Saudi Arabia set to lead the world in ecotourism and marine conservation

Saudi Arabia set to lead the world in ecotourism and marine conservation

Boats anchored along the Red Sea coast, in Saudi Arabia. (AFP file photo)
Boats anchored along the Red Sea coast, in Saudi Arabia. (AFP file photo)
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Saudi Arabia has embarked on a race to explore unseen parts of the Red Sea, aiming to safeguard and preserve the Kingdom’s biodiversity under Saudi Vision 2030. The Red Sea Decade Expedition — a mission that endeavored to comprehensively explore the Red Sea — has already yielded a long list of discoveries.

The discovery of blue holes in Saudi Arabian waters was among the most remarkable. At about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Al-Qunfudhah, the blue holes can be viewed from the sky as perfectly circular coral reefs that encase a distinct blue color, marking deep water inside.

We sailed toward the southern Red Sea aboard OceanXplorer — a research vessel equipped with manned submersibles, deep-sea robots, a helicopter, and other advanced technologies.

We were aware that the Farasan Bank — a submerged carbonate platform boasting the world’s third-largest coral reef system — held extraordinary structural complexity beneath the sea’s surface, but what we found exceeded our expectations.

We reviewed nautical charts of the Farasan Bank, and an area of seemingly deep water between a labyrinth of extremely shallow coral reefs caught our attention. These areas had not been mapped in more than a century, nor had they been subject to targeted scientific exploration.

Blue holes’ discovery solidifies Saudi Arabia’s status as a world-class ecotourism destination and global leader in marine conservation.

Shannon Klein

Using OceanXplorer’s helicopter, we surveyed the sea’s surface and found 10 of the blue holes during our first flight. We were not alone in our interest in these unique formations. We were joined by sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and whales with their newly born calves. Some of these animals even showed us how to gain access to the deep waters inside.

We followed a pod of dolphins through a small channel, just deep enough for us to scrape through in a small tender vessel. Once inside, we mapped the structure of the holes, retrieved samples and deployed sensors to characterize the conditions, while OceanXplorer deployed its submersibles and robots to explore the holes’ deep outer walls.

On the outside, shallow coral reefs support a diversity of marine life. Inside, the deep water plummets to 50 meters and the outside walls extend 300 meters below the sea’s surface. The deep-sea vehicles gathered the first images of coral reefs hidden deep below the surface, reaching down as far as 130 meters.

Some marine species cannot be seen with deep-sea vehicles due to their elusive nature. We used advanced technologies to extract DNA from the water samples to catalog the marine life that makes its home in these unique ecosystems.

I had the honor of leading the research team that discovered the blue holes alongside renowned scientists Dr. Mohammed Qurban, CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, and Prof. Carlos Duarte, the scientific coordinator for the expedition. Their strong leadership forged a multinational, collaborative environment.

Aligned with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals, the National Center for Wildlife is leading the initiative to expand Saudi Arabia’s protected marine areas to include these unique ecosystems. The blue holes’ discovery solidifies Saudi Arabia’s status as a world-class ecotourism destination and global leader in marine conservation.

Shannon Klein is a research scientist in the Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in the Red Sea Ecology research group at KAUST who focuses on environmental change in the world’s oceans and solutions for rebuilding tropical marine life. X: @Dr_ShannonKlein


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view

Analysts hail Saudi FM’s ‘significant’ visit, say investments will boost Pakistan’s economy

Analysts hail Saudi FM’s ‘significant’ visit, say investments will boost Pakistan’s economy
Updated 7 min 31 sec ago

Analysts hail Saudi FM’s ‘significant’ visit, say investments will boost Pakistan’s economy

Analysts hail Saudi FM’s ‘significant’ visit, say investments will boost Pakistan’s economy
  • Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister visited Pakistan this week to discuss investments and enhance bilateral economic cooperation
  • Former diplomat says Saudi investments could increase to $25 billion if Pakistan provides conducive environment to Saudi investors

