From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition

Special From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition
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Princess Abeer was part of an expedition that studied, among other things, the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. (Supplied)
Special From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition
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Princess Abeer saw with her own eyes the pace of ice melt and the threat this poses in the form of rising sea levels. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition

From sand dunes to melting glaciers, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Abeer shares lessons from her Antarctic expedition
  • The princess joined an expedition in November to the remotest parts of Antarctica led by Australian NGO Homeward Bound
  • She joined the expedition to raise awareness about climate action, sustainability, and the need for ‘a peace pact with nature’

RIYADH: Princess Abeer bint Saud bin Farhan Al-Saud recently became the first person from Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region to go on a research expedition to the remotest parts of the Antarctic continent.

In November, the princess was among 80 people selected from a pool of 1,800 applicants from 45 nations who joined the expedition led by Homeward Bound, an Australian organization that promotes women’s leadership in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine).

Princess Abeer told Arab News: “The whole purpose of me joining this expedition was to raise awareness about climate action, environmental sustainability, and making a peace pact with nature and biodiversity.”




The women on The Island Sky 2023, from 18 countries, set sail on Nov. 12, 2023, from Puerto Madryn, Argentina, for a 19-night voyage. (Photo courtesy of Homeward Bound)

Also on the expedition were astronomers, oceanographers, glaciologists, mathematicians, marine biologists, and renewable energy engineers, who collaborated on various projects some of which were part of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), held in Dubai in November and December.

The princess said: “As a group, a few of us collaborated on multiple projects combining science, art, and policy and advocating at the UN by drafting reports and preparing our talks and findings for our participation at COP28.”

FASTFACT

• In November, Princess Abeer joined an expedition to the remotest parts of Antarctica, led by Homeward Bound, an Australian organization that holds leadership programs for women in STEMM, becoming the first person from the Gulf region to do so.

Princess Abeer is an international development professional with culture and heritage, peacebuilding, multilateralism, and NGO expertise, who has worked for several UN agencies.

She currently chairs the Sustainable Development Association (Talga) which aims to localize the UN Sustainable Development Goals in alignment with Vision 2030.

The princess noted that she was passionate about dedicating her life to projects that helped preserve endangered species, land, and the planet.

She is also an artist, inspired by her surroundings and what she described as her “cosmic desert” adventures in Saudi Arabia, where she produces works on canvas utilizing natural materials.

Before setting off for Antarctica, Princess Abeer pointed out that she would channel her ancestral heritage.

“I will draw on my roots as a woman from the desert and as a sailor, looking to the heavens to guide me.

“The Southern Cross has led me to many answers and many more questions, just like the North Star has led wanderers through the desert for countless generations,” she added.

The Bedouin who traversed Arabia’s vast deserts over the millennia relied on the stars.

November’s expedition was not all plain sailing. An unexpected storm struck the team’s ship as it navigated the Drake Passage, one of the world’s choppiest sea routes located between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.




Navigating through icebergs amid stormy waters could be a truly frightening experience. (Photo by Maya Beano)

The princess said: “We had a very challenging 48 hours on the Drake Passage. My expedition mates lay on their bunks. Others used dark humor to console their anxiety by playing the ‘Titanic’ soundtrack on the old piano on board in the open area lounge.

“A few others were brave and calm, enjoying their time knowing that the storm would pass.”

While the experience was no doubt frightening, she added that she felt humbled, both by the power of nature and the skill of the ship’s crew who brought them safely through the towering waves to calmer seas.

“Witnessing and experiencing the majesty of nature’s fury is the art of humble exploration. I think it requires so much mental agility, gentle wisdom, and humor to overcome any storm, rogue waves, or any hardship in your life,” she added.

When the team arrived in Antarctica, Princess Abeer noted that it felt like she had been transported to another world, similar to “Alice in Wonderland.”

She said: “It felt like being in an immersive and multi-sensory natural museum of raw and untouched beauty. You can hear the sound of silence. Antarctica is the icebergs and glaciers gazing at you.”

Although the expedition took place during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season, it was vital that participants wore the appropriate gear to withstand the cold, plus polarized sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays.

