Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species

Climate change is affecting all living things on Earth, and sea turtles are no exception. (Shutterstock)
1 / 12
Climate change is affecting all living things on Earth, and sea turtles are no exception. (Shutterstock)
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
2 / 12
Photo/Shutterstock
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
3 / 12
Photo/Shutterstock
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
4 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
5 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
6 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
7 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
8 / 12
Ameer. (Photo/Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
9 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
10 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
11 / 12
Photo/Supplied
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species
12 / 12
Ameer. (Photo/Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 10 July 2021

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM and KAUST join forces to protect endangered turtle species

Climate change is affecting all living things on Earth, and sea turtles are no exception. (Shutterstock)
  • Red Sea shores are safe nesting sites for endangered turtles due to health of reefs and protection Kingdom provides them

JEDDAH: As the number of certain species of sea turtles declines, NEOM and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have taken it upon themselves to ensure their preservation and protection.

The Red Sea is home to five out of seven of the different sea turtle species, including the endangered green turtle and hawksbill turtle, which is critically so. NEOM, though, has become a recognized safe haven for them.
Carlos Duarte, KAUST’s distinguished marine bioscientist, explained that the turtles are endangered due to being hunted excessively for their distinctive shells.
“Their carapaces are popular historically in Europe and are still being hunted and then sold on the black market today,” said Duarte. “Their shells are used to make hair combs, bracelets, sunglasses and other materials. Some just buy the shells as decorative pieces.”
Duarte added that the collection of turtle eggs is not as prevalent as it used to be, but still occurs and impacts population numbers.




The Red Sea’s coral reefs are well maintained and in very good health, so hawksbill turtles can find good feeding grounds. (Shutterstock)

Turtles face other threats from humans, too. “Since sea turtles are reptiles, they will come to the surface of the water to breathe and the fast metal propellers from boats could puncture their shells, and at times, even their lungs, since they’re placed right underneath their carapaces,” Lyndsey Tanabe, a doctoral student at KAUST working on the nesting ecology and conservation of sea turtles in the Red Sea, explained.
“Often the turtles get entangled in plastic under the water, meaning they can drown if they don’t free themselves in time to reach the surface to breathe.”
According to Tanabe, the most common way turtles drown is by getting entangled in ghost nets thrown by fishermen with the intention of trapping fish; the nets are usually discarded and left in the water. The turtles also tend to mistake pieces of plastic for jellyfish, which they feed on.
Duarte shared with Arab News how the Red Sea shores are safe nesting sites for endangered turtles, due to the health of the reefs and the protection the Kingdom provides them.
“Fortunately, the Red Sea’s coral reefs are well maintained and in very good health, so the hawksbill turtles can find good feeding grounds. It is illegal in the Kingdom to hunt them and they are well taken care of and protected here,” Duarte said.




The Red Sea’s coral reefs are well maintained and in very good health, so hawksbill turtles can find good feeding grounds. (Shutterstock)

He listed the different dependable nesting sites for the turtles along the Kingdom’s coast, and mentioned that the best area is what is now under NEOM’s stewardship, which is located in the northwest of Saudi Arabia.
In NEOM, various programs and projects are being implemented with the intention of protecting endangered species and conserving the environment.
NEOM is committed to protecting species in all four categories of endangerment — least concerned, vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered — such as the sooty falcon, the humpback dolphin or the whale shark.
However, there is a considerably higher focus on the critically endangered species such as the hammerhead shark and the hawksbill sea turtle.
The director of the marine conservation environment department in NEOM, Dr. Ameer Eweida, stated that NEOM’s shores and coast are perfect nesting and feeding sites for sea turtles, due to the region being the highest latitude in the world with a tropical marine climate. This makes its coral reefs and seagrass an ideal source of nutrients for the turtles.

FASTFACTS

• The Red Sea is home to 5 out of 7 of the different sea turtle species, including the endangered hawksbill and green turtles.

