone winning is so much higher than with top-down, where often everyone loses”, conclude Drs. Solandt and Hammer.
In another development, three more Omanis (Jenan Alasfoor from Muscat, as well as Ali Saleh Ibrahim and Waleed Alkaabi, both from Sohar) were trained on the expedition in reef survey techniques as part of Biosphere Expeditions’ on-going placement and local empowerment programme. All three qualified as Reef Check EcoDivers during the expedition and can now conduct reef surveys anywhere in the Indo-Pacific, including in Oman. This brings the total number of Omanis trained over the years up to seven – including divers from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, and the Environment Society of Oman – in what Biosphere Expeditions hopes to be the start of an all-Omani community-based survey effort. Dr Hammer said that “Biosphere Expeditions has been very successful in setting up such a community-based programme in the Maldives (see more information on this here and here) and we are very hopeful that Oman will now follow suit”. Ali Saleh Ibrahim adds that “the knowledge I have gained participating in this expedition will help me to go further with my interest of protecting the underwater environment. Now I am ready to start my first independent Reef Check together with other Biosphere Expeditions placement graduates and I plan to do this in the coming months. I really appreciate Biosphere Expeditions’ efforts to save coral reefs in my country and thank them for giving me the opportunity of a placement on the Musandam expedition, and putting Oman on their world map of conservation expeditions.”
Dr Solandt concluded the expedition this year by saying that “coral health of the sites we have visited this year appears good, though we have seen a few more incidents of disease than in previous years. We have been encouraged by the large number of snapper and we believe that more small no-take zones will help local fishermen and their communities into the future. We encourage the government to discuss further measures with them in order to recover fish stocks and achieve a bright future for all – local people and the environment we all depend on.”
Below is a selection of expedition pictures, as well as a video.