But to work in such inhospitable conditions, the princess pointed out that participants required inner strength.




Humpback whales gracefully surface in the Gerlache Strait during sunset. (Photo by Maya Beano)

“In isolated polar regions, just like hibernating animals live off their fat, as polar explorers we sought to ignite our spirits — with sea crafts like bunting,” she added.

Princess Abeer and the rest of the team slept aboard their ship, anchored off the Antarctic coast, but each day used Zodiacs — heavy-duty inflatable boats — to commute to their research stations and to conduct field research.

While studying the impact of climate change on the Antarctic’s weather, wildlife, and geography, the princess was shocked to see the massive icebergs breaking into the ocean and the record number of invasive species drawn to the continent by its warming climate.

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In particular, she was stunned to see rainfall in a part of the world where water in the atmosphere should be falling as snow.

She said: “It was raining occasionally instead of snowing. That is defying nature by all measures. It can’t and shouldn’t be raining in Antarctica at all.”

Out on the Antarctic ice, Princess Abeer was a long way from the vast sandy deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, she found some unexpected similarities in the contrasting environments.

“When you’re in a desert of ice, as opposed to a desert of sand, you’re living with people who are on the very edge of human tolerance. I think the upshot of that is the incredible hospitality you get,” she added.




View of Antarctica on a sunny day. (Photo by Maya Beano)

It highlighted to her how the world’s most distinct ecosystems — from polar regions and subtropical rainforests to vast interior deserts and coastal habitats — were interconnected by the global climate system.

Princess Abeer said: “Safeguarding the cryosphere is not a matter for polar regions alone but all countries alike. Glaciers and icebergs melting at faster rates will cause rising sea levels, affecting all coastlines in the world.

“The polar and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) regions — in fact the entire globe — are linked. If we want to save one, then we have to save the other.

“The importance lies in understanding these reciprocal relationships for effective climate management, ensuring global climate stability, and safeguarding ecosystems in both polar and desert regions alike, and henceforth contributing to safeguarding the global climate system,” she added.

Another major concern for polar researchers was the impact of a warming climate on seabird habitats. The breakup of sea ice has disrupted colonies, while the arrival of invasive species from further north has brought with it the spread of avian flu.




The Snowy Sheatbell, the only land bird native to the Antarctic. (Photo by Princess Abeer Al-Farhan) 

“Antarctica is like a haven paradise of wildlife. On a daily basis we had awe-inducing surprise encounters with humpback whales flashing their flukes against the water.

“There were also colonies of Weddell seals that I think can only be found in ice-free islands in Antarctica,” the princess said.

Antarctica is home to one especially iconic species — penguins. Of the world’s 18 different penguin species, seven of them are only found on the southernmost continent.

“We were so lucky to have seen them all in their natural habitat during our last expedition.




Adelie penguins colony on the iceberg Antarctica. (Shutterstock)

“The species found in Antarctica and the Subantarctic region are the emperor penguin, Adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni, rockhopper, and king penguin,” she added.

For Princess Abeer, the biggest takeaway from her time in Antarctica was the need for the world and individuals to take a cross-sectoral approach in their efforts to halt climate change and prevent global temperatures from rising any further. Failure to do so, she highlighted, would lead to further ice melt and a rise in global sea levels.

“I believe that it’s time to make a peace pact with nature. We must not let our faith for a regenerative future for this planet melt away. What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica,” she said.

 


Saudi king, crown prince send condolences to Sultan of Oman after flood deaths

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
Updated 16 April 2024
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Saudi king, crown prince send condolences to Sultan of Oman after flood deaths

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)
  • A group of school children and a driver died when their vehicle was overtaken

RIYADH: King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday sent cables of condolences to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq after 17 people died in flooding in several parts of Oman.

The Saudi leaders sent their sincerest condolences to the sultan, and the families of the deceased, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

A group of school children and a driver died when their vehicle was overtaken, authorities said.
Civil defense officials gave the death toll for the rains, which saw Oman’s North Al Sharqiyah province hardest hit. The Royal Oman Police and the Omani military deployed to the province to transport citizens out of flooded areas

Heavy rainfall often causes flash flooding in the sultanate, drawing the curious from their homes to nearby dry riverbeds, known in Arabic as “wadi.” In flooding, they can quickly fill and wash away people and vehicles.

