Oman’s relatively cooler waters provide a rare refuge for its reefs. (File)


On a sailboat anchored off Oman’s pristine Daymaniyat Islands, volunteer divers don wetsuits, check their tanks and then take turns diving into the clear turquoise waters.

They dive for a reason: to remove the huge fishing nets that are damaging an unusually resilient coral reef system that is thought to be more likely than most to survive rising ocean temperatures.

A volunteer diver jumps into the water during a campaign to remove fishing nets from coral reefs in the Dimaniyat Islands, Oman, Oct. 4, 2024.

The cleanup is an example of how divers and Omani authorities are joining forces to protect reefs – critical to marine wildlife – from human-caused damage.

Volunteer divers remove fishing nets from coral reefs.

“Coral reefs are a haven for marine habitats and wildlife,” said Hammoud al-Nayri of Oman’s environmental agency as he observed the divers.

“To protect marine ecosystems, we must first preserve coral reefs,” said the 45-year-old, who oversees the Daymaniyat Islands, Oman’s only marine protected area.

Most shallow-water corals battered and whitened by repeated ocean heatwaves are “unlikely to last the century,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last year.

According to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, global warming as well as dynamite fishing and pollution wiped out a shocking 14 percent of the world’s reefs between 2009 and 2018.

But Oman’s relatively cooler waters provide a rare refuge for its reefs, which are among the least explored in the world.

“Oman’s reefs are actually considered to be relatively less at risk than some regions,” said John Burt, an associate professor of biology at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“This is largely due to the influence of the monsoon,” explained the marine expert.

“During peak summer temperatures, when we would expect bleaching associated with marine heatwaves in most regions, the Indian Ocean monsoon increases in southern Oman, dramatically cooling water temperatures.”

“Huge environmental treasure”

Oman’s reefs may withstand rising sea temperatures, but they are not immune.

The Sultanate experienced its last major bleaching event in the summer of 2021, when ocean temperatures were particularly warm, Burt said.

Hurricanes, which are becoming more and more frequent due to climate change, also pose a major threat.

Between 2005 and 2010, more than half of Oman’s coral was lost to super cyclone Gonu in 2007, cyclone Phet in 2010 and a widespread algae bloom in 2008-2009, Burt said.

“We have seen over a decade of recovery in recent years that has allowed corals to return to these reefs,” Burt said.

To protect the reefs from fishing nets and coral-killing starfish, Hasan Farsi dives into Daymaniyat every week to inspect them for damage.

The son of a fisherman, he records the GPS coordinates of damaged coral areas and sends them to the Ministry of Environment to register them as cleanup targets.

He then joins the dozens of volunteers who dive to remove the sunken nets and crown-of-thorns starfish that prey on the reefs.

Coral reefs are “a huge environmental treasure,” Farsi said from a sailboat behind which dried-out nets were piled up.

“The coral reefs are deteriorating every year due to wrong practices by fishermen,” said the 52-year-old diving instructor.

“Without clean-up operations they would be completely destroyed.”

Reefs Database

Farsi is not alone in his efforts.

Jenan Al Asfoor, diver and trainer, is a central figure in protecting Oman’s coral reefs.

The 40-year-old runs Reef Check Oman, which is part of the global Reef Check Foundation.

It was founded in 2017 with the aim of building a complete database of the country’s coral reefs, monitoring their condition, identifying their main threats and working with authorities on conservation policies.

Over the years, the organization has conducted several surveys across the country.

“During these surveys, we noticed that we didn’t record a lot of bleaching… most of the reefs we surveyed look healthy and in good condition,” Asfoor said.

“The uniqueness of the corals here is that while other countries suffer from high sea temperatures in summer, usually in Oman, we have a cool water temperature all year round due to cold water currents flowing from southern Oman during the monsoon season.”

According to Asfoor, Oman’s coral reefs have also adapted to the high salinity in Oman’s northern seas.

“We have a very unique ecosystem here that is not found anywhere else in the world,” she said.

“Our goal at Reef Check Oman is to protect it for generations to come.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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