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Spring in the Sultanate

The recent rains may have made Muscat green, but there could be challenges to flora and fauna, too

The spate of showers in Oman over the past  few months has added new life to Oman’s outdoors like never before. If Dhofar boasts of greenery galore during Khareef season every year, Muscat, too, has this year dressed up in green finery, celebrating a spring of sorts before an impending long, harsh summer.

But, there’s more to it than meets the eye. The greenery in the capital, in the form fresh shoots of grass, weeds, saplings and shrubs along waysides, wadis and mountain slopes, may be a welcome sight, but it is also a pointer to the effects of global warming.

Climate change has brought forth many upsets around the world and a fresh twist for the GCC region, which witnessed good unseasonal rainfall this year.

According to Professor Abdullah al Ghafri, lecturer-cum-researcher at Nizwa University, “The mountains in Muscat have become green because the seeds of wild plants have germinated and flourished over the past few weeks following unseasonal showers. Usually, wild plants have seeds which can stay dormant for long – just like hibernation in animals – even years, until rains revive them. These seeds have a perishable life cycle, so they grow very quickly, trying to capture the moisture in the soil which will not stay very long, and complete the cycle in a few days time.”

Professor Ghafri, who has been propagating the science of hydroponics to get people to start growing their own vegetables in their homes without using soil, further said that this year these plants will stay greener longer due to the recent good rains.

“Also, the temperature now is not high, but pleasant for them to survive. Such a rain cycle normally occurs once in every 20 years – it was last witnessed in 1997 when many mountains in Oman turned green. Probably, this rain cycle has now become shorter and much intensive because of the global climate change. However, this has yet to be researched and proven.”

Asked if the same phenomena of green mountains can be mimicked through artificial rain or drip irrigation, Professor Ghafri said, “There are many factors involved in propagating seeds of wild plants using hydroponics or aquaculture techniques. Some of these plants are not suitable for hydroponics since they have lengthy roots that penetrate the soil in the wild. Hydroponics is best suited for plants with short roots.”

He felt that aeroponics (another form of hydroponics) wherein plants are exposed to a misty environment, may be suitable for the mountains. However, since not much is known about the life cycle of these plants, it is cannot be said with certainty whether they will survive with techniques like hydroponics or aeroponics.

“Muscat’s temperature at present is neither too hot nor too cold – which means it’s a paradise for wild plants. But, if such showers occur in summer, we might not get to witness such greenery as the plants will die immediately.”

Dr Zulfikar Ali, a professor of biotechnology, who heads the Muscat study centre of the Indira Gandhi National Open University’s (IGNOU) distance learning programme, and who also promotes growing plants at home using hydroponics, reiterated, “This happens due to global warming and climatic change. Actually, this condition beautifies hilly regions, but has an adverse effect on the local ecosystem. Local flora and fauna will be adversely affected and it will create a cascading effect on the food chain and food wave of these areas.”

He further explained, “Heavy rain in mountainous areas will start to leach minerals and salts from the mountains downwards to the fertile lands below.” This, he said, causes more salt concentration in the fertile lands and adversely affects vegetation.

“For example, this condition has already badly affected the watermelon crop grown by farmers in Quriyat area. It also has affected crops in greenhouses because the outside rain water has created colder climate, which is not conducive to crops like capsicum etc  which need warmer climate.”

As regards to fauna, the greenery will attract new insects, birds and animals and the competition for food will increase, thereby creating a scarcity for some. This is a typical situation every few years.

New fauna in water, in air and on land could change the ecosystem and the food chain, creating great problems for existing animals. Dr Zulfikar, therefore, concluded that while the excess rain has beautified Muscat and other hilly regions, it has also adversely affected the local flora and fauna.

If heavy rains persist, serious measures will have to be taken to secure local vegetation as well address the resultant challenges to local fauna, he asserted, hoping that the authorities concerned would make preparations to tackle the situation so that the econsystem in Oman does not get disturbed.