— with input from The Associated Press

 


Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled

Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled

Saudi independent musician takes road less traveled
  • Artist SOVL speaks on the challenges and joys of making music independently

RIYADH: As the music scene diversifies in Saudi Arabia, from psychedelic rock to electronic dance, young artist SOVL is bringing a new flavor to the mix.

SOVL is a self-taught independent musician who was on a quest to create a top-notch, industry-standard album on his own that reflected his personal artistry and carried a meaningful narrative. He platformed a distinct blend of alternative, modern, and indie rock, all rooted in the DNA of guitar music.

“As an independent musician, it’s a harder process than someone, say, signed to a label. But I try to take advantage of what I have,” he said.

SOVL visually represents the theme of ‘Too Much Is Not Enough’ on the album’s cover with the image of the artist pouring water into an already large and abundant sea. (Supplied)

The Saudi rockstar, 22, debuted his first album “Too Much Is Not Enough” last December. The album represented a bold artistic leap as SOVL, a producer, songwriter, and singer, ventured into the captivating realm of full-length storytelling through his music.

The 10-track work is an emotional odyssey. Open to interpretation, the songs become a canvas upon which the listener’s own feelings are painted.

In a world where the pursuit of “too much” often takes center stage, “Too Much Is Not Enough” offers a message that resonates with all: In the pursuit of everything, we must not forget to preserve the most essential part of our being — ourselves.

I firmly believe that you can write and record music right from your own bedroom and doing so can make the final product more genuine, presenting your art exactly as you envision it.

SOVL, Saudi music artist

But before the full body of work came along, his journey was nothing but relentless.

“When I laid my hands on my first electric guitar in 2019, I was taking a different approach in learning the instrument,” he said. His technique was more makeshift than anything: placing his fingers wherever they landed or strumming whatever sounded right until he began learning some basics of guitar chord theory.

SOVL, Saudi music artist

He later began recording his music on the beginner-friendly GarageBand before moving on to using the Logic Pro software and experimenting with different sounds.

SOVL released his single “What’s Going On?” in 2021, his first official launch into the local music scene as an indie alternative artist. The refreshing sound brings listeners back to the rock gems of the 70s like The Who and The Clash, who inspired much of his music.

He also tries to infuse a bit of Arabic spirit into his music; the oud instrument makes an appearance in some of his songs, including “Ana.”

While making music is the easy part, some other aspects of the industry like marketing and distribution can be difficult to tackle.

A record label, for example, would handle cover art, music video production, and music distribution. “It (would have) been much easier to sign with a record label so they could get all that sorted,” he said.

Regardless of the challenges, SOVL expressed his joy in having the freedom of creative direction: “I’m a strong advocate for the do-it-yourself approach. I firmly believe that you can write and record music right from your own bedroom and doing so can make the final product more genuine, presenting your art exactly as you envision it.

“Don’t get me wrong; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with signing to a major label,” he noted. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for those who have it. However, in a world flooded with too much music content, it can be challenging to stand out and get your unique sound heard.”

For his first album’s cover art, he enlisted the help of his friends. They took an impromptu one-day trip to the Eastern Province for the makeshift photoshoot and ended up filming one of his music videos there as well.

“It takes a whole lot of belief, and my friends have had my back since the get-go,” he said about the experience.

Many independent artists now are utilizing social media platforms like TikTok to promote their music, but SOVL says their approach is a bit “cliche” for his persona.

Personifying a rather mysterious image, hence the anonymous stage name, and presenting a style that is much more nuanced than generic pop, he allows his sound and lyrics to speak for themselves.

His album, although niche in genre, presents an exploration of a rather universal experience. He narrates the battle within to settle for what we already have. The theme is encapsulated in the album cover, which features the artist pouring water into an already plentiful and vast sea.

What distinguishes SOVL is his continuous pursuit to diversify not just genres but the very composition of albums in the novel Saudi music industry. Concept albums, which can tell a larger story than what could be contained in a single track, enhance the listeners’ experience of various notions.

