Saving Saudi Arabia’s stunning Red Sea habitats

Updated 03 March 2019

Saving Saudi Arabia’s stunning Red Sea habitats

  • Saudi Arabia is stepping up efforts to protect one of its natural wonders — the dazzling marine habitats of the Red Sea

Adjusting the large oxygen tank on his back and with face mask in place, Khalid Al-Dahlawi takes a deep breath and plunges into the waters off Jeddah. A mesh bag in tow, he gathers plastic debris from the seabed, helping to preserve one of the world’s natural wonders: The Red Sea coral reefs, a colorful network of marine life, coral and mangrove forests.

He can only do so much. This delicate world is under constant threat from overfishing, climate change, pollutants and litter. 

“I’ve been diving since 1990,” said Al-Dahlawi, an instructor at Scuba Diving International in Jeddah. “Plastic strewn across the sea floor, textiles and fishing nets tangled between the coral are just some of the rubbish I see. The ideal solution is to punish offenders. Regulations need to be reinforced and rangers deployed to save our reefs.”

Help may be on its way. In January, the Saudi Shoura Council approved a draft proposal for environmental rangers to help preserve different environments from the effects of pollution. They would enforce standards, and impose penalties for violations.

In September 2018, a framework agreement between the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Public Investment Fund’s Red Sea Collection was signed in relation to sustainable development and marine conservation. The agreement paves the way for an exchange of expertise to help safeguard marine biodiversity, protect coral reefs and combat plastic pollution.

These protections will be essential as Saudi Arabia moves forward with sustainable development plans for the West Coast, including the Neom smart city project and the Farasan Islands tourism initiative. Major environmental studies have already been done to ensure the area’s sensitive ecology will be protected.

But there are many threats to these unique habitats, especially from plastics. Dr. Susana Carvalho, a research scientist at the Red Sea Research Center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), said: “Plastics can directly affect marine megafauna, such as turtles and dolphins, which are frequently entangled and also ingest them, which can lead to death.”

Plastic in the water can also affect humans. “Contaminants ingested by commercial fish species can accumulate in our bodies when we consume them,” she added.

Carvalho believes greater public awareness is needed on the effects of plastic, along with more mangrove and coral reef “clean up” initiatives, and moves to ban plastic bags and straws. “We are working with schools from Thuwal, in a project related to plastics in the environment,” she said. “Students have been quantifying plastics on beaches and also looking at the stomachs of fish from the market.”

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is another Saudi organization that has been working to protect and restore the world’s oceans through research, action and education. It was founded in 2000 by Prince Khaled bin Sultan, an avid diver driven by a passion to preserve the oceans for future generations. “During the past decade, we have supported projects to study, survey and map coral reefs globally, and to educate the public about the need for protection and conservation of coral, knowing that healthy reefs are a crucial measure of the vitality of the Earth itself,” Prince Khaled said in 2012. 

“We at the foundation are committed to help sustain habitats,” Princess Hala bint Khaled, a director of the foundation, said. “We launched the Global Reef Expedition in 2011, the world’s largest reef survey and high-res mapping expedition, with more than 1,000 dive sites across 15 countries.

“The areas covered in Saudi were Farasan Islands and Farasan Bank, Yanbu and Al-Wajh, and Ras Qasabah. We aim to share the information freely, to plan strategies to protect these habitats.”

The foundation has already released satellite imagery covering thousands of individual reefs to help other countries with their own conservation efforts.

According to a KAUST report in 2014, the Kingdom’s reefs are fortunate due to the relatively low population level along the Red Sea coast, minimizing the human impact on marine ecology.

A 2015 publication on coral reefs suggested “coral cover throughout the (Red Sea) region averaged about 20 percent with higher cover (often more than 50 percent) in shallow water and rapid decline with increasing depth.
In various regions, many reefs (15 to 36 percent) showed signs of damage and had less than 5 percent live coral cover.”

Alexandra Dempsey, the foundation’s director of science management, suggested more could be done to slow the damage.

“As a logical first step, it is imperative for Saudi Arabia to develop a management protocol to assess threats to the coastline and reef habitats,” she told Arab News.

A restoration program could also be implemented in areas of low coral cover, with monitoring of water quality and prevention of near-shore commercial fishing, pollution and coral diseases.

“From our experience, the recovery process is always slow,” Prof. Sam Purkis, the foundation’s chief scientist, said. “However, with a commitment from communities and the government, improving the reef is possible.”


Diplomatic Quarter: Envoys extend Eid greetings to Saudis

Updated 28 May 2020

Diplomatic Quarter: Envoys extend Eid greetings to Saudis

RIYADH: Foreign ambassadors to Saudi Arabia have been passing on their Eid Al-Fitr greetings to the government and people of the Kingdom.

The US Mission in the Kingdom, tweeted: “The US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid on behalf of all Americans living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia greeted saying, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Eid Mubarak to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and all our Saudi friends and colleagues as you celebrate this special holiday.

“May your Eid be joyous, even in this challenging time as we work together to fight (the) coronavirus (disease) COVID-19.”

In a tweet, the Australian ambassador in Riyadh, Ridwaan Jadwat, said: “Wishing everyone celebrating the end of Ramadan a joyous Eid Al-Fitr on behalf of my family and our embassy team: #EidMubarak!”

Posting a video message to the Saudi people, he added: “May I say on behalf of my family and the team here at the Australian Embassy in Riyadh, I hope that you have a safe, happy and blessed Eid Al-Fitr.”

Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, said: “May you all be blessed with #Peace, #Joy and #Love on #EidUlFitr and always! #EidMubarak to you and your families.”

Eid Al-Fitr celebrations this year have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The holy month of Ramadan and the festival of Eid in 2020 will be remembered as a time when traditions had to be broken to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

In a message addressing Saudis, the Pakistani community in the Kingdom, and Muslims around the world, Pakistan’s consul general in Jeddah, Khalid Majid, said: “This year, we are celebrating Eid in a very simple and somber manner. Undoubtedly, the world is passing through one of the most difficult times due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has badly affected our socio-economic life.”

He added that many people had already lost their lives to the disease while large numbers were still battling with it.

“Besides, the death of around 100 of our Pakistani brethren in a recent PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) plane crash at Karachi has also left us sad and gloomy. My sincere prayers are with all those who lost their lives and also with their bereaved families. At the same time, I also sincerely pray for the good health and speedy recovery of all the COVID-19 patients.

“My deep appreciation and prayers for continued success also goes to all our frontline soldiers including doctors, paramedics, law enforcement agencies and all other involved departments, who are fighting against this deadly virus, at the risk of their own lives.

“I take this opportunity to convey my deepest gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for taking very effective measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. Provision of best health facilities and efficient other services across the Kingdom are instrumental in effectively tackling the situation. It is evident from these steps that the recovery rate in the Kingdom is one of the highest in the world,” Majid said.

“I advise all Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to continue abiding by all local health and safety instructions, including those relating to social distancing, so that we can all be safe and play our part in strengthening the efforts of the Saudi government in defeating this pandemic.”