Saudi-led science team uncovers secrets of the deep

The scientists traveled more than 50,000 kms and conducted more than 12,000 scientific dives to study the coral reefs. (Supplied)
The scientists traveled more than 50,000 kms and conducted more than 12,000 scientific dives to study the coral reefs. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 November 2021

Saudi-led science team uncovers secrets of the deep

The scientists traveled more than 50,000 kms and conducted more than 12,000 scientific dives to study the coral reefs. (Supplied)
  • High-tech solutions, aircraft imaging, traditional surveys used to map and study coral reefs

JEDDAH: After more than 10 years of exploring the world’s seas, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has finally completed its Global Reef Expedition, a research mission to assess the state of coral reefs and the significant threats to their survival.

Setting off from the Red Sea and taking in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the expedition circumnavigated the globe, surveying and mapping more than 1,000 reefs in 16 countries. The scientists traveled more 50,000 kilometers, conducted more than 12,000 scientific dives and provided educational sessions for more than 6,000 students and community leaders.
The foundation, which initiated the expedition, is a nonprofit environmental science and ocean research organization that was established in 2000 to help preserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources.
The foundation’s approach combines three main aspects: Research, education and outreach, all of which were reflected in the expedition’s long mission.
“I launched the Global Reef Expedition to help bring about a new era of knowledge about coral reefs and the challenges they face,” Prince Khaled, the chairman and president of the foundation, said last month in Marseille, France, at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress, which is described as the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum.
“I knew that this would require a gigantic translocation of resources, cutting-edge technology and bringing expertise to some of the most remote coral reefs in the world. I did realize that this is not an easy task to achieve, yet my hope in fulfilling this mission never faded.”
A team of more than 200 scientists, conservationists, government officials and local experts was assembled for the global project. They conducted tens of thousands of underwater surveys of coral reefs and the fish communities that live around them.

SPEEDREAD

• A team of more than 200 scientists, conservationists, government officials and local experts was assembled for the global project. They conducted tens of thousands of underwater surveys of coral reefs and the fish communities that live around them.

• To prevent its scientific advances from being hidden away in dusty scientific journals, the expedition targeted young people through the educational arm of its project. The foundation developed a curriculum suitable for a range of ages, from kindergarten to 12th grade, to teach youngsters about coral reefs. More than 2,000 teachers are now using it in more than 110 countries.

Scientists developed new ways to map coral reefs by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with data collected in the field, producing coral reef habitat maps covering more than 65,000 square kms. These maps and surveys represent the most comprehensive standardized data set yet collected for coral reefs.
“This global project is a very forward-thinking act, initiated by Prince Khaled bin Sultan, and the data that was collected in the global expedition will be used for centuries to come,” Sam Purkis, the chief scientist at the foundation, told Arab News.
The significance of the Global Reef Expedition lies in its global coverage of coral reefs that are facing dramatic decline, Purkis explained. “Nearly 50 percent of the world’s reefs have been lost in the past 40 years; half of the world’s reefs are gone,” he added.
The expedition has created a baseline for further research and will allow researchers to measure and understand the pace and trajectory of the changes affecting reefs around the world.
The expedition began a decade ago in the Red Sea, where the team conducted four missions in Al-Wajh and Yanbu, the Farasan Islands and Ras Al-Qasabah.
These initial missions helped the team to develop and refine their survey techniques before expanding their reach to the Atlantic and other bodies of water.
“What we came up with was a marriage of high-tech solutions using satellite and aircraft imaging to map the reefs, coupled with more traditional field surveys of the corals, the fish and other organisms in the reef ecosystem,” Purkis explained.
“We took this replicable, reproducible way of surveying the reefs using satellites and fieldwork, and then started to move around the world with it.”
Based on the success of the initial Red Sea missions, Prince Khaled was willing to authorize the global expedition.

There are places in the Caribbean where the reefs are effectively dead, they are finished, and it might take 10,000 years before they would come back.

