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Bird flyway faces eco challenges.

MUSCAT: Barr Al Hikman will come under the gaze of bird watchers in Oman at a seminar later this year. Barr Al Hikmana is a large pristine coastal wetland in the Sultanate, which is a winter stopover site for migratory birds.

The international conference titled 'Oman as a Gravitational Centre in the Global Flyway Network of Migratory Shorebirds' is scheduled to be held from November 14 to 16.

The conference is being organised by the Centre for Environmental Studies & Research (CESAR) at Sultan Qaboos University, in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).

Commenting on the importance of the conference theme, Dr. Mushtaque Ahmed, director of CESAR said: "Worldwide, wetlands are threatened by human activities such as land reclamation projects, industrial pollution, and climate change. At the same time, people are becoming more aware of the economic and natural values of wetlands for fisheries and global biodiversity.

"Consequently, the conservation of wetlands is a timely and important issue. Migratory birds typically travel thousands of kilometers between their (sub) Arctic breeding grounds and their tropical, or even more southerly located wintering areas.

Often, migration distances are too large to be covered in one single flight. In such cases, a chain of suitable stopover sites (wetlands) is required to enable the travelling birds to reach their favourable wintering areas. Across the globe, different migratory flyways are recognised, which represent different chains of sites. Loss of a wetland implies that the flyway has one link less in its series, and it will thus be more difficult, or sometimes impossible, for a migratory bird to complete its annual migration."

According to Dr. Ahmed, loss of wetland habitat has a big effect on bird populations and can eventually lead to the extinction of migratory bird populations.

"Recent research indicates that human activities such as mechanical shellfish dredging and bird hunting in one wetland has negative impact on bird numbers in other wetlands within the same migratory flyway. In return, these losses have a direct effect on the bio-diversity of these wetlands.

"For instance, being important predators of benthic organisms, shorebirds often belong to the highest trophic levels of an ecosystem, and thereby, they may play a positive role in biodiversity maintenance.

"It is increasingly recognised that losses of predators can have cascading effects on biodiversity in the lower trophic levels, even on the fish community which have a direct economical value.

"Therefore, knowledge about the global connectivity and community ecology of wetlands are important for conservation management,"

he added.

Dr. B. S. Choudri, senior researcher, CESAR and Organising Committee member of the conference, said that Barr Al Hikman in Oman belongs to world's most undisturbed tropical intertidal ecosystems.

Migratory stopover

"It is an important wintering site for migratory shorebirds within the West Asian-East African Flyway. Barr Al Hikman is presumably also important for those shorebirds that winter further south, for example in east and Southeast Africa, to make a migratory stopover during spring and autumn, in order to replenish their exhausted energy reserves. Without having a 'stepping stone' in the Middle East, these birds can not complete their migrations between their high-Arctic breeding grounds and southern wintering areas.

"We estimate that every year at least one million migratory (shore) birds use Barr Al Hikman, either to spend the winter or for a migratory stopover in spring/autumn.

For 18 shorebird species, the population wintering at Barr al Hikman exceeded more than one per cent of their total flyway population. Therefore, Oman has recorded a higher diversity of wader species in internationally important numbers than any other area within Africa and Western Eurasia.

The long-term conservation of Barr Al Hikman is obviously an important issue considering the ongoing losses of shorebird habitat in the Middle East", Dr. Choudri added.

Jim de Fouw of NIOZ said that the forthcoming conference is aimed at raising awareness about wetlands and to stress their international importance for the world's biodiversity; communicating scientific information about the global connectivity and community ecology of wetlands; highlighting Barr al Hikman's unique position within the West Asian - East African migratory flyway and promoting the idea that its international importance should be taken into account when evaluating possible developments of the area.

"By holding this international event, we plan to develop a platform to discuss future plans for conservation and sustainable development of important wetlands in Oman; to explore the possibilities of collaboration with other countries within the flyway, and to initiate enhanced involvement of students from the Sultan Qaboos University in future bird migration research", Jim said.

Apart from CESAR and the Dutch Institute, Oman Ministry of Environment & Climate Affairs, Shell Development Oman and the Centre for Field Research on Environment, Diwan of Royal Court Oman are also among the organisers and sponsors of the conference.

More information on the event is available with Dr. Mushtaque Ahmed of SQU (e-mail: ahmedm@squ.edu.om) and Jim de Fouw of NIOZ (e-mail: jim.de.fouw@nioz.nl)

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2011

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7OMAN
Date:Jul 19, 2011
Words:839
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