The next time you think about chucking popcorn, or the last bite of your shawarma, into the ebbing tide along the seafront at Muttrah corniche, watch out... Besides being liable for a heavy fine, you could be counted among the scores of citizens/residents (in Oman and around the world) who don't give a damn about the aquatic ecosystem and bring about environmental doom for everyone in the city by their irresponsible acts!
It is a common sight to see people throwing leftover eatables, bread, fruit-peels (besides, paper pouches, plastic bottles, cola cans) into the waters, supposedly with the good intention of feeding the fish. However, experts say, throwing foodstuff in the sea, in fact, harms the fish and other aquatic animals since it disturbs the balance of their ecosystem through a process called 'eutrophication'.
Eutrophication is the enrichment of water as a result of an increase in nutrients, which can have a negative impact on the marine and coastal environment, including algal blooms, increased growth of macroalgae, increased sedimentation and oxygen consumption, oxygen depletion in the lower layers of water and, sometimes, the death of benthic animals (organisms on the sea bed) and fish.
This can cause serious problems in the coastal zone through disturbance of the ecological balance and disappearance of fish.
The corniche coast is rich in aquatic biodiversity and home to many varieties of fishes like hamour, sherry, kingfish, crabs and shellfish. Throwing of food into the water leads to oxygen depletion as rapid oxygen consuming fungi and bacteria develop on the floating unconsumed nutriments, creating a deficiency in the oxygen level which forces marine inhabitants to retreat to other areas.
The consequences have even started to reflect at some of the spots. "The sea area near to the Muttrah Souq gate used to have a beautiful ecosystem comprising of seagulls, crabs and fish. However the fish and crabs are slowly retreating from the area (the area where you usually see people feeding fish). The beautiful view is more or less ruined now," says Zulfikar Ali, expert Biotechnologist, and dean of the IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) center in Muscat.
Although not a cause of concern right now in Oman, steps needs to be taken to prevent eutrophication beforehand as this is recognised as a widespread pollution problem worldwide, including Europe and America, according to marine biology experts.
Pollution the culprit
Eutrophication is often the result of pollution, particularly the release of sewage effluent and other waste material like industrial and agricultural run-off. Regretting there was no legal provision, as of now, to keep a check, Salim Mohammed Hamed Al Ghamari, member of the Musact municipal council, Muttrah region, said many people, especially small business owners like butcheries and vendors from the nearby fish market dispose waste directly into the water. In some instances, even sewage water is being directly discharged into the sea.
"We don't know currently if the waste material is treated or not before being disposed. And not only Muttrah, the situation might be even worse in interior areas where there is little or no check at all," Ghamari said.
Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news
More in HI