Sam Purkis, Chief scientist, Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation

“The expedition ended up considerably more expansive than what we dared to hope,” said Purkis. “We were adding countries all the time. They requested the work done in their waters.”
Purkis began working in the Red Sea in the early 1990s. He said it used to be one of the best places in the world for coral reefs but, despite the fact that the health of Red Sea reefs remains relatively good, worrying signs were appearing as the mission began.
“It was already clear 15 years ago, when we started the Red Sea missions, that there had been chronic overfishing; the number of fish is worryingly low. We also found some reef areas which had been attacked by crown-of-thorns starfish, badly affecting large proportions of reefs,” said Purkis.
In addition, changing water temperatures were reported in the north of the Red Sea. The most common global direct threats to coral reefs are ocean acidification and rising water temperatures as a result of climate change. However, said Purkis, the former is currently a relatively small problem compared with the much greater danger of warming waters.
“Temperature is terrible for the reefs and it is getting too hot, globally. The intervals between these hot episodes are decreasing; we used to have bleaching every 15 years, then every 10, then every five; and now it is happening every two years and soon it will be every year.”
Bleaching occurs when corals lose their vibrant color and turn white. The stunning colors of corals are the result of marine algae called zooxanthellae that live inside the coral and provide it with an easy supply of food and energy, allowing it to grow and reproduce.
When corals are under stress due to damaging factors such as heat or pollution, they expel the microscopic algae that live in their tissues and become transparent, exposing their white skeletons. Bleached corals are not dead but are at increased risk of starvation and disease.
Purkis said that the worst coral conditions were found in the Caribbean. The reefs there have been suffering longer than those anywhere else as a result of many decades of overfishing and bad coastal development decisions.
“There are places in the Caribbean where the reefs are effectively dead, they are finished, and it might take 10,000 years before they would come back,” he added.
He firmly believes, however, there is time to save the rest of the world’s reefs and prevent them from reaching such a dire state. The data collected by the expedition has limitless potential, he added, and can be used not only in future scientific research but also as part of educational programs for people of all ages and to initiate other influential projects.
New and unexpected partnerships are already emerging, Purkis said. NASA is using maps from the Global Reef Expedition to help train its supercomputers to map the rest of the world’s coral reefs from space. “Truly, every reef on earth might be mapped soon,” he added.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Miami are using the data to model the factors that contribute to the health and resiliency of coral reefs.
“There were 200 scientists with the expedition but we must have collaborated with 2,000 different academics,” Purkis said.
To prevent its scientific advances from being hidden away in dusty scientific journals, the expedition targeted young people through the educational arm of its project. The foundation developed a curriculum suitable for a range of ages, from kindergarten to 12th grade, to teach youngsters about coral reefs. More than 2,000 teachers are now using it in more than 110 countries.
“The previous generations created most of the problems that the youth of the planet now have to solve,” said Purkis. “Education is key to overcoming the challenge and it is in the hands of young people.”
Another component of the initiative is its outreach efforts. These include a number of documentary films and TV series produced by the foundation the public about the seriousness of this major environmental issue.


Saudi Arabia’s Ithra Islamic Art Conference examines history of mosques

 Showcasing mosque aesthetics, evolution and function, the exhibit brings together the most extensive collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in Saudi Arabia. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Showcasing mosque aesthetics, evolution and function, the exhibit brings together the most extensive collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in Saudi Arabia. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 27 November 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra Islamic Art Conference examines history of mosques

 Showcasing mosque aesthetics, evolution and function, the exhibit brings together the most extensive collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in Saudi Arabia. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
  • Using recent studies, experts discuss how 3.5m mosques around the world will transform with time

DHAHRAN: For thousands of years, mosques have served as sacred ground for Muslims around the world. But there is more than meets the eye, with Ithra’s Islamic Art Conference examining the deeper meaning and spiritual effects that mosques have on their communities.

The conference is a collaboration between the Abdullatif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture and Ithra, a leading destination for art and culture.

(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

It was held from Nov. 24-25, and involved many perspectives, covered several themes and included studies by a group of elite speakers from around the world.

FASTFACT

Items and pieces originally from the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madinah on loan from the National Museum in Riyadh, 84 works from the Museum of Islamic Arts in Cairo under the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, and 34 objects from Ithra’s collection are showcased.

Ashraf Fagih, head of the programs division at Ithra, told Arab News: “We have philosophers, historians, the museum board of trustees and thinkers all discussing the different aspects of the mosque, not only as a building, but as a living entity which has been a vital part of human civilization since the dawn of Islam.

“When we talk about the objects, we talk about the tangible and intangible parts of the mosque, crafts, endowments, schools of thought and opinions that revolved around the mosque as a living entity. All of that is an essential and crucial part of our identity, not only as Muslims and Arabs, but as global citizens,” he added.

