Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life

Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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Andrew Temple, left, and Santhosh Charles, fisheries specialist at KAUST Beacon Development, go to local fish markets to gather data on different species of fish. (Supplied)
Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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The collaboration with local fishermen is a valuable source of information for fish conservation research. (Supplied)
Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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More than 2000 different species of fish inhabit the Red Sea. (Sumaiyya Naseem)
Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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More than 2000 different species of fish inhabit the Red Sea. (Sumaiyya Naseem)
Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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More than 2000 different species of fish inhabit the Red Sea. (Sumaiyya Naseem)
Special Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
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More than 2000 different species of fish inhabit the Red Sea. (Sumaiyya Naseem)
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Updated 12 July 2023
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Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life

Saudi AI project helping to preserve Red Sea marine life
  • KAUST researcher’s data-based tool aims to identify fish most in danger of decline
  • Saudi Arabia currently imports around 60 percent of its seafood, but the government is ramping up efforts to become self-sufficient

MAKKAH: A leading Saudi university has started employing artificial intelligence to help preserve Red Sea fish species and assess their sustainability.

Through its innovative scientific research and various data-based methods, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is using algorithms to analyze masses of statistics about fish populations, fishing practices, and environmental factors.

Thuwal-based KAUST aims to determine how sustainable the fisheries are, while applying techniques such as machine learning to past data to create predictive models that forecast future stock levels.

Saudi Arabia currently imports around 60 percent of its seafood, but the government is ramping up efforts to become self-sufficient and has already invested heavily in aquaculture to supplement the declining catch from Red Sea fisheries.

In a statement, KAUST noted that as part of the projects supported by the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, research was underway to inform fisheries management and secure the future of the vital food source.

Andrew Temple, a postdoctoral fellow in the Red Sea Research Center and a member of the first cohort of the KAUST Global Fellowship Program, said: “Fishing is a trade-off between how quickly the population of each species can grow and how much we take out. It can take up to a decade of data collection to spot declines, and so we are always playing catch up.

“This is particularly bad for people who rely on fishing as a source of food or income,” he added.

Temple pointed out that he wanted to transform fisheries research from a reactive discipline — responding to species decrease — into a proactive one that prevented species decline and facilitated marine conservation measures. He will draw on experience working with global fisheries from Northern Europe to East Africa.

He said: “Fisheries get a bad rap, but most of the species where we have reliable data from are fished sustainably. There are effective management systems in places like Europe, North America, and Australia, and species like tuna are fished sustainably in most countries.”

However, in the Red Sea, management was limited and popular species such as grouper and humphead wrasse were in fast decline. Even though the Kingdom was a developed, high-income nation, its local fisheries were still quite small-scale, similar to those in Africa and Southeast Asia.

“The economic drive to catch these large fish is very high and most fishermen have to worry about the here and now, not 20 years in the future,” Temple added.

Through Vision 2030, the country wants to combat malnutrition with sustainable food production. Using artificial intelligence, Temple is developing a straightforward tool to categorize fish based on their economic value and rate of population growth. This will make it simple for decisionmakers to identify the species that are most in danger of becoming extinct soon and will help researchers to prioritize their efforts.

Temple’s mentor, Michael Berumen, said: “This is a creative approach to address a timely problem. Saudi Arabia urgently needs to improve the management of its fisheries for both marine conservation and food security.

“The tool can inform stakeholders, particularly the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture and coastal giga projects such as NEOM, and their plans to address these challenges.”

Temple’s multidisciplinary approach combines market studies and local knowledge with biological data and species morphology. By studying the shape and size of fish, biologists gain insight into their evolutionary history and can estimate their population growth rates.

Large fish, for example, are slower to reproduce than small ones and are therefore at greater risk of being wiped out by overfishing.

Temple said: “By sorting species using their resilience and considering how people interact with them to predict which ones are most at risk, we can take action now instead of waiting five to 10 years.”

For the last three months, Temple has accompanied environmental consultants from KAUST Beacon Development Fisheries Team on trips to local fish markets, where they gather data on the size, age, and reproductive maturity of some of the highest-value species, including jacks, snappers, groupers, and Spanish mackerel.

The team also collects catch data from ports to track how many of each fish are landed at any given time.

Calculating the economic value of a fish requires a deeper dive into market trends and some insider knowledge of a country’s preferred cuisine.

