Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary

The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
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The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary
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The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary
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The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary
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The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary
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The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands: From ‘habitat hotspot’ to Red Sea sanctuary

The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands. (SPA)
  • Farasan Islands’ listing as a UNESCO biosphere reserve adds to the wildlife haven’s enduring global appeal

JEDDAH/MAKKAH: With their spectacular coral reefs, pristine beaches and rare wildlife species, the Farasan Islands, located off the port city of Jazan in southwest Saudi Arabia, have long been a focus for investment in marine tourism as the Kingdom seeks to highlight its wealth of natural and heritage attractions.

The Farasan Islands Marine Sanctuary was established in the late 1980s and covers an area of about 350 square kilometers, its administrative supervisor, Issa Shuailan, told Arab News.
“It was established with the aim of preserving the biodiversity, especially Farasan’s antelopes, sea turtles, shura trees and mangroves, in addition to rationalizing the exploitation of its marine resources,” Shuailan added.
Now the Red Sea archipelago’s future as a key tourist destination and wildlife sanctuary has been given a major boost with its inclusion in a world network of biosphere reserves as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program.

FASTFACTS

● Now the Red Sea archipelago’s future as a key tourist destination and wildlife sanctuary has been given a major boost with its inclusion in a world network of biosphere reserves as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program.

● The islands — described as a “habitat hotspot” and the first site in Saudi Arabia to be listed as a biosphere reserve — were among 20 new locations in 21 countries registered to ensure biodiversity conservation, environmental education, research and sustainable development.

The islands — described as a “habitat hotspot” and the first site in Saudi Arabia to be listed as a biosphere reserve — were among 20 new locations in 21 countries registered to ensure biodiversity conservation, environmental education, research and sustainable development.
Listing of the Farasan Islands under the UNESCO program follows extensive efforts by Saudi authorities to ensure the Kingdom’s cultural and heritage sites are recognized in regional and international forums. Inclusion in the UNESCO list will also ensure the islands’ natural and archaeological treasures receive global protection.
The archipelago includes 90 of the Jazan region’s 200 islands and islets with a total area of more than 600 square kilometers.
Three of the islands are inhabited: Farasan Al-Kubra, which houses government and services departments, along with a number of hotels and apartments that welcome visitors, and the islands of Sajid and Qummah, which make up Farasan Al-Soghra, or small Farasan. The islands are up to 70 km long and 20-40 km wide.
In the past, pearl-rich fisheries were among the primary sources of livelihood for the people of Farasan, in addition to fishing, which is still the main occupation.
The archipelago’s location near international shipping routes and its proximity to the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Horn of Africa have given it added significance.
A wealth of natural and archaeological resources, coral reefs and fish stocks has attracted the attention of visitors, tourists, financers, businessmen and fishermen.
Archaeological tourist sites include Wadi Matar, located in the south of Farasan Al-Kubra, which has large rocks with Himyaritic inscriptions dating back to the 10th century, and Al-Qassar village, where the much older site of Al-Kedmi includes stone remnants that resemble Roman columns. Another site, Mount Luqman, holds the ruins of an old fortress.
Saudi historian and journalist Ibrahim Muftah told Arab News that some people assume Farasan was uninhabited until very recently, but the historical evidence shows otherwise.

What attracts visitors the most to Farasan is the diversity of the 262 islands, and each island has its natural splendor and something that makes it special from the other.

