Nature reserves in the sultanate witnessed a 25 per cent increase in visitors in 2018 compared to 2017. According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) 305,405 people visited the reserves.
The figures reflect the efforts exerted by the Ministry of Tourism in promoting eco-tourism in the sultanate.
Speaking to Muscat Daily, an official at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), said, “The ministry seeks to conduct scientific studies and provide tourist and entertainment facilties for guests inside nature reserves. We have over 18 nature reserves through which we wish to preserve the biological diversity and promote sultanate in the world of eco-tourism.”
The official added that the aim is to harness all efforts in supporting eco-tourism in the sultanate’s nature reserves in a sustainable manner.
The Tanfeedh programme too seeks to transform natural sites into tourist hotspots. The programme laid out various requirements for private companies to invest in nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. One of the notable decisions made this year was the establishment of the Starlight Reserve in the Al Hajar al Gharbi in Jebel Shams.
The decision, apart from encouraging stargazing as a tourist activity, aims to curb light pollution due to the growing use of outdoor lights.
An important announcement this year was also done through the Royal Decree establishing the Rustaq Wildlife Nature Reserve in the Governorate of South Batinah.
The reserve will have more than 110 species of plants and trees, six different types of mammals and over a dozen species of birds. The establishment of these reserves reinforce the role of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs and other competent government agencies in the protection of environment.
Talking about the ministry’s efforts, the official said, “In July and September 2019, H E Mohammed bin Salim bin Said al Toobi, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs, issued two decisions laying out guidelines for visitors to Jebel Qahwan reserve in South Sharqiyah and Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve in Dhofar.
“The decision prohibits hunting or collecting of any wildlife antiques or even stones from the reserve. Visitors are allowed to drive vehicles only on roads specified by the ministry. Cutting or burning of any tree at the reserve is also prohibited.”
The official explained how the decision has been issued to preserve the reserve’s resources. “Discarding waste and using firearms or conventional weapons at the reserve is strictly prohibited. Lighting fire is also allowed only with the prior approval of the authorities. Use of any kind of toxin is also prohibited at the reserve.”
He added “Digging wells or mining of any kind is prohibited. It is also not allowed to collect any flora or fauna samples for any research or study without the permission of the ministry. Establishing any new facility or expanding old buildings inside the reserve except by permission of the ministry is also prohibited. Use of drone, except by permission of the ministry, is also prohibited. “The decision also stipulates a minimum fine of RO50 and maximum of RO200 for violators. The fine doubles in case of repeated violation.”