Using recent studies, Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra, discussed the mosque of the future, outlining its shape and function, and discussing how the 3.5 million mosques around the world will transform with time.

Al-Rashid announced that Ithra is launching a competition related to mosques that will focus on university students. As part of the event, organizers will gather an array of specialists from universities across the Kingdom and collect Saudi youth opinion, creative ideas and visions of future mosques.

The conference facilitates a more profound discussion and a crucial understanding of the historical development of mosques, with a particular focus on Islamic art and the preservation and revitalization of culture.

Its six themes were the evolution of the mosque, beauty, and function of mosque objects, mosque aesthetics, traditional architecture, and the preservation and revival of the mosque from mosque to museum.

One of the outstanding abstracts presented during the first day of the conference was the sonorous audible mosque, a new perspective on Islamic architecture by Michael Frishkopf, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Frishkopf told Arab News: “Architecture is for life. It is to be used by people, and people live in social arrangements. In the case of the mosque, there is a spiritual relationship which involves sounds. It is critical for social life, and because of speech and expression, it conveys emotions. So I called the mosque a sonorous object, which is much closer to the spiritual function of the mosque than the visual.

“The root of the word masjid (Arabic for mosque) is sojood, which is the act of prostration. It is a postural sonic act, so a mosque goes away behind the idea of a building, and if we look at the spiritual essence of the mosque, we should focus on prostration. As when the forehead touches the ground the visual field is blocked but the ears are open,” Frishkopf added.

The discussions featured in the conference show the value through time of mosques should be preserved and integrated into the future.

Under the theme of the revival of mosque arts, Minwar Al-Meheid, a Jordanian project manager with a particular emphasis on architectural engineering and design, discussed the Minbar of Saladin at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the most famous Islamic pulpit in design, industry and art, and how it was made with inlaid wood and carved ivory, and crafted with ornamentation and inscriptions by skilled craftsmen.

(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

This shed light on great efforts made across the Arab world to create a substitute minbar, which would revive the remains of the original pulpit that was burned to ashes in a 1969 incident. The new version was reconstructed in Jordan by Turkish and Asian craftsmen and woodworkers, and was then relocated to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Meheid said that the delicate nature of geometry in Islamic art also applies to the ancient mosque and its value.

Shatr Al-Masjid: The art of orientation

Farah Abushullaih, the head of museum at Ithra, told Arab News: “There is an increased interest in and recognition of Islamic art and culture globally, but Ithra’s research has identified established misconceptions and perceptions in this field. The complementing exhibition, “Shatr Al-Masjid: The art of orientation,” the first of its kind in the world, addresses this gap in knowledge and understanding of the significant impact, history and culture around this topic.”

Showcasing mosque aesthetics, evolution and function, the exhibit brings together the most extensive collection of Islamic art masterpieces ever displayed in the Kingdom in unprecedented partnerships on a global and national level. It features several pieces from the greatest Islamic dynasties, from the Ayyubids and Fatimids to the Mamluks and Ottomans, covering different styles and periods over 1,000 years of history.

Visitors were given the honor of participating in weaving part of the Kiswah located over the black stone. The section will be placed later this year, using raw silk threads and silver wire coated with gold water. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Items and pieces originally from the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madinah on loan from the National Museum in Riyadh, 84 works from the Museum of Islamic Arts in Cairo under the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, and 34 objects from Ithra’s collection are showcased.

The exhibit also showcases 10 3D models of ancient mosques from around the world displayed in a sequenced timeline, starting with Thee Prophet’s Mosque. It also shows how other mosques are inspired by their structure, function and architecture.

Dr. Sami Angawi, founder and director of the Hajj Research Center, which he established in 1975, is one of the leading researchers who helped to reach the final result of the 3D modeling of The Prophet’s Mosque in the era of Prophet Muhammad, which is displayed in the exhibition.

(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“I have been searching and working in Makkah and Madinah for the last 40 years. We have cooperated with Ithra in making this particular model of The Prophet’s Mosque,” Angawi told Arab News.

“Dealing with Makkah and Madinah’s mosques and reconstructing them to be showed in virtual reality through time and place is of huge significance, as we are trying to turn what is documented in books into visual reality. This is one of the results which was conducted with Ithra and we have many other things we are working on,” he added.

The exhibit uses four techniques to enhance and enrich the visitor experience: Audio guides, screens, interactive timelines and virtual reality headsets that showcase five mosques around the world. Once a visitor wears the headset, they will be taken on a tour through the mosques, which gives non-Muslims the chance to feel and walk through the Two Holy Mosques.