• The collection of turtle eggs is not as prevalent as it used to be, but still occurs and impacts population numbers.

• Often the turtles get entangled in plastic, meaning they can drown if they don’t reach the surface to breathe.

“What makes NEOM such a unique place for sea turtles is its offshore islands,” said Eweida. “They are easily accessible to these turtles and are safe environments for them to nest in. We found significant numbers of nests on all the islands — I’d say potentially about 60-70 percent of the turtles in the Red Sea have nested in NEOM’s islands.”
He also stated that the type of sand on the beaches of NEOM and its islands is excellent for nesting.
In addition to the natural environment in NEOM being perfect, there are strict guidelines NEOM’s beach visitors must follow in order to not disturb the sea turtles or harm their homes.
Eweida added that they developed buffers around the turtles’ nesting sites so as to protect them from construction.
Both NEOM and KAUST are running projects to help better understand the behaviors of sea turtles and work out how else they can be protected, and what they need to be protected from.


In KAUST, Duarte, collaborating with the Red Sea Development Co. and NEOM, ran a project which tagged and tracked turtles in the Red Sea to understand their use of the coastal habitat as well as the size, frequency and distribution of the animals.
Sea turtles’ existence is vital for the basic function of the marine ecosystem. “Sea turtles are what we call keystone species,” said Eweida, “which means they are critical for the functioning of a system because they influence other species around them and are responsible for their balance. Naturally, when a keystone species is removed from a system, that balance and order falls apart, harming all other species.”
Tanabe added that Hawksbill turtles eat mostly sponges, “and sponges try to take up more space than coral reefs, damaging them. So by removing these sponges, the hawksbill turtles are keeping the coral reefs habitable and healthy for other marine species.”
Duarte said that without sea turtles, there would be an overgrowth in the jellyfish population, highlighting the important roles of green sea turtles in an ecosystem. “Since they feed on seagrass, without them there would be an excess amount of seagrass which will affect the oxygen level, which will of course lead to a high mortality rate. It’s a chain reaction. That’s why we have to protect them.”
Although sea turtles off the west coast of the Kingdom are well protected, it is important to note that they are still threatened by other natural elements that organizations such NEOM or KAUST cannot shield them from.
Sea turtles, like many other species, tend to travel and migrate to other oceans, seas and beaches where hunting is still prevalent.
Climate change, meanwhile, is affecting all living things on Earth, and sea turtles are no exception. Temperatures in seas can determine turtles’ gender, which in turn can decrease the population of one gender if the temperature is at an extreme level.
The NEOM and KAUST experts said that individuals can make small changes that could have a “tremendously positive” impact on the lives of sea turtles. Some of these changes are as simple as reducing the use of plastic, not littering on the beaches or in the water — specifically nylon fishing lines, which can get wrapped around turtles’ flippers and dig into their bones — and keeping eyes open for nesting sites on beaches to avoid disturbing them.


After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 44 sec ago

After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
  • Once COVID-19 is brought under control, Saudi Arabia will turn its attention toward a silent, older scourge

DUBAI: Before the coronavirus swept the planet in early 2020, Saudi Arabia was on course to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But as in the rest of the world, the task of fighting COVID-19 in the Kingdom was understandably given precedence over efforts to defeat what is often called the “silent killer.”

Hepatitis fits the description because 95 percent of infected individuals worldwide are unaware of their infection and in most cases people are asymptomatic. It nevertheless remains the world’s seventh-leading cause of death.
The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.
While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods.
In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. An estimated
325 million people worldwide live with hep-B or C and, for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.
In 2015, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths worldwide, mostly from hep-B infection, which is higher than the number of global deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. According to the WHO, “an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.”
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who discovered hep-B virus and developed a diagnostic test and vaccine.

