On July 26, 2023, the Red Sea International Company announced the opening of the first specialized nursery/plantation for mangrove cultivation in Saudi Arabia, with the aim of planting more than 100 million trees by the year 2030, contributing toward achieving the Kingdom’s vision of a larger and more comprehensive economy.
The 100 million mangrove tree project is among many projects carried out by the Red Sea International Company, and it is one of the main tourism trajectories of the 2030 Vision.
What are mangrove trees?
Mangroves are a unique group of vascular plants that are found in salty coastal habitats and are known to tolerate harsh environmental conditions. They have many uses, some of which include treating pathological conditions caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. There is an urgent global push to make full use of medicinal extracts capable of defeating new strains and mutants of pathogens due to the intense resistance of these strains to traditional medicines and extracts.
Mangroves are one of those new saviors where researchers have found what they are looking for, especially as they adapt to environmental change. Therefore, the medicinal properties and uses of mangroves may vary across different schools.
Many climate organizations have indicated that the largest rise in Earth’s temperature in history was recorded in July of last year. This rise contributed to an increase in the percentage of carbon that accumulates in the atmosphere. It leads to many environmental disasters, which is where the mangrove comes in as it has the ability to absorb five to ten times more carbon.
Mangroves also have an important role in preserving natural beaches from erosion due to their ability to retain the surrounding soil and tributaries. This plays a crucial role in maintaining many different balances in the ecosystem.
The mangrove as a medicinal plant has many therapeutic benefits and uses, as well as being a useful food resource in different forms. There are inevitably different types of mangrove trees — Chinese, Indian, Philippine and other types — and there are local species that occur naturally in Saudi Arabia. Species such as red and grey mangroves, the bark of mangrove trees, as well as seedlings and stems, are used to treat many medical conditions, including wounds, diarrhea, stomach pain and disorders, skin infections, pink eye and toothache.
Mangroves contain antioxidants — antifungals, antibacterials and antivirals. Mangrove is also used as an astringent, to treat diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, as an antiseptic, as an anti-bleeding agent, and as a treatment for typhoid fever.
Acanthus ilicifolius, one of the mangrove species, is used in Indian medicine (Ayurveda). The plant is known as Sahachara. The medicine is an astringent and makes a good breath tonic expectorant, and stimulant in some cases. The root is used to treat coughs and asthma. The root is also used boiled in milk; it is largely employed to treat general weakness. Indians and Chinese consider the roots to be friendly, relieving and useful in treating some cases of paralysis and asthma. The buds and leaves are also used in India to treat some cases of rheumatism and neuralgia.
Given the many and varied benefits and properties, there is nothing surprising about the interest in expanding mangrove forest cultivation, not only for the tree's importance on the environmental side and the planet’s life but also for the diverse and important therapeutic properties it provides. Undoubtedly, such benefits attract the pharmaceutical, medical and tourism sectors.
Traditionally, mangrove forests have been exploited for firewood and charcoal, and their uses include housing construction, furniture, boats and fishing equipment. Mangrove is also beneficial for the production of ink for dyeing, due to its low cost and ease of obtaining it in many countries.
In Sri Lanka, the straight stalks are used to build thatched roof frames and window frames. Charcoal production in Malaysia is now one of the most important forms of mangrove use. It is the best charcoal with the highest caloric power. It has exceptional slow-burning properties and is characterized by the absence of dense smoke. This is why in Pakistan, Rhizophora wood is used to fuel locomotive boilers, and villagers still use it to heat “ironing machines” for pressing clothes.
Large-scale conversion of mangroves for woodchip production began in east Malaysia and Indonesia during the 1970s. In 1971, about 50,000 hectares were licensed for producing mangrove woodchips, especially for export to Japan. Malaysia stopped the practice after 15 years to use the resource internally.
Mangroves as an investment can be diversified, starting with simple pharmaceutical industries related to skincare, for example, through natural extracts in their various forms and medical uses, to large industries. The presence of mangrove forests can be an attractive factor for many tourists who want to relax and to benefit from using natural mangrove products. It adds another dimension to the tourist’s experience, represented by living a different experience with a special character distinctive to the Kingdom. It brings greater returns to the country’s economy, especially by providing many job opportunities.
• Saad Majdy Baslom is a highly experienced director with more than 10 years of leadership and specialist experience in complementary medicine. Baslom holds a doctorate in traditional Chinese medicine, a master’s in Chinese herbology, and a master’s in acupuncture.