Adel Al-Awani, Tour guide

“Recent studies have proven that it was inhabited thousands of years ago, since the Stone Age, as Zahi Hawass (an Egyptian archaeologist and former minister of state for antiquities affairs) wrote,” he said.
The residents of the islands were civilized, he added, and the archaeological evidence reveals they were adept at sailing and traveled by sea, east and west, to several other countries.
Ancient tombs are located near Jarmal House on Qamah island, along with historical buildings designed according to the unique architectural style of the time.
Al-Najdi Mosque, built in 1928, is among several historic buildings scattered across the archipelago.
The palatial Al-Rifai houses, built in 1922 at the height of the pearl trade, are considered major attractions because of the technical and architectural skills that went into their construction.
The houses were built using the island’s rocks and limestone from the coral reefs. Raw gypsum was also used, and gypsum mines can still be found on the islands today.
However, the Farasan Islands are best known for their extensive and unique biodiversity, which distinguishes them from other reserves in the Kingdom.
The islands are home to more than 230 species of fish, numerous endangered marine species and 50 types of coral reef. Rhizophora and mangrove forests are important incubators for young fish and crustaceans.
The archipelago is also a sanctuary for the Kingdom’s largest gathering of edmi gazelles and an important bird migration corridor, with about 165 bird species. It also has the largest concentration of pink-backed pelicans on the Red Sea and the largest concentration of ospreys in the Middle East.
A wildlife reserve offers shelter to deer and numerous bird species, in addition to parrotfish, which migrate to the islands once a year.
The archipelago contains more than 180 species of plants, four of which are found nowhere else in the Kingdom.
The islands’ unique appeal also stems from its historical significance and natural attractions — all of which qualifies it to be a world heritage site.
Tourists, visitors and those seeking natural beauty, sandy beaches, sea cruises, diving and fishing have turned the archipelago into one of Jazan’s most prominent tourist destinations as investment opportunities continue to grow.
“What attracts visitors the most to Farasan is the diversity of the 262 islands, and each island has its natural splendor and something that makes it special from the other,”Adel Al-Awani, who has been a Farasan Islands tour guide for more than seven years, told Arab News.
“Most importantly, there is the calmness of the islands, clear sea, coral reefs, wonderful diving areas, fishing, and joyous beaches that are approximately 200 km long.”
But there is much more to Farasan than its beautiful beaches, he added. Among other things it was a center of the pearl trade 200 years ago, he explained, and is rich in archaeological treasures with a history dating back more than 3,000 years.
“Farasan is meant to be a tourist attraction by its very nature; it attracts visitors from all over the world,” said Al-Awani. “When the Saudi tourism visa was launched (in 2019), we hosted many international tourists. “The approximate number of tourists during one month can reach 3,000, and it reaches 30,000 to 40,000 during the year.”
During the pandemic, he said, the islands proved to be a popular destination for people from within Saudi Arabia when lockdown restrictions allowed. Even while international flights were suspended, three ferries a day, each carrying about 600 visitors, would arrive, he added.
“Despite some shortage in hotels, resorts, and transportation, the number of tourists was outstanding,” said Al-Awani.
Major developments in terms of tourism-related projects and investments, infrastructure and services are planned in coming years, as the islands become a key tourist destination.
Muftah noted that the islands require investment in terms of infrastructure, in particular a fast and convenient transportation system instead of the existing ferries that no longer fit the spirit of the modern age.
Listing of the Farasan Islands in the Man and the Biosphere program was announced this month during a meeting of the 33rd session of the program’s coordinating committee, and follows three years of work by the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society to fulfill all criteria required for registration.
The UNESCO listing will help the Saudi Ministry of Culture achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals as well as improve the quality of life on the islands.


Saudi foreign minister, US envoy discuss Iran nuclear deal

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 20 sec ago

Saudi foreign minister, US envoy discuss Iran nuclear deal

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
  • They also spoke about intensifying joint efforts to address Iranian violations of international agreements and treaties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Wednesday held talks with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in the capital, Riyadh, on ways to curb Iran’s violations and destabilizing regional activity.
During the meeting, they reviewed bilateral cooperation between the Kingdom and the US on the Iranian nuclear deal and ongoing international negotiations to revive the agreement.
Tehran has stopped honoring some of its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal and has been holding up negotiations aimed at reviving the landmark accord that scales back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, sparking concern from the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
Prince Faisal and Malley also spoke about intensifying joint efforts to address Iranian violations of international agreements and treaties.
The two sides also discussed the importance of strengthening joint action to stop Iranian support for terrorist militias that threaten security and stability in the Middle East and the world.


All eyes on Riyadh as Imagine More season kicks off with night of music

Taking place under the title Imagine More, the event will be staged near to the extended Boulevard zone and broadcast live with more than 2,760 drones capturing every moment. (Supplied)
Taking place under the title Imagine More, the event will be staged near to the extended Boulevard zone and broadcast live with more than 2,760 drones capturing every moment. (Supplied)
Updated 6 min 33 sec ago

All eyes on Riyadh as Imagine More season kicks off with night of music

Taking place under the title Imagine More, the event will be staged near to the extended Boulevard zone and broadcast live with more than 2,760 drones capturing every moment. (Supplied)
  • An estimated 7 million people visited the first Riyadh Season in 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi capital was on Wednesday gearing up for an extraordinary evening of musical entertainment at the opening ceremony of this year’s Riyadh Season.

Taking place under the title Imagine More, the event will be staged near to the extended Boulevard zone and broadcast live with more than 2,760 drones capturing every moment.

