Bar-tailed godwits

This website provides a live feed of tracking data of bar-tailed godwit wintering in Barr al Hikman. It is the first time that this species is being tracked within the West Asia-East African flyway. By tracking Omani bar-tailed godwits we hope to find out more about their annual routine because we virtually know nothing about this species. We even might deal with a subspecies new to science. Hopefully the tracking data will tell us when bar-tailed godwits migrate and where they migrate to. In addition we study local habitat use, by which we can highlight the importance of the Barr Al Hikman ecosystem for species such as bar-tailed godwits.

Home sweet home

On 27 August Khaluf returned to Barr Al Hikman. She flew straight from the Caspian Sea to exactly the area were we caught her already two years ago. Khaluf was the last of the tracked birds that returned to Oman, the other four birds were already in the area for some time. It means that we were able to track the full migration of five birds for the second time. An unexpected and exciting result. Click here to read the full story.

Citizen science

Are you going to Barr Al Hikman this winter? We are greatly helped with juvenile estimates or resightings of colour ringed birds!

Barr Al Hikman explained

Barr Al Hikman is a mainland peninsula on the Arabian Sea of approximately 900 km², located 25 km west and opposite of Masirah island in the central-east of the Sultanate of Oman.

Upwelling

Barr Al Hikman lies within one of the five large upwelling systems in the world. Upwellings are wind driven motions of the water by which cool, nutrient rich water comes to the surface. In Oman the upwelling is driven by the yearly southwest monsoon which generally occurs between June and October. Typically areas bordering an upwelling are highly productive due to the enormous input of nutrients. This picture shows the chlorophyll a concentration in the summer.

Tides

Twice per lunar day Barr Al Hikmans mudflats are flooded. The tide is characterized as mixed semidiurnal which means that the two daily high- and low tides differ in height as can be seen on this movie. Every time the water comes in the mudflats are nourished with nutrients, which can thrive under the warm Omani sun. This is where seagrasses and primary consumers such as benthic molluscs and polychaetes feed on. Seagrasses and benthic animals in return are the major food for secondary consumers such as shorebirds and turtles,

Crabs

There are about 50 species of crabs in the area, which is an exceptional high number compared to other areas in the world. One of the most abundant crabs in the area are the super strong blue swimming crabs. These crabs are the most importance species for the nowadays commercial fisheries in Oman. During many years we monitored the crabs in Barr Al Hikman and concluded that the area is of major important nursery ground for this species.

Crab plovers

Our representative top predator in the Barr al Hikman ecosystem is the iconic crab plover. Barr Al Hikman is home to about 9000 crab plovers which is about 10% of the world population. In our project we ringed and tracked crab plovers during many year. Ringing data will enable us to make predictions on the population developments of this species. With tracking data we will not only find the origin of the breeding grounds of the crab plovers, it will also be used to study the habitat use of the species and how they can cope with different food conditions in a changing world. Picture by Jan van de Kam.

Seagrass

Seagrasses are thought to form the foundation of the Barr Al Hikman ecosystem. Seagrasses are feed upon by many organisms but they are also critical nursery grounds for animals such as crabs and fishes and benthic animals. Seagrass meadows are in a global crisis and they belong to the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Seagrass beds in Barr Al Hikman can be dense, but their density fluctuates dramatically between years. Using the latest techniques in remote sensing we aim for a better understanding of what drives these fluctuations.

Benthos

Benthic organisms are abundant in Barr al Hikman. Especially gastropods and bivalves (molluscs) can reach very high densities. Compared to other intertidal areas, the molluscs in Barr al Hikman are extremely thick shelled. We think that this is an anti-predation trait evolved in a so-called evolutionary arms race with crabs. With their strong pincers, crabs can still break the thick shelled molluscs, but for shorebirds molluscs are unbreakable. Thus, different to other areas in the world, molluscivorous shorebirds are almost absent in Barr al Hikman, and we see shore birds mainly to feed on crabs and polychaetes.

Project description

The intertidal ecosystem of Barr Al Hikman in the Sultanate of Oman is one of the last large pristine wetlands in the Middle-East. Barr Al Hikman is of major importance as a nursery and feeding area for shrimps, fishes, crabs and green turtles and it is the most important wetland for shorebirds in the Middle-East. With our study we aim for an advanced understanding of the ecological processes that are shaping this unique system. By sharing our results we hope to raise awareness of the international importance of ecosystems such as Barr Al Hikman.

Sponsors

This project, Remote Sensing and Geospatial Data Analysis of Barr Al Hikman Intertidal Ecosystem: Implications of Cascading Predator-prey Effects in a Pristine Seagrass-based Food Web’ is sponsored by the TRC Open Research Grant Program which has been developed as part of the Sultanate of Oman’s national research strategy. Small to medium-sized research grants for short and medium-term projects are awarded based on open research initiatives.

Partners

The research is a collaborative effort between the Remote Sensing and GIS Center, Sultan Qaboos University, the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the Wadden Systems Research Centre (WSRC).

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