Human activities, such as sea fishing, marine recreation and
coastal construction, appear to be damaging coral reefs throughout
the world - Oman included. But at least in the Sultanate the
Ministry of Regional Municipalities and the Environment (MRME) has
joined forces with Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) to do something
about it. In a project sponsored by Petroleum Development Oman
(PDO), the MRME and SQU are investigating whether artificial reefs
can be built by means of reef balls: large, perforated, spherical
shells of chemically adjusted concrete that provide a ready-made
habitat for fish and a substrate amenable to marine growth.
Preliminary results now give reason for the project members to be
With the help of the Ras Al Hamra Sub Aqua Club, 40 reef balls
were lowered into place in 1999 around the Fahal Island and at other
locations in Muscat's Ras Al Hamra bay. The reef balls were
originally intended to stimulate the growth of "soft" coral. But
recent examination of the sites by SQU researchers have shown that
"hard" coral has begun growing on the structures as well.
"We have had some great results with the soft coral," said PDO's
Health Safety and Environment Manager, Mr. Frans Willekes . "The
fact that hard coral has started growing on the reef balls by chance
shows that this type of coral can be transplanted here. We now want
to monitor this juvenile coral and explore the possibility of
transplanting other species."
The speed with which the reef balls have been colonised by coral
also came as pleasant surprise to the researchers. "It was thought
by many that it would take years for coral to establish itself, but
the results with the soft corals show that nature can do much better
than that," said Mr. Willekes.
In a separate initiative, PDO is also helping to stop the erosion
of existing, natural coral reefs by donating 17 mooring buoys that
will be deployed at reefs along the Batinah coast and at Damaniyat
islands. The buoys are being given to the Royal Navy of Oman who
will place them near sites popular with divers. Dive boats will have
to moor on these buoys rather than dropping anchor, thereby avoiding
damage to the reefs.
(Coral reefs are limestone formations build up over thousands of
years from the fused skeletons of small, sedentary invertebrate
marine animals of the Coelenterate phylum. They are found -
sometimes in massive accumulations - in shallow, tropical marine
waters, where they serve as a habitat for marine ecosystems).