FASTFACT

July28

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on this date to raise awareness about the virus that causes liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts continuing apace and the pandemic beginning to subside in many parts of the developed world, the fight against viral hepatitis is once again high on Saudi Arabia’s public health agenda.
“The Saudi Ministry of Health instituted a specific program to fight hepatitis C in the country before the pandemic, in accordance with the WHO,” Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail, a consultant transplant hepatologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, told Arab News.
“But then COVID-19 came and disrupted many initiatives. The battle against COVID-19 had to be the priority.”
In 2016, the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy issued a road map for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030.
The plan entailed a 90 percent reduction in infections and a 65 percent reduction in mortality by the end of the decade, compared to a 2015 baseline that showed 257 million people living with hepatitis B, 71 million with hepatitis C, and 36.7 million with HIV.
“As Saudi Arabia gains control over COVID-19, it’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force to meet the WHO target of elimination by 2030 in our country,” Aba Alkhail said.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with the blood, semen and other body fluids of an infected individual, but can be prevented through vaccination.
Hepatitis C is also blood-borne, but varies in its severity, in some cases lasting only a few months while at other times developing into a lifelong illness. It is a major cause of liver cancer, with sufferers often requiring liver transplantation. There is currently no vaccine.
In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia had one of the highest rates of hep-B infection in the world, with an estimated 8.3 percent of the population infected.
Then, in 1989, the Kingdom became the first country in the Middle East to launch a hep-B vaccination program, eight years after the first vaccine was approved for use in the US. By 1990, the vaccine was available to all infants from birth and children were routinely vaccinated when they started school.
While the vaccination of children and infants has been associated with a notable decline in the rate of infection in Saudi Arabia, falling to just 1.3 percent according to the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, hepatitis remains a major public health risk in the Kingdom, especially among high-risk groups, including those with HIV, drug addictions and those who have undergone blood transfusions.
In 2007, the Saudi Ministry of Health ranked hepatitis the second most common reportable viral disease in the country, with almost 9,000 new cases diagnosed that year alone. Of these, 52 percent had hepatitis B, 32 percent hepatitis C, and 16 percent hepatitis A.
In Saudi Arabia, hepatitis B and C remain a major cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, and diseases that require liver transplantation. The infection rate may have dropped, but morbidity and mortality related to the disease have not shown a parallel decline.

It’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail - Consultant transplant hepatologist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh

Medical experts expect the burden of associated liver diseases to rise in the coming years, owing to aging in infected populations.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail

Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of programs designed to improve diagnosis, including premarital screening for hepatitis B and C and HIV. “In Saudi Arabia you can’t complete marriage documents without doing the test for hep-B and hep-C,” Aba Alkhail said.
“In addition, the Kingdom follows the standard special population screening of dialysis patients, blood bank donors, hospital-based patients and other high-risk groups.”
Crucially, it has also made hepatitis screening and treatments free to all citizens and residents, both Saudi and non-Saudi.
“In Saudi Arabia, we are (trying our best to follow) the WHO targets: To diagnose 90 percent of infections and treat 80 percent of high viral-load patients by 2030, as well as diagnose and treat all infected patients by 2022,” said Aba Alkhail.
“Most known cases have been rated and cured since effective treatments were made available in 2014. Many countries are running out of new hepatitis C patients to treat, according to the World Hepatitis Alliance.
“Saudi Arabia still has the burden of hepatitis C patients that are not yet diagnosed and there is a need for a screening program to detect previously undiagnosed cases.”
Medical professionals set out a list of recommendations in a May 2021 report, titled “Revealing Hepatitis B Virus as a Silent Killer: A Call-to-Action for Saudi Arabia,” published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science.
“In 2016, hep-B caused 1,700 annual deaths (i.e. five deaths per day) in KSA,” the report said. “Although substantial improvements have been made in hep-B management, a lot remains to be done for hep-B screening and care pathways.
“Considering the current hep-B estimates in KSA, the country is expected to achieve the WHO hep-B 2030 target goals for diagnosis, treatment and mortality by 2051.
“The current scenario in KSA demands the implementation of a structured policy framework to combat and eliminate hep-B.”
The report’s authors said the Kingdom could curb the virus by “establishing a national-level registry, implementing screening campaigns, improving linkage of care between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists, and increasing PCP education and awareness.”
However, the report said that in order for these measures to have the desired effect on transmission rates, they must be adhered to consistently and simultaneously throughout the Kingdom.
“We have already come so far since the 1990s. Saudi Arabia had a problem in the past with hepatitis, but the vaccine has greatly improved its prevalence in the Kingdom,” said Aba Alkhail.
“The challenge now is finding the undiagnosed cases and treating them effectively so that we can win this battle.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 

