Oman is situated at the eastern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula, the Tropic of Cancer passing just south of the capital, Muscat. The northern mountains, of sedimentary and igneous formations, stretch in an almost unbroken chain from the Governorate of Musandam overlooking the Strait of Hormuz (separated from the rest of Oman by part of the United Arab Emirates) nearly to Ra's Al Hadd. The coastline extends for some 1,800 km, with a number of islands offshore, the largest being Masirah to the east of central Oman. Its physical features vary considerably, from precipitous cliffs falling to depths of over 40 m close to the shore in Musandam, to shallow sandy beaches with scattered inlets and lagoons, some of which support mangroves, along the Batinah coast, to extensive sandy beaches along the coast of Central Oman, with areas of salt flats, especially the Barr Al Hikman which joins the Wahiba Sands opposite Masirah, and extensive high cliffs with some sandy beaches and tidal inlets along the coast of Dhofar.
Summary of Wetland Situation
Apart from coastal cliffs such as those in the Musandam Region, the coastline is emergent, often with a shelf reef exposed at low water, backed by small dunes of calcareous sand bound by grasses and other halophytes. Inter-tidal flats are very extensive between the Barr Al Hikman and Masirah Island, south of the Wahiba Sands, and also occur in the Duqm area and to a lesser extent in the creeks (khawrs, the mouths of wadis which flood occasionally) of which there are many. Khawrs include those that are wide, shallow and surrounded by sabkha and halophytes, and those with deep narrow channels lined with the mangrove tree Avicennia marina or with reeds Phragmites, reed-mace Typha and other aquatic vegetation.
Oman's coastal zone supports huge numbers of passage and wintering water birds and breeding and non-breeding seabirds. Mid-winter counts by a modest number of people covering the Sultanate's coastline give a total mid-winter population of 300,000-500,000 water birds of 90-110 species, with the majority of individuals being shorebirds and at a single site, the Barr Al Hikman. The open shore supports large numbers of wintering shorebirds, especially Sanderling Calidris alba, and roosting gulls and terns; the two latter often concentrate at the entrance to the small khawrs. Ghubbat Quwayrat (Ad Duqm) is an important staging and wintering area for migratory waterfowl, notably herons, flamingos, shorebirds, gulls and terns. Over 31,400 waterfowl of 32 species were present in January 1993.
Another important staging and wintering area for migratory waterfowl is Khawr Dhirif. Recent mid-winter counts have included up to 660 ducks of 11 species (mainly Wigeon Anas penelope, Common Teal A. crecca, Pintail A. acuta and Shoveler A. clypeata), 300 Sooty Gull Larus hemprichii, 140 Yellow-legged Gull L. cachinnans, 50 Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica, 80 Caspian Tern Sterna caspia and 350 Sandwich Tern S. sandvicensis. Saunders's Little Tern Sterna saundersi breeds in the area (maximum 60 birds), and up to 15 Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca and 300 Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii have been recorded on migration. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (22) and Eurasian Coot Fulica atra (50) were recorded in December 1986. The Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata is a scarce winter visitor to the surrounding desert, and the Arabian Gazelle Gazella gazella occurs in the area.