“Culturally, people know which fish to eat. For a start, attractive fish look more palatable, so they might be at greater risk than some of the ugly species from the ocean depths,” Temple added.

However, different fish are prized in different areas and all trawling vessels scoop up so-called trash fish that have no economic value. These fish either get thrown back or the fishers keep them to feed themselves and their families.


Saudi Arabia to host Islamic Development Bank Group annual meetings and golden jubilee

Saudi Arabia to host Islamic Development Bank Group annual meetings and golden jubilee
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia to host Islamic Development Bank Group annual meetings and golden jubilee

Saudi Arabia to host Islamic Development Bank Group annual meetings and golden jubilee
  • As the bank celebrates its 50th anniversary, the meetings will have the theme ‘Taking Pride in Our Past and Shaping Our Future: Authenticity, Solidarity and Prosperity’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will host the annual meetings and golden jubilee celebrations of the Islamic Development Bank Group in Riyadh between April 27 and 30, under the patronage of King Salman.

This year’s meetings will take place under the theme “Taking Pride in Our Past and Shaping Our Future: Authenticity, Solidarity and Prosperity,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The bank describes itself as a pivotal platform for development dialogue, and said it is celebrating 50 years of fostering social and economic growth among its members. As a leading multilateral development bank, it said it expects the event to attract significant international and regional attention.

Participants will include economic, planning and finance ministers from the 57 member countries of the bank, along with representatives of international and regional financial agencies and organizations, Islamic banks, the private sector, development finance institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and chambers of commerce and industry.

Organizers said the annual gathering serves as a vital forum for the enhancement of economic ties and expansion of cooperation among participants. Its agenda includes forums, seminars and meetings on a range of topics, with particularly notable events including the Governors’ Round Table, the 18th IDB Global Forum on Islamic Finance, and the IDB Group Private Sector Forum.

Topics for discussion will include the role of small and medium enterprises in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification agenda, strategies for the financing of efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, the leveraging of Islamic finance for the development of resilient infrastructure, and the establishment of the Arab Coordination Group Forum.

The Future Vision Symposium and the General Assembly of the Union of Consultants in Islamic Countries will also take place during the event.


Saudi foreign minister and Pakistan army chief discuss security and strategic cooperation

Saudi foreign minister and Pakistan army chief discuss security and strategic cooperation
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi foreign minister and Pakistan army chief discuss security and strategic cooperation

Saudi foreign minister and Pakistan army chief discuss security and strategic cooperation
  • Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day official visit, the main aim of which was to enhance economic cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, held talks in Islamabad on Tuesday with the chief of staff of the Pakistan Army, Gen. Asim Munir.

They discussed ways to enhance the “strong cooperation” between their nations in several fields, including ways to work together to improve security and strategic cooperation in ways that contribute to international peace and security.

Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day official visit, the main aim of which was to enhance economic cooperation. He also met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The prince was leading a high-level Saudi delegation that included Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdul Rahman Al-Fadhli, Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Al-Khorayef, and senior officials from the ministries of energy and investment, and the Public Investment Fund.


Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York

Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York

Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York
  • Tourism minister says he hopes Kingdom can help lead transformation of sector into an environmentally friendly industry that supports communities and countries

NEW YORK: The Saudi tourism minister on Tuesday reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to sustainable development of the travel sector.

Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has become one of the most promising and attractive global travel destinations.

He was speaking at the start of an event at the UN headquarters in New York that aims to encourage a concerted approach to enhance the resilience of the sector at the highest level and maximize its contribution to sustainability.

The event, which takes place during UN Sustainability Week, was convened by the president of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, in cooperation with UN Tourism.

Al-Khateed highlighted the efforts the Kingdom is making to address the environmental impacts of the travel and tourism sector, and noted that those efforts had contributed to the establishment, with Saudi Support, of the World Travel and Tourism Council and the World Center for Sustainable Tourism.

During the past two years, Saudi Arabia has sought, in its role as chair of the executive council of UN Tourism, to enhance the representation of the travel and tourism sector in international forums, Al-Khateeb said.

This has resulted in UN Tourism and the Kingdom cooperating on a package of initiatives to help achieve this goal, including a Best Tourism Villages award, a Tourism Opens Minds initiative, and a working group to reimagine the future of tourism, Al-Khateeb added. He also noted his country’s efforts to ensure the tourism sector was properly represented on the agenda for UN Sustainability Week. 

