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Bar al Hakman is situated at the south - eastern coast of Oman, approximately in the middle of the country’s coastline (see the attached map) . Bar al Hakman peninsula, so called after the Hakman tribe, is a huge plain. The mean altitude in most parts lies below 20m and increases inland but never reaches above 40m. Geologically the peninsula is composed of monotonous gravel plains, coastal and inland salt plains (sabkhas), large mudflats and some salt-water lagoons. The Ghubbat Hashish is a large, very shallow bay forming the foot of the Gulf of Masirah. The bay is approximately 15km wide and 25km long and opens southwards. In the northern part of the bay is the island of Mahut, a mangrove fringed island.
Littoral Dune Belt
Around the Bar al Hakman a dune belt occurs. This low dune, 2-3m above sea level is mostly covered by salt-adapted bush (Suaeda moschata and Atriplex farinose). In the shelter of this dune vegetation and on low lying silty and highly salt-saturated substrates, a succulent halophytic low shrub exists.
Large areas of very shallow mudflats exist along the west and north-east coast of the Bar al Hakman peninsula. The blackish landscape is flooded during each high tide. Although the sedimentation of salty and very fine material does not allow for the occurrence of taller plants, it provides an excellent habitat that attracts thousands of wader birds.
These very large areas with an extremely high salt content, occur mainly on Bar al Hakman. If their altitude is not high above sea level and if there is a connection to the sea, they are occasionally flooded by sea water. In the central part of the peninsula there are fossil sabkhas indicating a relatively young uplifting had occurred.
Sandy Hillocks and Gravel Plains
Loose sand covers the gravel plains in some places but habitat is found on several hundreds of sq kms on Masirah as well as Bar al Hakman. This is, however, a very harsh environment and it is normally sparsely vegetated.
Mainly five kinds of marine habitats are present in the proposed reserve:
Three reef areas are located west and east of Bar al Hakman and off Rounders Bay on Masirah. These reef structures are unique to Oman and probably in the whole world, because an area of several sq kms of reef frame is built up of only one species of coral (Montipora foliosa).
In general, seagrasses are important primary producers. Moreover, they are responsible for the equilibrium of the physical and chemical regime of the coastal waters. Several species of fish and crustaceans occupy the seagrass beds as breeding and mating grounds. It is also an important feeding ground of sea turtles. Seagrass beds are, just like the coral reefs, endangered ecosystems and are known to be on the decline worldwide due to human disturbance.
Although the algal communities are limited, they are equally vital as primary producers. Only the western submerged terrace of Shaghaf Island is exclusively inhabited by very dense and diverse algal population.
Flat Shallow Waters
Also known as Wadden seas, these areas are known to be the most productive of all marine habitats. During low tide when the water temperature in the remaining puddles and pools rises, the primary production of microalagae just explodes. The abundance of primary and secondary consumers is extremely high. In consequence, these areas are feeding grounds for various organism groups, especially fish and birds. Since these areas are dry during low tides, they present undisturbed feeding grounds for a large population of wading birds.
In places sheltered from the impact of waves and prevailing winds, mangroves (Avicennia marina) can be found. Along the coast of Mahut Island in the Ghubbat Hashish, is the largest and still intact stand of mangroves in the Sultanate of Oman. A smaller stand of intact mangrove is found on the island of Shagaf. In small patches are seriously damaged stands of mangroves found along the coasts. Most of the destruction is a result from woodcutting, forage cutting for livestock or from actual camel grazing.
The area is well known as one of the densest nesting areas for nearly all species of sea turtles worldwide. Four species had been recorded with nesting activities on the coast of Oman: i.e., Green Turtle, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Turtle. The beach appropriately provides the nesting needs of the animals. Turtles visit the beach in large numbers.
Whales and Dolphins
The rich variety and abundant population of fish within the bay attracted whales and dolphins. They are frequently seen sometimes in large numbers feeding in the area.
So far, there are 14 species of terrestrial mammals listed in the area as they occur singly or in small numbers. Mountain gazelle, red fox, hares, rats, mice and bats were previously recorded. Apart from these animals some feral species like goats, cats and donkey are present on Masirah.
The mud flats of Bar al Hakman and the west coast of Masirah are the most important areas for wintering and migrating waders in the whole of Arabian Peninsula. A total of 140 species of birds have been recorded. Of these only a few are known to breed. It is during passage and in winter that this area is of special importance. During the winter, some species occur in large numbers in this area. At present, the main nesting sites for terns, gulls and plovers are on the little islands of the coasts of Bar al Hakman and Masirah. The only known breeding site of the crab plover is on Shaghaf Island. The breeding birds are facing endangerment by over collection of eggs by local fishermen.
Bar al Hakman has long been recognized as one of Oman’s most important biodiversity hotspots and of global importance for the protection of wintering grounds of migratory birds. The spectacular congregation of waterbirds during the peak of arrival of birds is something to behold. This huge feeding ground for migrating birds is far away from human settlements and disturbance.
Criterion (x): Bar al Hakman encompasses different habitats which are essential for the survival of many wildlife species. The extensive mudflats, long stretch of beaches, intact mangroves, tiny coral islands, shallow and deep seas provide the food sources and cover for these wild species.
Bar al Hakman and Masirah island have been identified as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International. The proposed reserve is of outstanding importance as a major staging and wintering area for migratory shorebirds and other waterfowls. Some parts of this extensive mudflats are almost inaccessible to local residents or livestock thus large congregations of wintering and resident birds are able to feed and rest freely in the area. The place is a show window where one can watch how natural processes such as feeding, predation, nesting and cover selection of wildlife are taking place. One can freely witness how nature integrates everything in this kind of ecosystem.
Different studies and investigations emphasized the significance of the area in terms of its biodiversity. Annual bird counts of migratory species indicate that this area, with its extensive mudflats, is indeed one of the most important wintering grounds along the Arabian coast for wading birds. It is similarly important as a stop over area for African – Palaearctic migrants. This site can be compared with following:
Found in the coastal area of Belize, the 96,300 ha Belize Barrier Reef Reserve is outstanding for its beauty and natural ecosytem. The reserve is consisting of extensive barrier reef, offshore attols, sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. It illustrates the evolutionary history of reef development. It is a sginificant habitat of threatened species such as marine turtles, manatees and marine crocodiles. In 2009, it was insribed in the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is the world’s second largest barrier reef system and the largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Carribean area.
Declared in 1993 as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan and Sulu Sea, Philippines support some of the most beautiful coral reefs and colorful fishes in the world. It was established in 1988 covering 332 sq kms but was expanded to 968 sq kms in 2006. Its magnificent atolls are habitats for shorebirds and migratory bird species. There are no inhabitants of the islets and reefs but divers and tourists frequent the reserve. It is a famous diving site because of the coral “walls” where shallow coral reef abruptly falls giving way to great depths. Tubbataha is a nesting home for the endangered Hawksbill.
Located in the Timor Sea, Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve was declared as a reserve in 1983 to protect its marine ecosystem. It is a 583-sq km seabed, a large reef shelf and three small islands. The larger Ashmore Island is IUCN Strict Nature Reserve while the remaining small islands is in the category of IUCN National Park.
Fernkloof Nature Reserve in South Africa occupies 1,800 ha. It was proclaimed in 1957 to protect the coastlines and a small patch of evergreen forest. Vegetation is unique with a selection of some of the biggest carnivorous plants in the world. It is inhabited by Grey Rhebok, Cape Grysbok, Klipspringer, Baboon, Mongoose and Dassie together with varied 92 bird species. Whales are occasionally seen in the open sea.