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani diplomats and analysts on Wednesday hailed Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud’s “significant” visit to Pakistan, saying that investment agreements reached between the two sides could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs in the South Asian country and boost its economic prospects. 
Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Islamabad on a two-day official visit on Monday. The minister led a high-powered delegation to Islamabad with his visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. 
His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
“Pakistan has longstanding ties with Saudi Arabia but now it has taken a new dimension of economic cooperation,” Zahid Hussain, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Arab News. 
“And that’s why this visit was very significant.” 
Hussain said the Saudi foreign minister’s visit had turned out to be a “very productive” one as both sides held discussions on investment opportunities that he said Pakistan could offer to Saudi businessmen.
“They have discussed various opportunities which are beneficial for Saudis for investment and that could be said as the turning point in the Pakistan and Saudi relationship,” Hussain added.
During his two-day official trip, the Saudi foreign minister held meetings with top civilian and military leadership including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and army chief General Syed Asim Munir. The Saudi delegation was also briefed by the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a key government body set up in June 2023 to fast-track decisions related to international investment in Pakistan’s key sectors IT, mining, energy and agriculture.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday along with his counterpart Ishaq Dar, Prince Faisal said there was a “significant opportunity” for the Kingdom to increase its investments in Pakistan. 
Former diplomat Javed Hafeez said potential Saudi investments will enhance Pakistan’s exports and lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs for Pakistani professionals in the energy, mining, agriculture, and other sectors. 
“This would have an overall positive effect on other sectors as well and on Pakistan’s economy,” he noted.
Hafeez said the Kingdom’s investments in Pakistan could increase to the tune of $25 billion from initial investments of $5 billion, provided Islamabad succeeds in ensuring a conducive environment for Saudi investors. 
“I see it [initial investments of $5 billion] as a test case,” Hafeez said. “If we can provide the foolproof security [to Saudi investors] and if these projects are successful, then of course much more investment will come.”

Saudi FM receives phone call from EU foreign policy chief

Saudi FM receives phone call from EU foreign policy chief
Updated 22 min 10 sec ago

Saudi FM receives phone call from EU foreign policy chief

Saudi FM receives phone call from EU foreign policy chief
  • Officials discussed Gaza war

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received a phone call on Wednesday from European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Saudi Press Agency reported.
The officials discussed the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and its surrounding areas, and the international efforts being made to end the war.
Earlier in February, Prince Faisal and Borrell held similar discussions on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.


‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side
Updated 17 April 2024

‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side
  • ‘Suffs’ is a Broadway musical that focuses on the American women’s suffrage movement
  • Pakistani Nobel laureate says musical helped her see her activism from a “new lens“

