Something fishy

Something fishy

Posted 07 August 2011, by David Light, Khaleej Times, khaleejtimes.com

Conservationist Dr. Matthias Hammer continues on his quest to protect the Musandam waters

WHERE DO FISH go to take out a loan? Answer: the riverbank, of course. However, if somebody is looking to protect our finned friends where does one find support? If you’re the Founder & Executive Director of international wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions, Dr. Matthias Hammer, apparently the Ford Motor Company is the first stop.

Recently Ford granted Dr. Hammer $10,000 to go towards his organisation for the sole (no pun intended) purpose of the continued collection and collation of information on the Musandam coastal waters in Oman, which the doctor hopes will present a strong case to the authorities for a marine protected area to be declared in the governorate.

According to Dr. Hammer the area is at risk from overfishing and other threats that disturb the corals and the sea life that inhabit them.

“Much needs to be done to persuade decision-makers that this area deserves protected status but, with the help of a $10,000 grant from Ford, I am confident that Biosphere Expeditions and its partners in the region will be able to do everything possible to make a strong case for Musandam,” said the German biologist.

Creating awareness, intoned Dr. Hammer, is among the most important uses this money will be put to. The extra cash will allow the Biosphere Expeditions team to print leaflets that provide information for Musandam residents about the value of marine resources and how to protect them and livelihoods connected to the sea.

The grant for Biosphere Expeditions is one of many endowments that the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants confer every year to empower individuals and non-profit organisations that are working towards preserving the environment. Since the year 2000, Ford has awarded more than $2,000,000 in grants to over 300 projects around the world.

“We biologists say that ‘what pays, stays’,” he continued. “Who am I, coming from a European country, to tell a guy down in Musandam to stop fishing because he’ll damage the coral cover? He could have five mouths to feed and fishing might be his only source of income.”

Instead, Dr. Hammer explains that the reefs will continue to yield produce if they are kept in good shape and, with healthy reefs, the region will also continue to attract diving tourism, which brings money to the local economy.

“That way people see that protecting their environment is an investment in their future and that in many ways the land, or in this case the sea, will feed them in more ways than one.”

It was almost by accident that Oxford and Cambridge graduate Matthias Hammer discovered this project. In 2003 he was in the mountains of the Musandam peninsula conducting a survey of the endangered Arabian leopard population and decided to take the chance to go diving while he was there.

“I went for a dive and thought wow, this is really impressive; is anyone doing research here? I did a little investigation myself and discovered that the last survey of this area was conducted in the early seventies, and that was when I decided something really needed to be done,” he recalls.

Since then Biosphere Expeditions, working in conjunction with local and regional partners, such as the Emirates Diving Association based in Dubai, has found that the coral cover is particularly good in the seas around Musandam, especially compared to nearby Dubai, where construction work has left hardly any reefs at all.

“The reefs in Musandam are some of the best I have seen in the world. They have withstood the high levels of salinity in the water and, for this region, are in great shape.”

With the Ford grant bolstering their budget, Biosphere Expeditions will also create scholarship places for individuals to come and participate in the project for free and spread the word that Musandam has something well worth protecting.

“In addition to the baseline research work we carry out with our volunteers, the additional funds that we receive from grants such as Ford enables us to do extra things and generate capacity in the countries we work in. The scholarship is a good example and I encourage local people to go to www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scholarships, find the Musandam project and apply.”

For application forms for the Ford Motor Company Conservation & Environmental Grants, visit www.me.ford.com or write to fmegrant@ford.com. Deadline is September 10, 2011. For the Musandam scholarship programme, visit www.biosphere-expeditions.org/musandam.

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/citytimes/inside.asp?xfile=/data/citytimes/2011/August/citytimes_August73.xml&section=citytimes&col

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