A geographical investigation to study the early development of the Wahiba Sands (now known as Eastern Sands), its ecosystem and the impact of recent change.
Studies of complete sand seas are rare. The Wahiba Sands, described as a "perfect specimen of a sand sea" is a small isolated 15,000 km² desert comprising a great variety of dune formations representing stages of its evolution over millions of years. Its position and size lend it perfectly to field research, simply because it can be studied as a complete unit.
The ruler of Oman, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, through his government ministries, has a positive approach to policies of integrating conservation and development projects. To quote: "Our plans for development must be based on facts; facts about our resources, our environment, our ecosystems and facts about how we, as human beings exist in interrelation-ship with the wild plants and creatures who share God's earth with us." Because of this attitude, the Diwan of Royal Court gave substantial support to the Project, funding researchers and publications.
In consultation with Ralph Daly, the Conservation Advisor of the Diwan of Royal Court, the project identified five objectives, each integrating earth, life and human science disciplines: These are:
(1) The sedimentary and geomorphological history of the Sands
(2) Sand movement, moisture and vegetation
(3) Biological resources and range management
(4) The indigenous communities and their interrelationships
(5) Oil wealth and local development.
To achieve these set aims, the project liaised closely with representatives from all the key ministries through an Oman Co-ordinating Committee chaired by Colonel Khamis bin Mohammed Al Amry. The project also benefited from considerable ground, air and sea logistical support from the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces. Regular meetings and workshops both in the field and the capital area ensured a flow of information and comment. Visits by students from local schools were arranged and a series of publications for use in both Omani and UK schools have since been prepared in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and the BP Education Service.
A central headquarters 'Taylorbase' was sited on the northern edge of the Sands just outside the village of Mintirib. This magnificent camp, built in a fortnight by Taylor Woodrow-Towell, accommodated 40 people and housed various facilities including a laboratory, computers, radio, and a workshop to help with fieldwork in the desert. A Field Base was established on the eastern margins of the sand and a number of mobile bases were set up at key sites in the Sands. Specially prepared Land Rovers with satellite navigators, and occasionally camels, were used to move around the Sands. The use of IBM computers enabled the project's first 500-page Rapid Assessment Document to be completed and handed over to the appropriate Ministries before the project left Oman.