That’s the positive message from Biosphere Expeditions’ ninth annual survey of the Arabian Gulf scuba-diving attraction - in stark contrast to the NGO’s apocalyptic warnings about Maldives reefs, reported on Divernet three weeks ago

So should divers be packing their bags for Oman?

The resistance of Musandam corals to extreme conditions such as high salinity and temperatures is “remarkable”, say the report‘s authors, expedition scientist Dr Jean-Luc Solandt of the Marine Conservation Society and Biosphere Expeditions founder Dr Matthias Hammer.

The scientists found healthy coral cover of 25-89% even at depths of less than 10m and “little evidence of any coral disease, bleaching or predation”, describing this as remarkable considering the effects of the recent El Niño event elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.

The fact that many sites hosted very large porites coral colonies indicated that no significant damaging events had occurred for at least 400 years.

“Intact and undisturbed reefs are sadly very rare these days,“ says Dr Hammer. “The resilient Musandam corals may also hold the key to reef survival around the world. For these reasons they must be protected and studied”.

The report does however cite threats to the region, including overfishing, cyclones, algal blooms and extensive coastal developments, with the disappearance of grouper and lobsters one indicator that all is not well.

Biosphere Expeditions recommends that the Oman government should establish marine protection zones in the peninsula, following its 2013 declaration that protected areas would be set up.

“We have seen little enforcement or progress since then and urge the government to do more,” said Dr Hammer. “Oman has this unique coral community, which is important for the rest of the world. And with it comes a unique responsibility too.

“And where government fails, we now have civil society in Oman in the form of the success story of Reef Check Oman, founded earlier this year by graduates of our placement programme, which is designed to build capacity and empower local communities to run their own conservation programmes.”

Biosphere Expeditions is a member of IUCN and the UN’s Environment Programme. Divers can take part in its annual surveys here.

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