Abdullah Alkadi, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Dammam, told Arab News that tried to find links between astrolabe and GPS devices as part of his research for the exhibition. “I focused on time and space because everything, every transaction in the world falls between these two aspects,” he said.

(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“I was also trying to link that with GPS and with old instruments used in the past such as an astrolabe. I was trying to show how the astrolabe was introduced for the last several centuries. It was a navigating system where people can easily know time and directions and they also have used it to determine prayer time, so here lies the connection between the ancient tool and the new technology of GPS. Place and time can be utilized, analyzed and linked to many things from the past, present and future,” he added.

The Art of Masjid

On the sidelines of the Conference, an exhibit titled “The Art of Masjid” showcased contemporary works related to mosques from around the world through collaborations with Turquoise Mountain. The exhibition highlights calligraphy and architectural ornaments, including panels, furniture, prayer mats and more.

The King Abdulaziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswah also took part in the three-day conference, exhibiting tools used for washing the Holy Kaaba, as well as some antiquities, a 3D model of Maqam Ibrahim and more.

Visitors were given the honor of participating in weaving part of Kiswah located over the black stone. The section will be placed later this year, using raw silk threads and silver wire coated with gold water.

Abushullaih said: “Ithra takes the conversation into communities with an outreach project, where the public can share their photos and stories for publication on Ithra’s platform. The combined information from the exhibitions and conference represents the importance of learning, disciplinary development, and the preservation of mosques and cultural heritage.”


Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai inaugurates ‘16 Windows’ cultural program

The inauguration of the “16 Windows” cultural program aims to support and promote Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector. (SPA)
The inauguration of the “16 Windows” cultural program aims to support and promote Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector. (SPA)
Updated 27 November 2021

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai inaugurates ‘16 Windows’ cultural program

The inauguration of the “16 Windows” cultural program aims to support and promote Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector. (SPA)
  • The participants highlighted the reality of the Kingdom’s publishing and printing industries, which, over the past few years, have been able to achieve great progress

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai launched the first activities of its new weekly “16 Windows” cultural program with a debate session on the literature, publishing and translation sectors.

The session, titled “Books and Publishing in Saudi Arabia,” shed light on the capabilities of the Kingdom in the publishing industry.

It was held with the participation of the founder of Arwa Publishing House, Arwa Khomayyis, the author and founding partner of Tashkeel Publishing House, Mujib Al-Shamri, and the founder and general manager of Al-Athar Publishing House, Abdullah Fahd Al-Ghubein. Tariq Khawaji, a cultural adviser and Ithra’s chief librarian, moderated the session.

The participants highlighted the reality of the Kingdom’s publishing and printing industries, which, over the past few years, have been able to achieve great progress. They stressed that the need to provide exposure to Saudi creativity and the richness contained within the Saudi environment was one of the main reasons that encouraged them to establish its publishing houses. The session also discussed the role of book covers and their impact on the shopping process.

On the sidelines of “16 Windows,” the Kingdom’s pavilion hosted, in its Palm Garden, a storytelling session, attended by a large number of children, and which featured some of the works of Khomayyis, while attendees were given the opportunity to write their own stories as well.

The event aimed at teaching children writing techniques to express their emotions, ideas and visions, to enable them to construct stories worth reading and have others learn from them.

The inauguration of the “16 Windows” cultural program aims to support and promote Saudi Arabia’s cultural sector, showing the true essence of the Kingdom by bringing together the best Saudi minds in various intellectual, cultural and creative fields.

The activities were designed to be held over a period of 16 weeks, and will constitute a unique cultural experience that take guests on a communicative and interactive journey, in line with the strategic axes of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 of building a vibrant, ambitious society and a thriving economy.

 


Deal to promote eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia

Deal to promote eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia. (Twitter: @IARDAKSA)
Deal to promote eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia. (Twitter: @IARDAKSA)
Updated 27 November 2021

Deal to promote eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia

Deal to promote eco-tourism in Saudi Arabia. (Twitter: @IARDAKSA)
  • It is part of the initiative to support tourist destinations, in line with Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Program

RIYADH: A deal has been signed to promote eco-tourism in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It was signed between the Ministry of Tourism, the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority, and the Saudi Tourism Authority.

