‘Technology will help boost fish production in Oman’

Muscat - 

In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily, Joaquim Goes, professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University said that they are working with various stakeholders in Oman for providing useful and advance information to boost fisheries production in the sultanate.

He said Oman’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other stakeholders are working on a project funded by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for providing predictions about the timing and locations of algae-blooms.


Can you tell which are the projects you are working on with Omani authorities?

Our main project is Decision and Information System for the Coastal Waters of Oman (DISCO), an integrated tool designed to provide decision-makers and other stakeholders the critical information necessary to respond to an array of marine hazards. It all started in 2016 when we decided to build a forecasting system for harmful algae-blooms. And it took us a while to start the programme as we needed a physical oceanographer, biologist, biochemists and other stakeholders to work together in a system, which will be practical and easy to use.

One must remember that the huge amount of data obtained from satellites and other models are crunched on everyday basis, and then have to process these data to draw a meaningful conclusion out of it. After that you also have to make it available to end-users in a format that they could understand. So it took a while to set up all these systems and then the mapping of all these systems. The beauty of this system is that it can be operated through a simple laptop. And now, we are looking at the possibility of disseminating these data through smartphones. So a fisherman out in the sea could get all the useful information on his mobile phone.


How did this idea of collaborating with the Omani authorities came up initially?

We do a lot of research-related work in the Arabian Sea. There were some scientists from Oman who were asking for satellite data related to the Arabian Sea, and we started sending them data. Once I was visiting the region, they invited us to Oman. After that we met in person, and discussed the problems faced by them. Scientists in Oman were looking for reasons why the colour of the Sea of Oman was changing. We had the access to satellites and the scientists in Oman were doing all the ground-based measurements. The discussions started in 2011 but the actual work on the project started by the end of 2016. And now, we are looking at different possibilities to extend our cooperation.


How can these efforts help Oman’s fisheries sector, which is mainly driven by individual fishermen using traditional fishing methods?

Our aim is to make this tool available for a variety of usage. For instance, we get weather updates on a daily basis. We can provide weather maps to fishermen about sea conditions, which are natural habitats of particular types of fishes. Tuna is underexploited here, so with the help of satellite images we can guide fishermen to particular locations where they will be able to catch more fishes. Besides this, we can also provide our expertise in a number of other fields related to updates for aquacultures, poachers, weather updates, and other useful information to various stakeholders in the fisheries sector.


Besides fisheries, which are the other areas in Oman that can be benefited from this application?

We are hoping to extend our cooperation to the water desalination plants. They face huge problems related to algae-blooms. We can give them advance notification when these algae-blooms are coming. Besides this, for aquaculture farming, one of the biggest threats is the fluctuations in oxygen levels and toxic algae-blooms, so we can help them by predicting when algae are coming so that they can move their cages to other locations. So the idea is to make these kinds of advance information available to them on a daily basis so that they have time to prepare.


There were some interesting predictions made by you about monsoon winds and its impact on Oman. Can you elaborate on this?

What is actually happening is that snow caps in the Himalayan mountains are shrinking. One must remember that these snowy peaks control the strength of monsoon winds. These monsoon winds, which carry a significant amount of moisture, derive their strength from the temperature difference between sea water and Himalayan temperature. So if there is less snow in Himalayas, the temperature gradient increases and that makes the pressure gradient increase and it affects the speed of the winds. So, over the next 10-12 years, we can easily see the impact as the region is likely to become windier and greener. I think, over the time Oman will become greener; that is my prediction. By the turn of this century, Oman is likely to witness much more greenery.


The Gulf region has some unique marine life features. What are your observations about changes happening in sea waters?

Sea waters are becoming very very hot. Over the years, the average temperature of the Arabian Sea is gone up by one degree, and the year 2017 was recorded as one of the hottest years on the planet. As the oceans, particularly in this part of the world, are becoming hotter, the upper layer of the ocean is becoming stratified, which means an Oxygen dead zone, or the zone which cannot support any kind of life is expanding. The impact on fishing communities, however will not be much for the time being.

We are seeing some early signs in form of algae-blooms. If one walk along the coast of Oman, he can notice green deposits. So going forward there will be significant changes in the way fisheries and other marine resources are used by the people in the region.


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