NEW YORK: Shaina Taub was in the audience at “Suffs,” her buzzy and timely new musical about women’s suffrage, when she spied something that delighted her.
It was intermission, and Taub, both creator and star, had been watching her understudy perform at a matinee preview last week. Suddenly, she saw audience members searching the Wikipedia pages of key figures portrayed in the show: women like Ida B. Wells, Inez Milholland and Alice Paul, who not only spearheaded the suffrage fight but also wrote the Equal Rights Amendment ( still not law, but that’s a whole other story).
“I was like, that’s my goal, exactly that!” Taub, who plays Paul, said from her dressing room later. “Do everything I can to make you fall in love with these women, root for them, care about them. So that was a really satisfying moment to witness.”
Satisfying but sobering, too. Fact is, few audience members know much about the American suffrage movement. So the all-female creative team behind “Suffs,” which had a high-profile off-Broadway run and opens Thursday on Broadway with extensive revisions, knows they’re starting from zero.
It’s an opportunity, says Taub, who studied social movements — but not suffrage — at New York University. But it’s also a huge challenge: How do you educate but also entertain?
One member of the “Suffs” team has an especially poignant connection to the material. That would be producer Hillary Clinton.
She was, of course, the first woman to win the US presidential nomination of a major party, and the first to win the popular vote. But Clinton says she never studied the suffrage movement in school, even at Wellesley. Only later in life did she fill in the gap, including a visit as first lady to Seneca Falls, home to the first American women’s rights convention some 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the vote.
“I became very interested in women’s history through my own work, and writing and reading,” Clinton told The Associated Press. And so, seeing “Suffs” off-Broadway, “I was thrilled because it just helps to fill a big gap in our awareness of the long, many-decades struggle for suffrage.”
It was Taub who wrote Clinton, asking her to come on board. “I thought about it for a nanosecond,” Clinton says, “and decided absolutely, I wanted to help lift up this production.” A known theater lover, Clinton describes traveling often to New York as a college student and angling for discounts, often seeing only the second act, when she could get in for free. “For years, I’d only seen the second act of ‘Hair,’” she quips.
Clinton then reached out to Malala Yousafzai, whom Taub also hoped to engage as a producer. As secretary of state, Clinton had gotten to know the Pakistani education activist who was shot by a Taliban gunman at age 15. Clinton wanted Yousafzai to know she was involved and hoped the Nobel Peace Prize winner would be, too.
“I’m thrilled,” Clinton says of Yousafzai’s involvement, “because yes, this is an American story, but the pushback against women’s rights going on at this moment in history is global.”
Yousafzai had also seen the show, directed by Leigh Silverman, and loved it. She, too, has been a longtime fan of musicals, though she notes her own acting career began and ended with a school skit in Pakistan, playing a not-very-nice male boss. Her own education about suffrage was limited to “one or two pages in a history book that talked about the suffrage movement in the UK,” where she’d moved for medical treatment.
“I still had no idea about the US side of the story,” Yousafzai told the AP. It was a struggle among conflicting personalities, and a clash over priorities between older and younger activists but also between white suffragists and those of color — something the show addresses with the searing “Wait My Turn,” sung by Nikki M. James as Wells, the Black activist and journalist.
“This musical has really helped me see activism from a different lens,” says Yousafzai. “I was able to take a deep breath and realize that yes, we’re all humans and it requires resilience and determination, conversation, open-mindedness … and along the way you need to show you’re listening to the right perspectives and including everyone in your activism.”
When asked for feedback by the “Suffs” team, Yousafzai says she replied that she loved the show just as it was. (She recently paid a visit to the cast, and toured backstage.) Clinton, who has attended rehearsals, quips: “I sent notes, because I was told that’s what producers do.”
Clinton adds: “I love the changes. It takes a lot of work to get the storytelling right — to decide what should be sung versus spoken, how to make sure it’s not just telling a piece of history, but is entertaining.”
Indeed, the off-Broadway version was criticized by some as feeling too much like a history lesson. The new version feels faster and lighter, with a greater emphasis on humor — even in a show that details hunger strikes and forced feedings.
One moment where the humor shines through: a new song titled “Great American Bitch” that begins with a suffragist noting a man had called her, well, a bitch. The song reclaims the word with joy and laughter. Taub says this moment — and another where an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson (played by Grace McLean, in a cast that’s all female or nonbinary) is burned — has been a hit with audiences.
“As much as the show has changed,” she says, “the spine of it is the same. A lot of what I got rid of was just like clearing brush.”
Most of the original cast has returned. Jenn Colella plays Carrie Chapman Catt, an old-guard suffragist who clashed with the younger Paul over tactics and timing. James returns as Wells, while Milholland, played by Phillipa Soo off-Broadway, is now played by Hannah Cruz.
Given its parallels to a certain Lin-Manuel Miranda blockbuster about the Founding Fathers, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the show has been dubbed “Hermilton” by some.
“I have to say,” Clinton says of Taub, “I think she’s doing for this part of American history what Lin did for our founders — making it alive, approachable, understandable. I’m hoping ‘Suffs’ has the same impact ‘Hamilton’ had.”
That may seem a tall order, but producers have been buoyed by audience reaction. “They’re laughing even more than we thought they would at the parts we think are funny, and cheering at other parts,” Clinton says.
A particular cheer comes at the end, when Paul proposes the ERA. 
“A cast member said, ‘Who’d have ever thought the Equal Rights Amendment would get cheers in a Broadway theater?’” Clinton recalls.
One clear advantage the show surely has: timeliness. During the off-Broadway run, news emerged the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, fueling a palpable sense of urgency in the audience. The Broadway run begins as abortion rights are again in the news — and a key issue in the presidential election only months away.
Taub takes the long view. She’s been working on the show for a decade, and says something’s always happening to make it timely.
“I think,” she muses, “it just shows the time is always right to learn about women’s history.”

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 56 min 18 sec ago

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
  • John Catlin carried on his good form with a round of 66 at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh is the best-placed Saudi player at even par

RIYADH: John Catlin leads the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF after an opening round of 66 saw him carry on the strong form he showed when winning the International Series Macau in March, as he praised the facilities on offer at Riyadh Golf Club.

American Catlin is a five-time Asian Tour winner and sits at six-under par with Wade Ormsby, Justin Quiban, Tatsunori Shogenji and Scott Hend all just one shot back after the first day of action. Asian Tour Order of Merit leader and LIV Golf member David Puig was well-placed to end the day level with Catlin before a double bogey on the 16th dropped him back to the group of four players at four-under par.

Catlin played in the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City three years ago, but this is his first visit to the capital and he praised the tournament, noting the strong field was inevitable given the standard of tournaments Golf Saudi continues to host.

Catlin said: “It’s my second time coming to Saudi Arabia and when I played the Saudi International it was a top class event and this is right up there with it. Everything so far has been run very, very well, the facilities are really good and I am enjoying myself for sure. Good players like playing good events, and if you put on a good event like this, you’re going to get a strong field.

“I played solid golf. It was playing difficult out there and the wind picked up from the start. You had to think your way around and I did that quite well. I had control of my ball flight and was able to get the ball pin high a lot, which is difficult out here. I holed a few nice putts too. I look forward to the challenge tomorrow when we might see even more wind.”

Khalid Walid Attieh made history in Oman earlier this year when he became the first Saudi amateur to make a cut at the International Series event in Muscat and he carried on his strong form on the opening day in Riyadh. His round of 72 was the best among the seven Saudi golfers in the field, while Moroccan Ayoub Lguirati ended on one-under par to lead the 20 invited Arab golfers.