Decoder

Hepatitis

● The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. ● While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods. ● In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.


New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 33 min 27 sec ago

New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions

JEDDAH: The Quality of Life Program’s Center on Tuesday launched a pilot version of the “Hawi” online platform to develop the Kingdom’s hobbies sector.
Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.
The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests and ensure the operational and financial support for amateurs.
Director of the association Najlaa Al-Ajmi said the platform will promote positive lifestyles and improve the quality of life in the Kingdom.
“The platform has been developed to establish communities that share the same interests under an official umbrella, making it easier for clubs to establish their teams and register members,” she added.
She said that the platform has many benefits including “promoting healthy lifestyles, establishing balance between work and social life and allowing amateurs to practice their hobbies in an adequate environment, with people who share the same passion.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.

• The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests.

• It allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.

Hawi allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.
It also encourages amateurs to practice their hobbies by finding the proper facilities for their role.
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in the Kingdom and abroad.
Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions.
Hawi’s board of directors comprises representatives of 11 governmental authorities under the supervision of the Quality of Life program, the supervisory authority for hobbies in the Kingdom.


Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
Updated 1 min 28 sec ago

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
  • The coalition said the missile and the drone were targeting Jazan region

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Tuesday it intercepted and destroyed three ballistic missiles and two explosive-laded drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.
The coalition said the missiles and the drones were targeting Jazan region, in a “deliberate” attempt to target civilian objects and populated areas.
The coalition also said that it is “taking operational measures to target the sources of the threat, in accordance with international law.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the US condemned the Iran-backed Houthis recent attacks on the Kingdom, and called on the group to cease its military actions and commit to a cease-fire that would end the conflict in Yemen.
On Saturday, the coalition said Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile and three drones launched by the militia toward the Kingdom’s southern region, which was also strongly condemned by the Arab Interior Ministers Council, the Arab Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and regional and Arab countries. 


Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability
  • The foreign ministry says it considers the situation a sovereign matter
  • The Kingdom called on the international community to stand by Tunisia

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is following up on the current situation in Tunisia, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
“The Kingdom respects everything related to Tunisia’s internal affairs and considers (the situation) a sovereign matter,” it said in a statement.
The Saudi government affirmed its support for Tunisia’s security and stability, and also affirmed “its confidence in the Tunisian leadership to overcome these circumstances, and to achieve a decent life and prosperity for the Tunisian people.”
The Kingdom called on the international community to stand by Tunisia in these circumstances in order to tackle its health and economic challenges.
Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament after violent nationwide mass protests erupted on Sunday.
The North African country is also struggling to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, that has put the health system under near collapse.


Sauid tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Updated 12 min 49 sec ago

Sauid tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
  • The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy

RIYADH: The Tourism Development Fund (TDF) has adopted cloud computing technology in cooperation with Oracle to enable investors to benefit from the Saudi tourism sector’s promising opportunities.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, TDF said that implementing the Cloud Computing Strategy (CCS) would enhance data integration, increase productivity, reduce costs, unify and facilitate operations and ensure smooth communication with all stakeholders, including investors, donors, and governmental agencies.  TDF said cooperation with the world’s largest database management company will provide a full range of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure solutions and Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications which will contribute to enhancing TDF’s services. 
The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify the Kingdom’s economy.