Saudi Arabia topped the UN World Tourism list in 2023 in terms of growth among major tourism destinations in the number of international visitors. It also topped the list of G20 nations in terms of the number of international tourists, welcoming more than 27 million last year, Al-Khateeb said. He added that authorities in the Kingdom are developing plans and strategies to attract more than 70 million international tourists a year by 2030.

By then, he said, the Kingdom aims to have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 278 million tonnes annually, designated 30 percent of land and marine territory as protected areas, and planted more than 600 million trees.

“The Kingdom has taken significant steps to launch the Sustainable Tourism Global Center, with the aim of accelerating the travel and tourism sector’s transition to climate neutrality, protecting nature and empowering communities around the world,” Al-Khateeb said.

He also highlighted major Saudi projects such as the NEOM smart city development and the Red Sea tourism project that aim to ensure they have positive effects on the climate, environment and local communities.

He also expressed the Kingdom’s aspiration for all countries to make concerted efforts, and be open to cooperation, to achieve the goal of sustainable development in the global travel and tourism sector.

Al-Khateeb said that through this important UN event, he hopes the Kingdom can spread a message to the world about the need to preserve the environment, and can help lead and support the transformation of tourism into an environmentally friendly industry that supports communities and countries worldwide.

UN Sustainability Week began on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York and continues until Friday.


Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received two separate calls from UAE president Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Saudi Press Agency said early Wednesday.

The calls discussed the recent military escalation in the region and its repercussions on safety and security, in addition to the latest developments in Gaza.

They also underscored the importance of exerting efforts to prevent the situation from worsening and to spare the region the dangers of this escalation, the SPA added.


Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference

Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference
Updated 16 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference

Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference
  • The Saudi delegation at the two-day event is led by the CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, Mohammed Qurban
  • During 8 previous events since the conference was launched in 2014, participants announced 2,160 commitments worth $130 billion

RIYADH: Saudi authorities showcased their programs and plans for environmental protection and sustainability initiatives on Tuesday, during the first day of the 9th Our Ocean Conference in Athens.

Delegates at this year’s event, the theme for which is “Our Ocean: An Ocean of Potential,” include representatives of governments and businesses, as well as activists and experts on marine environments, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

They are discussing topics such as protected marine areas, sustainable blue economies, maritime security, the relationship between oceans and climate change, sustainable fishing, and ways to combat marine pollution. Other issues to be addressed during the conference include sustainable tourism in coastal areas and on islands, ways to reduce plastic and microplastic pollution in marine environments, green shipping, and the green transition in the Mediterranean.

The Saudi delegation at the two-day event is led by the CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, Mohammed Qurban. The initiatives in the Kingdom highlighted at the conference revolve around ways to protect oceans and other water resources, and the sustainable utilization of marine resources.

“Our participation in the work of this global conference reflects the Kingdom’s keenness to support the efforts and endeavors aimed at achieving Sustainable Development Goals, protecting the seas, oceans and water resources, and the sustainable use of marine resources in a way that reflects the trends of the Kingdom and (its) Vision 2030 (development plan) to support environmental protection efforts,” said Qurban.

He highlighted several key national projects that are underway, including the Saudi Green Initiative, which aims to expand protected areas of the Kingdom to encompass 30 percent of its total land and sea territory, and plant 100 million mangrove trees by 2030.

“The Kingdom remains resolute in its mission to safeguard nature and its invaluable ecological treasures, with a special emphasis on the Red Sea region,” Qurban said. “We stand ready to deploy all necessary resources and efforts toward sustainable conservation endeavors.”

Participation in forums such as the Our Ocean Conference encourages the invaluable sharing of knowledge, a cross-pollination of ideas, and collaborations in the creation of innovative ways to tackle environmental challenges and promote sustainable practices, he added.

During the previous eight events since the conference was launched in 2014 by the US to fill a gap in global ocean governance at the time, participants have announced 2,160 commitments worth $130 billion, organizers said.

Other items on the agenda this year include ways in which oceans will meet the needs of future generations, ways to encourage governments, businesses and other organizations to adopt long-term commitments that have positive effects on oceans, and efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals relating to oceans, seas and marine resources.