Sultanate of Oman hosts an International Conference on Migratory Shorebirds
An International Conference, ‘Oman as a gravitational centre in the global flyway network of migratory shorebirds’ was recently organised by the Centre for Environmental Studies and Research (CESAR) at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), Sultanate of Oman, under the auspices of Dr Khalifa al Jabri, Member of the Majlis Addawla. The three-day conference was organised in association with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), the Ministry of Environmental and Climate Affairs, Shell Development Oman, and the Centre for Field Research on the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.
In his opening remarks, Dr Mushtaque Ahmed, Director of CESAR, said that an important aim of the conference was to raise awareness about wetlands and to stress their international importance for the world’s biodiversity. More specifically, the conference had a focus on the West Asian—East African flyway, in which Barr al Hikman, a large pristine coastal wetland in the Sultanate of Oman, is a key wintering and stopover site.
In the opening ceremony, Dr Jens Eriksen, wildlife photographer with Al Roya Press, Muscat and long-serving member of the Oman Bird Records Committee, gave the keynote speech about bird migration in Oman. He explained that located at the crossroads of three continents, the Sultanate of Oman is immensely important for millions of birds during their annual migration. In addition, Eastern Arabia forms a bridge between the great land masses of Africa and Asia and to avoid crossing over long distances of open sea, birds make use of this land bridge. He stated that of the 500 or so species of birds found in Oman, more than 400 are migratory spending only part of the year there. Most of them breed in northern and central Asia and when winter sets in at these latitudes the birds head south and southwest. Many migratory shorebirds spend the winter in Oman while others continue their long journey towards central and southern Africa. In spring the journey is reversed when the birds head for breeding grounds further north. Some birds, however, are far more common during only one of the two annual migrations, either during spring or autumn.
Dr Eriksen observed that some species have declined dramatically during the last few decades and are now seen only sparingly in Oman. He emphasised that in order to preserve biodiversity, it is important to protect not only the breeding sites, but also the wintering areas and stop-over sites during migration of migratory birds. These include the many khawrs and wetlands along the coast of Oman and in particular Barr al Hikman. He further added that although much had been learned from intensive observations, we still have little knowledge about local movements of birds during their time in Oman and the actual migration routes. Thus, much research is still needed and modern techniques of fitting satellite transmitters to migratory birds open up new possibilities.
Papers by speakers from Oman and abroad included ‘Connectivity of Bird Populations’, ‘Shorebird Populations: Middle East stop-over & wintering grounds’, ‘Both ends of the flyway’, ‘Ecological research & conservation’, ‘Ecological Research in marine habitats’.