SOVL is adamant about making and releasing music that is authenticated by genuine and soulful feelings, and his name serves as a reminder of that.

He said: “The album is super focused lyrically, on the theme, the sound, and some of the listeners criticized me on that point. Because it was my first album, (they believe) it should be a showcase of what you’re capable of, but on a broader aspect.

“With the Extended Edition, going forward, I’m going to broaden the sound, experiment a bit, but still with the same themes … It’s also to compel the story.”

While the writing and producing process is personal and self-centric, the product may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he said. Pop sensibility is not the artist’s goal, but he understands that broadening the scope of his work, even slightly, will create a more palatable experience for listeners to get into more psychedelic and grunge alternative rock.

“What I’m trying to do here is get people interested in different colors of music,” he said. “This is one that hasn’t been targeted yet here (in Saudi Arabia), but I’m really glad to try and start it.

“The scene here and the talents are still developing their musical identities … If you’re interested in music, just go for it. Once you start and find it’s really interesting, you’re maybe gifted, so try to invest more time on that,” he added.  

SOVL’s goal is to prove, not only to himself but also to his friends and aspiring musicians, that artists can take an indie approach and still achieve their dreams in the world of music.

His album is out now on all popular streaming platforms.

 

 


King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven

King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven
Updated 15 April 2024
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King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven

King Salman Royal Reserve — an ecological haven
  • Fahd Al-Shawaier told Arab News: “The diverse wildlife inhabiting the area is huge … Arabian oryx groups were recently released, and plans are underway to reintroduce species formerly present in the area”

JEDDAH: In the northern part of the Kingdom, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Reserve, which is recognized by BirdLife International, has strengthened its standing as one of the biggest and most important bird regions in the world through recent expansions.

The additions to the global bird sites within the reserve include the At-Turaif area, Harrat crater, Hail area, and Tabarjal. These areas, situated on major bird migration paths, are considered important protection areas.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Within the expansive boundaries of the reserve, a remarkable 290 species of wild birds have been recorded. An astonishing 88 percent of these are migratory, making a stop in the reserve, while 12 percent are resident.

FASTFACTS

• 58 percent of the total birds recorded in all regions of the Kingdom find refuge within the King Salman Royal Reserve, underscoring its importance for avian conservation efforts.

• The additions to the global bird sites within the reserve include the At-Turaif area, Harrat crater, Hail area, and Tabarjal.

Notably, 58 percent of the total birds recorded in all regions of the Kingdom find refuge within the reserve, underscoring its importance for avian conservation efforts. Alarmingly, 25 species among them are listed on the Red List of Threatened Species.

A jewel in the crown

At the heart of the reserve lies Al-Khunfah Natural Reserve, spanning more than 20,000 sq km on the edge of the Nafud desert. Designated as a natural reserve in 1987, Al-Khunfah boasts a natural landscape characterized by sedimentary formations and sandstone, displaying a diverse color palette ranging from dark brown to white, with shades of gray and light brown.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

The biodiversity within Al-Khunfah is spectacular, encompassing a variety of fungal, animal and plant species. Resident and migratory birds, including the houbara bustard and cranes, find sanctuary here, alongside trees such as arfaj, athel, arta, talh, harmal and lavender.

Fahd Al-Shawaier, director of communication and public relations at the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Reserve Development Authority, told Arab News: “The diverse wildlife inhabiting the area is huge … Arabian oryx groups were recently released, and plans are underway to reintroduce species formerly present in the area.”

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

These efforts aim to restore degraded ecosystems.

Al-Khunfah does not merely house avian wonders; it hosts various reptile species, as well as rabbits and foxes. From the majestic Arabian wolf, sand cat, wild cat, and the false cobra to the elusive desert warbler, wild rabbit and desert hedgehog, the reserve is home to many species.

NUMBER

290

A remarkable 290 species of wild birds have been recorded within the expansive boundaries of the King Salman Royal Reserve.

The area is also inhabited by many resident bird species such as the Arabian partridge, greater hoopoe-lark, owl and long-legged buzzard, and migratory birds such as the steppe eagle, eastern imperial eagle, vulture and saker falcon.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Al-Khunfah hosts a variety of habitats for reptile species such as the desert warbler, lizard, frog-headed lizard and fringed-toed lizard, among others.