Tickets for the ceremony, starting at 7 p.m., were sold out within one hour of going on sale and the lucky holders will be treated to a global parade including more than 1,500 costumed participants performing the traditional folkloric Samri dance.

Shows will include a Harley-Davidson custom bike display, fireworks, and a concert performed by the Cuban-American rapper Pitbull.

An estimated 7 million people visited the first Riyadh Season in 2019 and this year’s festival of activities will offer more than 7,500 events held on an area covering 5.4 million square meters.

Viewers in New York, London, Newcastle, Dubai, Kuwait, and Doha are expected to be among those watching the opening ceremony.


Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border

Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border

Saudi border patrols arrest 150 suspected drug smugglers along Yemen border

JEDDAH: Saudi border patrols in Jazan, Najran, and Asir on Tuesday thwarted attempts to smuggle more than one ton of cannabis and 66 tons of qat into the Kingdom.

Border Guard spokesman, Col. Misfir Al-Qarni, said 150 people were arrested in connection with the smuggling bid, 47 of them Saudis, and 103 illegal immigrants of which 89 were Ethiopian, 10 Yemenis, three Somalis, and one Eritrean.

Al-Qarni said that the border guards will be not lax in carrying out their duties to confront anyone who tries to endanger the security of the Kingdom or transfer such substances through its borders illegally.

Saudi authorities, in cooperation with their UAE counterparts, recently prevented an attempt to sneak 1.5 million amphetamine pills into the Kingdom through Batha port hidden in a truck carrying grain.

A Saudi citizen, and a resident of Syria were arrested in Riyadh.

In May, Saudi authorities foiled a plot to smuggle almost 1,000 kg of hashish into the Kingdom through its southern borders. Twenty-four people — 18 Ethiopians, four Yemenis and two Saudis. were arrested. AN Jeddah


Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert
Updated 20 October 2021

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert

Rap star Pitbull to launch Riyadh Season with sold-out concert
  • Grand parade and fireworks display in opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest entertainment festival

RIYADH: The Cuban-American rap star Pitbull will launch this year’s Riyadh Season festival with a sold-out concert on Wednesday that will be broadcast live.
The opening ceremony of the Middle East’s largest celebration of music, dining, and entertainment will also feature a parade and fireworks show.
The festival site covers 5.4 million square meters, divided into 14 zones — Boulevard Riyadh City, Al’Athriyah, Oasis, Combat Field, Riyadh Front, Qariat Zaman, Winter Wonderland, the Groves, VIA Riyadh, Riyadh Safari, Nabd Al Riyadh, Alsalam Tree, Almurabaa, and Khaloha.
There will be 16 events this month alone — WWE Crown Jewel on Oct. 21, Rush Gaming Festival from Oct. 22 to 26, the Crystal Maze live experience on Oct. 22, the Global Town Festival on Oct. 27, the Champions of Magic show on Oct. 27, and the Messi 10 Cirque Du Soleil show on Oct. 29.
And that’s just the start, with a total of 7,500 events, programs and activities for all age groups and interests. This year, children and fans of the nursery rhymes show CoComelon will be able to meet the characters while visiting their home, school, and farm in the Winter Wonderland zone.
Most events are free, and those that require tickets will be listed on the Riyadh Season 2021 website. Visitors must link their tickets to the Tawakkalna app, which has a new security feature to prevent tickets being misused or resold.
The entertainment sector will be a key contributor to the growth of the economy as part of Vision 2030. Riyadh Season will support the tourism and leisure sector and provide a unique experience for visitors. It continues until March 2022.


KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation

KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation
Updated 20 October 2021

KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation

KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival opens in-person accreditation

JEDDAH: The 3rd annual Red Sea Film Festival has opened its doors to cinema world enthusiasts to register and receive accreditation for the inaugural in-person edition of the most anticipated cinematic event of the year.

From red carpet premieres  and concerts, an industry program, workshops, interactive community events to acclaimed festival gems and beautifully restored treasures, the festival will be held in Saudi Arabia’s most evocative historical quarter — Jeddah Old Town — from Dec. 6-15.  It is an annual festival, launched in 2019, but the past two editions were held virtually due to the pandemic.

With more than 100 films from around the world to be showcased, including the best cinematic works from the region, the festival will provide industry professionals with an exclusive opportunity to be part of a unique experience.

The festival provide a platform for Arab filmmakers and industry professionals from around the world to connect, host feature and short film competitions, and present a series of events, master classes, and workshops to support emerging talent.