It is aimed at raising the readiness of tourism and environmental sites and initiating opportunities based on development in the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority and the King Khalid Royal Reserve. Areas of Rawdat Khuraim and Thumama Park will also benefit from the memorandum of understanding.

It is part of the initiative to support tourist destinations, in line with the Kingdom’s Quality of Life Program.

The deal will also contribute to enhancing coordination between agencies in preparing plans and programs for tourism attractions and investment, based on environmental and product marketing development.

Prince Saud bin Nahar, deputy minister of tourism regional activation, said the agreement was one of the many methods to enhance joint cooperation between government agencies to develop the country's tourism sector.

CEO of the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority, Talal Al-Harigi, said the purpose of the agreement was to initiate integration with the national sectors for the development of eco-tourism, which would provide many opportunities for SMEs, diversify the economic base of the local community and the environment, and create direct and indirect job opportunities for Saudis in the development and eco-tourism sectors.

“It also aims at strengthening the existing efforts to protect and develop the reserves, making them available for visits by local and global (tourists), in order to achieve the desired goals for the establishment of royal reserves,” he added.

 


Saudi Arabia’s decision to issue and renew residency permits on quarterly basis welcomed

This quarterly payment is really very good news for expatriates residing here with their families. (SPA)
This quarterly payment is really very good news for expatriates residing here with their families. (SPA)
Updated 27 November 2021

Saudi Arabia’s decision to issue and renew residency permits on quarterly basis welcomed

This quarterly payment is really very good news for expatriates residing here with their families. (SPA)
  • The Jawazat clarified that the new service is available on the online platforms of Absher Individual, Absher Business, and Muqeem

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Interior recently announced that it has started issuing and renewing residency permits on a quarterly basis. Expatriates have welcomed the change, saying it will reduce their financial burden.
The ministry, represented by the General Directorate of Passports and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, made the change to implement last year’s Cabinet decision.
The new mechanism will enable employers to renew residency and work permits for varying periods of three, six, nine and 12 months. Domestic workers are excluded from this change.
The Jawazat clarified that the new service is available on the online platforms of Absher Individual, Absher Business, and Muqeem.
The HR ministry said services related to work permits can be accessed through the Qiwa Platform and the electronic portal for labor services.

HIGHLIGHT

The new mechanism will enable employers to renew residency and work permits for varying periods of three, six, nine and 12 months. Domestic workers are excluded from this change. The Jawazat clarified that the new service is available on the online platforms of Absher Individual, Absher Business, and Muqeem.

Ayman Hassan, an Egyptian expatriate working in Riyadh, said: “This quarterly payment is really very good news for expatriates residing here with their families. Payment of the levy on a yearly basis before iqama renewal is a huge burden on expatriates. Allowing them to pay every three months will help reduce financial burden on them.”
Mohammad Arshad Ali Khan, a teacher at the International Indian Public School, Riyadh said: “This service is a big relief for a huge number of expatriates because many were unable to pay such a huge amount at once. Now quarterly payments will make it easier. We all appreciate the Saudi higher authorities for such a favorable decision.”
Nonie Sagadal Jr., from the Philippines said: “Not only Overseas Filipino Workers will be very happy with this news, but also some OFWs families who have sent their dependants back to Philippines will opt to bring back some of their family members as they have now an easier instalments option. Perhaps now they will consider letting their family members stay on a family visa by using the less burdensome quarterly payments.”


Saudi Islamic affairs minister meets Egyptian counterpart in Jeddah

Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh meets Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Jumaa in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh meets Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Jumaa in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 27 November 2021

Saudi Islamic affairs minister meets Egyptian counterpart in Jeddah

Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh meets Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Jumaa in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • They discussed a number of issues including cooperation between the two ministries on Islamic initiatives

JEDDAH: Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh on Friday met Egyptian Minister of Endowments Dr. Muhammad Mukhtar Jumaa.
During their meeting in Jeddah, they discussed a number of issues including cooperation between the two ministries on Islamic initiatives, and spreading the messages of temperance, moderation, and the rejection of extremism.
Meanwhile, Al-Asheikh noted the success of recent talks on similar topics with Yaqut Choilil Coumas, the Indonesian minister of religious affairs.
Coumas pointed out that the two countries had parallel visions, and said Indonesia was keen to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s expertise in serving the Two Holy Mosques.
The Indonesian minister added that as well as tackling groups that tried to exploit Islam for political gain, his country also aimed to build strategic partnerships to train and qualify preachers and imams to achieve its goals.