A waterbird survey at Barr Al Hikman, conducted by Wetlands International and sponsored by Shell Development Oman as part of its commitment to supporting environmental conservation initiatives in the Sultanate yielded spectacular and informative results, once again confirming the unique value this coastal intertidal area close to Masirah Island offers waterbirds.
Wetlands International is a global not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wetlands. It is one of Shell’s environmental partners that bring specific expertise to projects in areas such as biodiversity to help improve Shell’s performance.
The 2017 survey showed that waders such as curlew sandpipers and less sandplovers made for the largest group of species found in the Barr Al Hikman area, followed by cormorants, herons and flamingos. The team of surveyors counted a staggering 154,000 Calidris Sandpipers and 104,385 Lesser Sandplovers over the survey period.
The group of experts from Wetlands International also noted a higher number of juvenile Greater Flamingos which when compared to previous counts from earlier years show that flamingos have been increasing in numbers over time. On the other hand, Bar-tailed Godwits have shown downward trend over the years. It is worth mentioning that most migratory birds come to Barr Al Hikman from Northern breeding areas as far away as northern Europe and even the Russian Far East.
The results were recently shared during a technical engagement session which was organized by Shell Development Oman and attended by representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), Environment Society of Oman (ESO), Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), Shell Oman Marketing Company (SOM), as well as other interested interest groups and individuals.
The outcome of the 2017 survey has reinforced the global importance of Barr al Hikman, which is the largest intertidal wetland area in the Sultanate and probably one of the most important stop-over sites in the Middle East for waterbirds. The site is recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International and qualifies for designation as a Ramsar site –wetlands that are recognized as being of international importance.
“Through the surveys we’ve conducted in 2016 and 2017 with support from SDO, Wetlands International has demonstrated that Barr Al Hikman is an exceptionally important site for waterbirds. This has informed the decision by the Oman Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs to propose these wetlands to be designated as Ramsar sites,” said Ward Hagemeijer, Head Business and Ecosystems at Wetlands International.
“In 2017, with support of SDO, we increased our understanding of how the birds utilise this site, including where the greatest concentrations are roosting on the Sabkha, the saltplains that are so typical for the region, during high tide. This information is critically important for the sustainable management and conservation of Barr Al Hikman,” added Mr Hagemeijer.
Despite its global importance, still relatively little is known about how Barr al Hikman functions as an ecosystem for the waterbirds and other marine and terrestrial species that depend upon it throughout the year. The survey is an effort to ensure the latest and most up-to-date information about waterbirds is available to support conservation action worldwide and promote effective conservation action to be taken at critically important sites along all global flyways.
Commenting on this initiative, Chris Breeze, Shell’s Country Chairman in Oman, stated: “Shell Development Oman is proud to work closely with Wetlands International and contribute towards developing a better understanding of Barr Al Hikman. The recent survey by Wetlands International provides another vital source of information for both conservation and management of this unique area. We are proud of the opportunity to positively contribute to better understanding the ecologically rich environment at Barr Al Hikman.”