Spotlight on Oman

Oman has long been hailed as a must-see destination for adventurous travellers, right back to the early desert pioneers such as Wilfred Thesiger and Bertram Thomas, to modern explorers such as Mark Evans, Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron.

Currently undergoing a modern renaissance due to the efforts of Sultan Qaboos Al Said, Oman today is a jewel in the Middle Eastern landscape, with a burgeoning tourism scene sitting alongside a thriving geographic research environment.

Map of Oman


GEOGRAPHIC FACTS
• Geographic location: Pacific Ocean
• Latitude/Longitude: 0°37’09”S, 90°21’29”W
• Population: 25,124 (2010)
• Ethnicity breakdown: 81% Mestizo, 7.5% Native Indian, 7.3% Caucasian, 4.2% African-Ecuadorian(2010)
• Land area: 3,093 sq miles (8,010 sq km)
• Ocean area: 23,000 sq miles (59,500 sq km)
• Number of islands: 127 (including 19 large, four inhabited)
• Language: Spanish
• Currency: US dollar

WILDLIFE
Aside from the Galápagos’ most famous residents – the giant tortoises – the islands are also home to the world’s only marine iguanas. They can be primarily seen lazing around in the sun sneezing excess salt everywhere, or occasionally diving into the water – they are excellent swimmers – in search of a meal, nibbling marine algae off submerged rocks. The islands are also home to land iguanas, including a bright pink species classified for the first time in 2009, after being located in a remote part of Wolf Volcano. Sharing the rocky coastlines with the marine iguanas are Galápagos penguins, the only penguin that lives at or near the equator. The roughly 2,000-strong bird population is mainly located in the colder, nutrient-rich waters of Fernandina and Isabela, and this small population size and restricted range means they are graded as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN. Further out to sea, the islands are also a hub of utmost importance for over 2,900 marine species, including sea lions and turtles. To the far north, the remote uninhabited Wolf and Darwin islands witness vast gatherings of hammerheads and even whale sharks, whose presence helped establish the Galápagos Marine Reserve in 1986, now – at 133,000 square km – one of the largest such reserves in the world.

TIMELINE
1535 Discovered by Spanish
1832 Annexed by Ecuador
1835 Visited by a young Charles Darwin
1859 Darwin publishes his theory of evolution by natural selection, based on observation in Galápagos
1941 Used as a base by the US military for the duration of WWII
1959 Official creation of the Galápagos National Park
1978 Designated the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site
1986 Creation of the Galápagos marine reserve
2012 Death of Lonesome George

DEMOGRAPHICS
In 1941, the Galápagos’ human population consisted of just 810 people. The number of residents sky-rocketed during the 20th century, reaching 18,640 by 2001, and 25,124 by 2010. Population pressure meant that the islands were added to UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list in 2007, promoting then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to make reforms to the country’s ‘Special Law for the Galápagos’, essentially creating a separate citizenship for Galápagos residents. Its purpose was to act as a control on the number of mainlanders moving to what has become the richest province of the country (thanks to tourism) and threatening the sustainability of the biodiversity which made it such a profitable international tourist destination. Only authorised Galápagos residents are now allowed to work on the islands. Recognising these efforts, UNESCO subsequently reversed their decision in 2010.

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY
The islands famously occur at the meeting point for three major tectonic plates, the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific. Tectonic activity is ongoing among the youngest, most western islands, such as Fernandina and Isabela, which are less than a million-years-old. Further east, where continental drift has carried them away from the volcanic hotspots which cause the islands to emerge from the sea in the first place, the oldest islands, such as Española and San Cristóbal, are between three and five million-years-old, and are still only just beginning the long process of erosion.
Each of the major islands consists primarily of one main cone-shaped volcano, with the exception of Isabela which is formed of six that have since merged together. Many of the islands have enormous underground tunnels formed by the cooling outer crusts of lava, with fast-flowing liquid inside. These were often used as habitats by native species for years, with the skeletons of extinct animals such as giant rats found inside.

FLORA
The islands are home to between 552 and 614 known native plant species, more than 30 per cent of which are endemic. The flora of the Galápagos is predominately desert vegetation, given how only the humid highlands generally receive enough rainfall to sustain lush green plant life. The more common dry areas of the islands are frequently populated by shrubs and cacti, plants which are well-adapted to drought-like conditions, only flowering during rare periods of high rainfall. By the coasts, mangroves play a very important role in the local ecosystem, providing breeding sites for birds such as pelicans and frigate birds, as well as a shady refuge for marine wildlife.
Across the Galápagos, there are hundreds of threats posed by invasive plant species. There are at least 866 recognised introduced species now settled in the wild, the majority brought deliberately by humans. One of the most urgent threats is quinine, a tall, rapidly-growing evergreen tree introduced in the 1940s which has spread across Santa Cruz, significantly altering the ecological composition of the vegetation and making survival more difficult for native species. Similarly, the spiny Asian blackberry shrub, introduced in the 1970s, has been observed invading wetter parts of the archipelago and forming impenetrable thick forests, negatively affecting the seed germination of native species.

Kuoni

Oman AK

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