There is one rabbit species in Al-Khunfah, the cape hare, and two fox species, the red fox and Ruppell’s fox, Al-Shawaier said.

Al-Khunfah’s mountains and highlands showcase nature’s splendor across areas such as Bagheith, Al-Asmar, Anz, Abu Talihat, Dhaea, Al-Dhahakiya, and valleys such as Al-Fater, Niyal, Al-Saileh, Al-Aqeelah, Abu Mataya and Wadi Al-Mawrida. Seasonal rains, ranging from 50 to 100 mm, sustain the land, plants, trees and wildlife habitats.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including sandy and rocky environments, plains, mountain slopes and dunes, provides habitats for resident and migratory wildlife species.

While seasonal rains are crucial for plant growth and diversity, flooding resulting from these rains can pose challenges to certain plant species.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (SPA)

The rains work to rejuvenate soil fertility and improve its composition, contributing to the creation of an ideal environment for the growth of plant species, including annual herbs (which are aided by the rains to complete their life cycle), as well as the flourishing of trees, shrubs and perennial herbs during the rainy season, which enhances plant diversity in the area, Al-Shawaier said.

“However, it should be noted that floods resulting from these rains can negatively affect plants, especially those that do not tolerate continuous water immersion,” he said.

The reserve’s diverse terrain, including rocky environments, mountain slopes, and dunes, provides habitat for resident and migratory wildlife species. (Supplied)

Temporary basins are formed, supplying resident and migratory wildlife with their water needs while the basins last.

Al-Shawaier said that the reserve has implemented various programs, initiatives and projects, including surveying and monitoring wildlife, reintroduction programs, post-release monitoring, and initiatives to maintain vegetation cover and habitats.

These efforts are crucial for meeting conservation targets and ensuring the long-term sustainability of this ecological haven.

 

 


Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties

Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties

Saudi Shoura speaker visits Jordan to strengthen ties
  • Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh emphasized that the leaderships of both countries are keen to strengthen and consolidate bilateral relations to meet the aspirations of their brotherly peoples

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council Speaker Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh arrived in Jordan on Monday for an official visit.

Al-Asheikh leads a delegation from the council who were officially invited by Ahmed Safadi, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives.

Upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in the capital Amman, he was received by Safadi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Jordan Nayef bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, and several senior officials of the Jordanian House of Representatives.

In a statement, Al-Asheikh commended the progress and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Jordan in various fields. He emphasized that the leaderships of both countries are keen to strengthen and consolidate bilateral relations to meet the aspirations of their brotherly peoples.

He praised the Shoura Council’s use of parliamentary diplomacy to promote relations between Saudi Arabia and other countries, through which the council seeks to build bridges that consolidate relations, share views, and highlight the Kingdom’s positions on various issues and events.

During the visit, Al-Asheikh will hold talks with Safadi, focusing on enhancing cooperation in parliamentary fields, unifying efforts by coordinating common positions and visions in regional and international forums and platforms, and strengthening mechanisms of dialogue and parliamentary cooperation. He will also meet with Senate President Faisal Al-Fayez, Senate officials and other senior officials in Jordan.

 


Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan

Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan

Saudi deputy foreign minister and US envoy discuss war in Sudan
  • They held talks on sidelines of international humanitarian conference in Paris for the war-torn African nation

RIYADH: The Saudi deputy minister of foreign affairs, Waleed Elkhereiji, and the US special envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello, held talks on Monday in Paris on the sidelines of an international humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.

They discussed the latest developments in the war-torn country, ways in which cooperation between their countries might be enhanced, and other issues of common interest, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Donors pledged more than $2.13 billion in aid during the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said, which took place on the first anniversary of what humanitarian workers described as a neglected but devastating conflict.

They said efforts to help millions of people driven to the verge of famine by the civil war have been held up by continuing fighting between the Sudanese army and rival paramilitary organization the Rapid Support Forces, restrictions imposed by the warring factions, and the financial demands donors are facing as a result of other global crises, including the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.