JEDDAH: The Saudi Heritage Preservation Society (SHPS) has recently begun its documentation project to register the Kingdom’s Farasan Islands on the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The documentation process takes about 10 months, and includes gathering information, photo-reportage, and completing all the file requirements to be submitted to UNESCO by the end of September this year.
The Farasan Islands are a unique global hotspot for marine and terrestrial biodiversity and a global priority for conservation (maintenance of genetic resources in national populations of plant or animal species).
“This step is concerned with highlighting the Farasan Islands’ environmental and biological uniqueness,” SHPC General Manager Abdulrahman Alieedan told Arab News.
Alieedan added that it also highlights the sustainable interrelationships between the community and the area’s natural ecosystems, including the socioeconomic processes, heritage and culture.
The Farasan Islands consist of over 170 low-lying islands and islets though the two largest have small hills, gullies and craggy coastal cliffs.
“It is distinguished as a natural reserve containing diverse geological and environmental formations and rare wildlife in the Arabian Peninsula,” Alieedan added.
The islands will be the first site in Saudi Arabia to be on the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) World Network of Reserves. According to Alieedan, the Farasan Islands registration project began on Jan. 20, 2020, in accordance with a royal endorsement.
The islands lie 40-90 km offshore from Jazan on the Kingdom’s southwest coast. The protected area covers 5,408 sq. km and has been protected since 1989 by the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA).
The protected area has the greatest combined marine and terrestrial biological diversity of any site in the Red Sea region, and is managed by a team of more than 50 full- and part-time staff.
The teamwork is carried out in collaboration with technical and research centers and SWA departments, especially in regard to environmental research and ecological monitoring.
About 12,000 people live on the main island of Farasan, and work for the government, or in marine fisheries and domestic tourism.
Farasan has the most important and significant natural habitats in the Red Sea region, with exceptionally rich wildlife for a small territory. According to UNESCO, it is a global hotspot and a conservation priority, and includes threatened species of outstanding value.
The islands are home to the Arabian gazelle and the uninhabited islands are important breeding sites for seabirds, migratory birds and shorebirds. They support high concentrations of greater flamingo, pink-backed pelican, Eurasian spoonbill, white-eyed gull, Saunders’s and little tern, crab-plover and osprey.
The surrounding seas contain a wide diversity of corals, mollusks, crustaceans, and reef fishes; this includes more than 230 fish species, 50 species of coral, and a significant number of species from other taxa as well as charismatic species such as dolphins, whales, dugong, green and hawksbill turtles.
MAB is an intergovernmental scientific program launched in 1971 that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.
Working on each MAB site is a huge project since the program requires a profound study that combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education.
MAB’s purpose is to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.
Currently, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves counts 701 sites in 124 countries all over the world, including 21 transboundary sites.
“SHPS has been assigned to this project due to its accumulated experience in documenting and recording the country’s heritage with UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Culture,” said Alieedan.
The society also cooperates directly in this project with the Saudi Wildlife Authority, the Jazan region principality, Farasan governorate, and several governmental and semi-governmental entities in the region.
SHPS has recently become the first Gulf organization to act as a global consultant with UNESCO.
The society has expanded its role in preserving Saudi heritage in recent years by monitoring and encouraging public and private initiatives related to identifying undeveloped and overlooked areas of our cultural legacy and to promote public awareness of the importance of our cultural heritage for present and future generations.