Highlighting the importance of hydrography and to publicise the role it plays in improved knowledge of the seas and oceans, the Royal Navy of Oman, represented by Oman National Hydrographic Office, participates in the celebration of World Hydrography Day alongside the International Hydrographic Organization and other institutions concerned with hydrography worldwide. World Hydrography Day falls on 21 June annually and this year’s theme is “Hydrography - Contributing to the United Nations Decade” coinciding with the initiative of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030) and the General Bathymetric Charts of the Oceans Seabed 2030 Project which aims to complete 100% mapping of the ocean floor by 2030.
The United Nations seeks, during this decade, to unleash opportunities for scientists and policy makers to come together and turn scientific knowledge and understanding into comprehensive and long lasting stewardship of the oceans. The vision of this initiative is the “Science we need for the ocean we want” highlighting the importance of ocean monitoring, knowledge development and capability enhancement to invest in the oceans and utilize resources, as well as stimulate innovation and upgrade research quality, in the discipline of sustainability of oceans, coasts and maritime resources.
Society now depends on the ocean more than at any time before. It is a vital source of nourishment, supporting directly the livelihood of about 500 million people worldwide, especially in the poorest nations. “Ocean economies are among the most rapidly growing and promising in the world, providing benefits to many sectors of great economic value, such as fisheries, transport, biotechnologies, energy production, seabed resources exploration, tourism and many others” states UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. By providing natural and innovative solutions to global challenges, from climate change to poverty eradication, the development of ocean science is essential for the social, economic and environmental balance of the planet. The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science will provide an international framework for the coordination and partnerships that will strengthen marine science research capacity and technology transfer. These projects and initiatives require immense capabilities to be operated including equipment, vehicles and vessels, satellite imagery and underwater devices. All these requirements need extensive investments and qualified competences to gather and analyze different data.
Recognizing the importance of this initiative and under the Ministerial Decision No. (121/2021) of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources which ordered the establishment of a national team to conduct the objectives of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. This team compromises many entities; Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Higher Education, Research & Innovation, Ministry of Transport, Communication and Information Technology, Ministry of Education, Civil Aviation Authority, Environment Authority, Diwan of Royal Court, the Royal Navy of Oman, Sultan Qaboos University and Environment Society of Oman. This team will oversee many tasks and responsibilities to deepen scientific knowledge of the seas, protect the ocean environment and support research, which will benefit social and commercial domains. The first meeting of this team was held virtually on 9 September 2021.
Although water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface, estimates suggest that only 20% of the overall marine seabed has been discovered; a large percentage remains unmapped – we know the surface of the Moon and Mars better than we know the seabed. Research in the field of sea and oceans is negligible compared with other sciences; investment in ocean sciences is less than 4% of overall general expenditure in research studies and development, according to UNESCO Ocean Science Report 2017. Knowledge, enhancement of capabilities and technology are the fundamentals of prosperity, development and sustainability of the ocean and the means to overcome future challenges. The often-unconsidered human activities taking place on land and at sea may affect the ocean ecology and cause deterioration of biological diversity and the marine ecosystem. Adding climate changes, it is possible that sea level will increase during the coming years due to a rise in global temperature. About 40% (2.4 billion people) live within 100 km of the coast, says the UN, and a rise in sea level presents a real threat for residents of coastal areas.
Hydrography is an applied science that plays an active role in the “Ocean Decade”. It deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of the oceans, seas and coastal areas, as well as with the prediction of their change over time for the primary purpose of safety of navigation and in support of all other marine activities, including economic development, security and defense, scientific research and environmental protection. The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) is an intergovernmental organization that works to ensure that all the world’s seas, oceans and navigable waters are surveyed and charted. The IHO not only promotes and coordinates between States in hydrographic activities but is also the consultative and substantive entity of all concerned domains of hydrographic services. It coordinates cooperation between member states through 15 Regional Commissions. Since the Sultanate has an extraordinary geographic location, it takes part in two Regional Commissions. The first is the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME), which extends from the Arabian Gulf, Sea of Oman and Arabian Sea to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Oman has been the Chair of this organization for two years. The second Regional Commission is the North Indian Ocean Hydrographic Commission (NIOHC), which covers the northern part of Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Red Sea and what remains of the Arabian Sea.
In 1992, the Sultanate formed the National Authority of Hydrographic Surveying and joined the IHO. In 1989, it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and International Maritime Organization Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention in 1999 recognizing its obligations within these international standards and treaties. The Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) is responsible for providing hydrographic services; the Oman National Hydrographic Office was created under the RNO in April 1995.
The Sultanate of Oman is one of the pioneer states in the region that has established a national hydrographic office and, since it was established, it has built a good reputation for hydrographic services and products. ONHO is the executive agency for hydrographic surveys and nautical charting in the Sultanate. The RNO Hydrographic Unit, which is a section of the Office, carries out bathymetric surveys to determine the depth of the seas around the coast of Oman. Dedicated RNO survey ships, boats and jet skis collect data using modern sonars and technology. The data is analyzed by ONHO and charts, used for navigational safety, are produced. ONHO is divided into many sections, each with an important part to play. The Maritime Safety Information section issues navigation warnings and notices to all mariners and sailors to ensure safety of navigation in Omani waters. This section publishes monthly “Notices to Mariners” which are distributed to users of Omani navigational charts to ensure they remain updated and safe to use; it also annually releases the Oman Maritime Book (OMB), which provides details of the tide, the Oman chart catalogue, navigation marks and lights, radio stations and a list of wrecks. The Hydrographic Archive section preserves and maintains all hydrographic data in all forms, some of which dates back to 1787. There is an ongoing project to digitize all items within the archive. The Chart Production section provides, sustains, updates and publishes navigational charts. It also provides navigational charts of a special nature upon request. Noteworthy, 34 nautical paper charts have been produced by ONHO and, in line with the global move towards electronic navigation, 24 “cells” have been published for use in electronic chart displays. Experts at ONHO assist other government authorities in the specialist field of maritime boundaries including the extension of the continental shelf.
Always looking to the future, ONHO is working towards the establishment of a Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure (MSDI) which will collate all different forms of hydrographic data, for example depths, tides, currents, charts, notices, nature of seabed, in one national database to provide safe and secure access to assured hydrographic information. In meeting its obligations to the international seafaring community and IHO, the Office is adopting a new data standard for all hydrographic and oceanographic data, the S-100 standard. The S-100 standard is a framework for the development of digital products and services for maritime and hydrographic databases based on internationally agreed geospatial standards; this is a huge task, which will see all data within ONHO converted to the new standard. ONHO will soon release a website, in line with the Oman 2040 digital transformation vision, that will present all roles, services and products in an accessible platform.