My Early Career Ocean Professional Experience – 2023

By Ahlam Al Hanai

Being an Early Career Ocean Professional (ECOP) is prodigious! The ECOP program is a tremendous opportunity for knowledge expansion, professional networking, and cross-cultural experiences. Over the course of six weeks, I gained valuable insights and knowledge in blue carbon research. Here, I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Mat Vanderklift, Lauren Hardiman and Mark Wilson from The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) for their warm welcome and continued support to ensure that we had a wonderful experience.

Research Overview

Avicennia marina is the dominant mangrove species, inhabiting 32 sites along the coastline of Oman. Climate change and anthropogenic pressures are threatening mangrove ecosystems in the Sultanate. There is an urgent need to address data gaps, such as carbon stocks, and investigate the potential contribution of such ecosystems to the national climate change agenda.

During the IORA ECOP program, my project had two components integrating field assessment, allometric equation models and satellite images:

  1. Evaluation of sediment carbon stocks and
  2. Mapping and monitoring of mangrove carbon content in Oman.

Time flew by, and only the project first objective was completed.

Evaluation of Sediment Carbon Stocks

The Qurm Nature Reserve (QNR) which occupies 174 ha of land within the Muscat Capital area, has been a Ramsar site since 2013 (Figure 1). The QNR is one of the largest natural mangrove swamps on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Avicennia marina dominates the vegetation of the reserve, which has evolved to withstand extreme climatic conditions such high salinity and tidal ranges. Mangroves create isolated clumps of dwarf-stunted habitats with canopies that reach a height of 1-2 m in less optimum environmental conditions. Mature A. marina trees normally reach heights of 1.5 to 6.5 meters.

Figure 1. Map of the study area indicating the three sampling sites; Site 1 (S1, 23°37’05.8″N 58°28’19.5″E), Site 2 (S2, 23°37’15.3″N 58°28’28.6″E) and Site 3 (S3, 23°37’18.0″N 58°28’29.7″E)

Soil sampling was conducted across 21 plots covering undisturbed mangroves in QNR, in July 2023 (Figure 2). Soil physiochemical analyses were analysed at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) laboratories. Bulk density (g/cm3) for undisturbed soil samples was determined after all samples were oven dried. Soil total carbon (TC) content will be analysed in Perth using Loss on Ignition and Elemental Analyser methods (LOI).

Figure 2. Showing the mangroves in the study area where the samples were taken.

Findings of this study will furnish crucial information that will assist decision makers about how to integrate coastal ecosystems into national mitigation measures. Additionally, it will also serve to raise awareness about mangrove ecosystems for better management and restoration of this vital ecosystem. Furthermore, this work will establish the framework for future blue carbon research in Oman, where no studies have addressed carbon sequestration potential of salt marshes and seagrass.

Program Overview

The IORA Blue Carbon Hub early career visiting scientist program has provided me with an opportunity for which I am truly appreciative. I received training at CSIRO facilities on how to prepare sediment samples for loss on ignition and elemental analysis, thank you for Dr Vanderklift and Yusmiana Rahayu (PhD Student, UWA) for their unending assistance. Dr Vanderklift also provided me with insightful feedback that motivated me to broaden the scope of my research to include more study areas and investigate the impact of human activity on mangroves’ capacity to sequester carbon.

Throughout the six weeks, I improved my statistical analysis skills to oversee the data analysis for this project. I was also introduced to several global mangrove mapping resources. Two academic papers will be the product of this fellowship.

The Future

This fellowship will serve as the catalyst for a research collaboration between the IORA Blue Carbon Hub and Sultan Qaboos University. Several research ideas were discussed particularly around seagrass beds and salt marshes. Building new professional networks both in-person and online is essential to me at every step of my career in the blue carbon field. Mat, Lauren, Mark, Mashiyyat, Yusmiana, Natalie and Louis thank you for enriching my experience in Perth. IORA ECOP is a multicultural, diverse, and rich experience. The connections I made during my six-week ECOP time are what I will remember most. 

Ahlam Al Hanai

Researcher, Sultan Qaboos University