Green haven in the city
The Al Ansab Wetlands are known to most, if not all, Muscat residents including yours truly but rather unfortunately it took a review on Tripadvisor to sit up and take notice.
Among a mix of reviews is one that invokes the name of Sir Peter Scott. According to the reviewer, the celebrated British ornithologist and conservationist would approve of it. But the reviewer doesn’t stop there. He goes on to cite Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the British explorer and writer of the on-foot and camel Empty Quarter crossing’s fame. It seems, according to the reviewer, the two “would have bombarded the Omani authorities to expand the space.”
The Al Ansab Wetlands is an effort by Haya Water to propagate nature and in turn invite wildlife to quite literally the middle of the city. Spread over 40 hectares, as many as 304 species of birds, mostly the migratory variety, had been identified at the wetland until last year. These include 22 resident species. The maximum variety in species in visible between September and March. The numbers are fascinating, by any stretch of the imagination, but what’s really remarkable here is the fact that this wetland has been created with treated water, all of it.
The thought may be unsavoury, and even gain traction momentarily when you see a line of yellow utility tankers outside the wetland waiting to enter the Haya Water treatment plant to unload. The reality it is anything but that. Just in case you’re wondering, there isn’t even a whiff of anything remotely unpleasant in the air.
According to Hanan al Balushi, corporate communications manager at Haya Water, the wetland was formed from excess treated water and set to the international specifications and standards applicable in this regard. Besides species indigenous to the area, in efforts to create biodiversity within the city, close to 300 trees and shrubs native to Dhofar and Jebel Akdhar, grow in the wetland.
The biodiversity agenda extends to conditions created in the water bodies too. The treatment plant effluent is pumped out into ponds. “There are five lagoons, the deepest one being 3.5m, to create different kind of habitats to attract a wide variety of species. Some visiting birds require deeper waters,” said Mohammed al Barwani, wetland support officer. An environmental biologist who graduated from the College of Science at Sultan Qaboos University, Barwani peppers his presentation with nuggets of fascinating information on the flora and fauna of the wetland that could engage seasoned ornithologists as well as instill an interest in nature in those not already environmentally conscious.
Marwa al Mahrouqi, Barwani’s colleague in the wetland support department, is another guide who makes a visit to Al Ansab worth the while. Marwa is likely the ‘knowledgeable’ guide many reviewers refer to in their comments on Tripadvisor.
Barwani and his colleagues in the wetland support department offer free guided tours, which must be pre-booked, to groups of birdwatchers, researchers, school students and tourists – maximum 30 people at a time – from Sunday to Thursday. He recommends early morning visits – 6.30am - for a richer experience.