Attieh said: “I was really pleased with how I played this morning as the wind made it really difficult. But my performance was at a good level and it confirmed to me that I am not far away from competing regularly with the best players on the Asian Tour.

“It is vital that Saudi players are given the opportunity to play in events with fields as strong as this, because we are all developing quickly. I thank Golf Saudi for their support and for the chance to play on the Asian Tour again.”

Last year’s runner-up Henrik Stenson is well placed to make a charge at two-under-par, while reigning champion Denwit Boriboonsub is one short further back after two bogeys in his final six holes.

The PIF Moment of the Day belonged to Thai golfer Itthipat Buranatanyarat, who teed off on the 10th hole and birdied his third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes of the day to storm to five-under-par, before ending the day joint-10th on three-under-par.

Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
Updated 48 min 10 sec ago

Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
  • ‘We learn from each other,’ Omani director Muzna Almusafer says
  • Success of industry ‘enhances Kingdom’s soft power on global stage,’ Saudi director Musab Alamri says

RIYADH: Leading lights and rising stars from the region’s blossoming film industry have been gathering this week at the fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh.

Among them is Omani director Muzna Almusafer, whose movie “Clouds” is in the running for a prize of SR50,000 ($13,300) in the shorts category.

Set in southern Oman, the film tells the story of a war veteran and widower as he navigates the crossroads of societal expectations and his values.

“It was a dream for me at the beginning, to write such a story … something very sensible, something very honest, something from my own life and what I encountered in my life,” Almusafer told Arab News.

“I don’t know if I will win, but I’m winning this,” she said. “I’m winning knowing you, knowing people. For me, this is an honor and this is a win itself.”

Speaking about the movie industry in Oman and Saudi Arabia, she said: “We learn from each other. It’s not about who is first and who is second. It’s about who can reflect better and who can say things better. And better is always depending on us as people, how we look at things and depending on the audience.

“As artists, we can teach people how to look at life from a different point of view.”

Two of the keys to the success of the region’s movie industry were funding and drive, she said.

“Funding is the first thing, because when you want to pay actors, when you want to pay a scriptwriter, it’s always money at the beginning.

“But then also your drive. It has to be lit all the time. You should have this fire inside you. You shouldn’t stop. Once you stop, you don’t have it. So it’s important that you continue and you know and you learn.”

Saudi movie director and critic Musab Alamri said the landscape of cinema in the region was changing.

“Previously, the UAE held the top position in box office sales. However, since 2022, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the leader in ticket sales revenue. Saudi Arabia now holds the top spot in the MENA region and ranks 14th globally in terms of revenue generation,” he told Arab News.

Where Qatar and the UAE were once the leaders in financial support for movie projects, Saudi Arabia was now in the driving seat, he said.

“Saudi Arabia has witnessed the emergence of significant financing opportunities, including the Red Sea International Festival Fund, the Cultural Development Fund, Daw Film and production support programs at the Ithra Center.”

The film “Norah” by Tawfik Alzaidi was an example of how far the industry had come, Alamri said.

The film, which received funding from the Saudi Film Commission under its Daw initiative, garnered a nomination for this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section, he said.

“Such successes highlight the significant impact of these programs in fostering the growth and recognition of Saudi cinema on the international stage.”

Despite a decline in feature production across the Gulf, the Saudi film industry was riding high, Alamri said.

“Throughout the past year and into the first quarter of 2024, there has been a monthly release of Saudi films in cinemas and on digital platforms such as Netflix. Saudi cinema has also gained prominence in international film festivals, with six Saudi feature films showcased at the recent edition of the Red Sea International Festival.

“This surge in Saudi cinema not only contributes to the local economy but also enhances Saudi Arabia’s soft power on the global stage.

“I anticipate that within the next eight to 10 years, Saudi Arabia will achieve self-sufficiency in film production, eliminating the need for direct government support. Saudi films will garner significant recognition at prestigious international festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto and Berlin.”

Saudi actor Baraa Alem said government initiatives, local and regional film festivals and the rise of independent filmmakers had all contributed to the “cultural richness” of the region’s movie industry.

The recognition received by movies like “Norah” and “Four Daughters,” which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and nominated for an Academy Award, was evidence of “that hard work,” he said.

Speaking about the Gulf Film Festival, he said: “By providing a forum for filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences to connect and engage, the festival not only celebrates the region’s cinematic achievements but also stimulates dialogue, creativity and innovation … (and contributes) to the continued growth and development of the Gulf film industry.

“As filmmakers from the gulf we share similar cultural values and identities.”

The festival ends on Thursday.