The Environment Society of Oman was founded in 1997 as an idea by a group of ten people who were passionate about the environment and wanted to work together for a common cause.
But as there was no legislation for charitable status in place, they had to wait until 2004 to become a registered NGO. They had no money or office and were unsure if it could even develop, but fifteen years later, they now have fifteen staff, an office and Board members to initiate projects and events.
It started as an organisation to protect marine mammals, but they were advised to broaden the scope by the legislature and become an environmental organisation. The ESO has grown into an organisation which is now taken seriously by the international scientific community.
Raed Dawood, one of the founding members, came up with the turtle logo because of its significance to Oman. It also includes the ‘Wa’al al Arabi’, the Arabian Tahr, which is endemic to Oman, and so the logo covers marine and terrestrial nesting beaches.
ESO aims to raise public awareness in schools, public lectures, field trips, events by collaborating with existing events, such as Muscat Marathons, Triathlon or Spartan, or creating their own. Their mission is to protect and conserve Oman’s National Heritage and influence environmental sustainable behaviour. ESO aims to do this by raising public awareness through schools and public lectures. They collaborate with various scientists on particular research.
There are programmes in which ESO has trained thirteen young Omani graduates in the field of environment, conservation strategies and NGO work, thus contributing to the country’s capacity for interaction. Sometimes the public can take part in ESO events, but because many projects are research-based they require people with the correct background. Anybody can participate in beach clean-ups, young or old, with or without skills, just by having the passion to do something for the environment.
The organisation is led by a Board comprising Omanis from different parts of the country to get nationwide representation. Of the fifteen staff members, long-stay staff are often driven by their own passion, as NGO salaries cannot be as competitive as the private sector. The public members themselves provide a pool of volunteers, such as in the office, an event, a clean-up or project.
ESO runs many projects, either marine, terrestrial, educational and outreach. The current “Damaniyat Island Clean-up” collected 590 kg of nets and a similar amount of other waste, and they hope to start checking the condition of the Reef which has rich coral life. It took a long time to set up and prepare and requires the mobilisation of many people, including public volunteers on boats, underwater and on the beaches.
“Masirah Island Clean-up and Conservation” project concerns what action can be taken to help conserve the sea turtles which nest on the beaches, such as the Masirah Turtle Awareness Week. Also solutions to lighting concerns which disorientate turtles – (especially hatchlings making their way to the ocean). Oman has the second largest Loggerhead Turtle nesting beaches in the world, so it is very important for Omanis to protect the turtles, whose numbers are sadly declining.
There is an ongoing Research and Conservation programme, the “Arabian Sea Humpback Whale” supported since 2011 by Renaissance Services. Oman is home to this unique non-migratory sub-species – the smallest, most vulnerable endangered species in the world with only 100 individuals left. ESO has tagged thirteen whales to satellite-track where they go and what areas they feed and mate in.
They are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. Raptors: there are now 200 individual Egyptian Vultures (also on the IUCN endangered Red List ) on Masirah, a four-fold increase since 1980s, and so a great success story as a result of the relocation and release of Egyptian Vulture programme.
ESO is working towards a ‘Green Schools’ initiative in an upcoming project. The idea is to challenge students to engage in tackling environmental problems at a level where they can see results themselves. It is hoped that it will be nationwide, across eleven governorates involving about forty-four local schools, and through this to increase environmental awareness with a small competition between schools to see which would be the Greenest by the end!
The concept is that by talking to children in schools and have them as Ambassadors of the Environment, they will go home, tell their parents and so it goes into the wider community, just how important it is to protect what we have here in Oman.
The challenges of setting up potential projects, like many NGOs, include funding. Companies don’t give large sums of money for backing as readily as in the past. Getting permission to do certain work is another challenge, and importing equipment into the country required for research.
Getting volunteers is not easy as environmental issues don’t always pull on people’s heartstrings, and are not always seen as a charitable cause. However, the environment is something each and every one of us should be involved in. ESO urges more people to get involved in society in the next year as they will learn so much about the environment, and it will make them feel better too!