IUCN guides ecotourism development for Oman’s coastal jewels
13 June 2012 | Article
The Regional Office for West Asia is working with the Ministry of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman to strengthen its ecotourism sector by providing technical support, advice and capacity building. Two coastal areas have been selected for detailed planning.
The first area of Bandar al Khayran is located in close proximity to the capital of Muscat and is a magnificent environmental and cultural asset for Oman. It is a complex mix of steep mountainous lands and wadis that meet the Gulf of Oman in beaches and protected coves fringed by diverse coral communities. Gazelle roam the rugged coastline while turtles nest on the protected beaches. The local community uses Bandar Al Khayran for fishing and agriculture and the cultural heritage reveals this association with the land and sea has endured for thousands of years. Nowadays, the waters are shared with Omani and international tourists who come to experience its natural environment, the outstanding beauty and its rich history. The Government of Oman recognised the uniqueness of Bandar Al Khayran and protected it by Royal Decree in 2007, establishing it as a Public Ecotourism Area. The increasing pressure from visitors and the lack of facilities necessitated the drafting of a Management Plan. . IUCN assembled an international multidisciplinary team that conducted a number of site visits and interactions with local stakeholders. The Management Plan was completed during 2011 and submitted to the Ministry of Tourism. The vision for the area is that its environment and biodiversity are protected, and the cultural values preserved, while allowing and managing appropriate tourism activities that do not degrade these values
The second area of Wadi Darbat is located in the far south of the Province of Dhofar close to the border with Yemen. Its importance lies in its great natural beauty, biodiversity and historical heritage. The wet and temperate climate conditions in Wadi Darbat during the khareef or monsoon season result in a verdant landscape with lakes and occasional waterfalls. The fog-affected escarpments of Dhofar have the highest number of endemic species and some of the most species-rich habitats in Oman. Fauna include the critically endangered Arabian leopard, the reintroduced Nubian ibex, along with a variety of other mammals including the Arabian gazelle, Arabian wolf and striped hyena. This area falls within the Arabian Peninsula coastal fog desert (AT1302) ecoregion as defined by the WWF. Also valued as a very strong cultural and historical spot, with settlements dating back to the third millennium BC and famed for the production of frankincense, the area forms part of a “composite” UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been attracting a large number of visitors who want to escape the very hot and uncomfortable summer conditions experienced elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf region. These large numbers of visitors coupled with insufficient infrastructure and a lack of systematic planning threaten the quality of the landscape and the biodiversity of the area. At the same time, the local communities currently enjoy little benefits from tourism activities.
The IUCN team has been on site. An Ecotourism Concept Master Plan and Management Plan is currently being drafted for discussion with the Ministry of Tourism and other stakeholders. The conservation and development concepts stretch over 20 km from Khor Rori with the archaeological site of Sumhuram at the coast to the valleys and hills north of the Wadi Darbat Lakes. There is a high degree of landscape connectivity between the northern and southern extremes of the study site. Firstly, there is a physical connection in the landscape through the wadi (this becomes also important in terms of connectivity and dispersal corridors for fauna and flora). Secondly, there is also a historical linkage through the frankincense that was harvested in the mountains, brought down to the plains and exported through the port at Sumhuram. Finally, there is also a cultural linkage in the transhumance between the plains and the mountains in search of the best grazing for the local community’s livestock.
The IUCN team came back with a proposal for the improvement of the current tourism infrastructure and a diversification of the tourism offering. The proposed development approach will on the one hand strengthen the integrity of the natural environment and reduce the current visitor impact. On the other hand, new ‘value’ will be created by structuring the development in a number of interlinked ‘nodes’.
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