How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes

Special How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes
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In a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast. (NCW photo)
Special How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes
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In a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast. (NCW photo)
Special How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes
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In a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast. (NCW photo)
Special How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes
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In a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast. (NCW photo)
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Updated 30 March 2024
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How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes

How Saudi Arabia champions cutting-edge research into unique Red Sea marine environments — blue holes
  • Expeditions carried out by the Saudi National Center for Wildlife and OceanX have revealed 20 blue holes
  • Future exploration will further map these extremely deep underwater formations and identify diverse species

RIYADH: While Saudi Arabia has long been feted for its ancient sites, distinctive culture and sweeping desert landscapes, recent strides in marine research and exploration could soon see scientists and tourists alike flocking to the Kingdom’s bluer regions.

In just the first year of a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast.

Blue holes, named for their vibrant color, have long been recognized as havens for a diverse array of marine life, attracting researchers eager to study their remarkable biodiversity and leisure divers drawn to their profound natural beauty.

 

 

Mohammad Qurban, CEO of NCW, said that the discovery of blue holes marked a significant milestone in the Kingdom’s exploration of marine ecosystems.

“The blue holes’ discovery in Saudi Arabia was a result of the groundbreaking exploration effort in collaboration with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology during the Red Sea Decade Expedition,” he told Arab News.

“Exploring the Wonders of the Red Sea: A Decade Expedition” is an unprecedented scientific research expedition launched last year by the NCW in partnership with OceanX and KAUST.




The OceanXplorer. (NCW photo)

Researchers are using advanced diving techniques, remote sensing technologies, remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles to examine the geology, hydrology, biology and chemistry of the blue holes to unravel the mysteries of these unique ecosystems.

“Scientific diving allows for direct observation and sample collection, while technology enables the mapping and study of blue holes’ deeper and more inaccessible parts,” Carlos Duarte, the expedition’s chief scientist and a distinguished professor of marine science at KAUST, told Arab News.

Duarte is credited with having identified a previously unexplored area of the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast, which extends north from Jazan to Al-Lith, as an area of potential interest for marine conservation.




Researchers are using advanced diving techniques to examine the biology and chemistry of the blue holes. (NCW photo)

“This is a labyrinth of coral reefs, which I explored during a few years using a KAUST research vessel,” he said.

“Venturing through this labyrinth is a daunting task, as it has very shallow areas adjacent to deep areas. On one occasion, the bow of the vessel was just above an emerging coral reef, but the depth sounder, which is located 15 meters toward the stern of the vessel, read 750 meters.”

Duarte said that he must have been right next to a blue hole without even knowing it, “as we did not have the necessary mapping underwater equipment at the time.




In a decade-long expedition led by Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife, 20 extremely deep underwater sinkholes, known as “blue holes,” were discovered along the Kingdom’s southern Red Sea coast. (NCW photo)

“Hence, I targeted this area in the design of the Red Sea Decade Expedition — the most ambitious exploration of the Saudi Red Sea to date, led by the National Center of Wildlife, where I served as chief scientist and we had the right platform, the advanced research vessel OceanX, to explore this region.”

As a result of this latest expedition, researchers believe they have identified the existence of two types of blue holes — blue rings and sunken lagoons.

Blue rings are cylinders of coral that rise from about 400 meters deep and are topped by a ring of coral extending to the surface, whereas sunken lagoons are formed by the collapse of carbonate platforms and can be as deep as 700 meters — or perhaps even deeper.




A closer view of a blue ring, composed of cylinders of coral that rise from about 400 meters deep. (NCW photo)

“We explored with an advanced vessel, submersibles, deep-water robots, a shallow-draft mapping vessel and a helicopter, coupled with advanced sequencing technology,” Duarte said.




Carlos Duarte

“The National Center of Wildlife is planning a subsequent expedition to explore and map the many blue holes that we could not explore, as conserving this natural treasure must be based on the best possible data.”

Duarte said that blue holes are worthy of particular attention by conservationists because of the many endangered marine species that depend on them.

“These are unique features, a few of which have been described elsewhere in the ocean, but not in the number and size of the blue holes in the Saudi Red Sea,” he said.

“We observed marine mammals seeking refuge inside these blue holes, which they seem to be using as a nursery, with their newborns protected in their interior.

“Blue holes contribute in a multifaceted way by uncovering geological processes driving the dynamics of carbonate platforms and expressing the limits of environments for marine life through the extreme conditions they present.

“They also provide evidence of the importance of physical shelter for vulnerable marine life, thereby informing conservation efforts.”




Researchers are also using remote sensing technologies, remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles to examine the biology and chemistry of the blue holes. (NCW photo)

What makes blue holes so fascinating, however, is their extreme depth, much of which is beyond the reach of even the most advanced underwater exploration methods. At those depths, some of the hardiest and least understood organisms flourish.

“At depth, they are deprived of oxygen, presenting unique biological communities that deserve further attention,” Duarte said.

“They are even mysterious for local fishermen, who do not venture inside this reef labyrinth, and their true nature can only be gathered from the air at low altitude, so even satellites cannot really accurately portray their nature.”

DID YOU KNOW?

• Exploring the Wonders of the Sea: A Decade Long Expedition has mapped more than 62,000 sq km of seabed and collected more than 800 samples.

• The expedition team reported numerous sightings of megafauna across the Red Sea, including sharks, manta rays and turtles.

• NCW is researching biological diversity and threats to these important marine environments in Saudi waters of the Red Sea.

Because of the rare characteristics of these environments and the precious species that depend on them, Qurban said that the NCW is implementing a dedicated conservation effort aimed at protecting blue holes.

“These efforts include establishing marine protected areas, regulating diving and fishing activities, and conducting scientific research to understand the ecological significance of blue holes better,” he said.

The environmental goals of these expeditions fall in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification plan, initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, and the Saudi Green Initiative, established in 2021.




With the discovery that precious species depend on the blue holes, the NCW is implementing a dedicated conservation effort to protect them. (NCW)

“The National Center for Wildlife is working toward preserving 30 percent of the Red Sea waters as protected areas by 2030, in addition to closely collaborating with local environmental agencies, marine conservation organizations, research institutions and stakeholders to develop and implement a holistic conservation strategy aimed at safeguarding blue holes.”

As for the future of Saudi marine exploration in the Red Sea, Duarte said that the latest blue hole discoveries are just the tip of the iceberg.

“They have been at an ‘arm’s length’ from us for millennia, but only now we were able to explore them,” he said.

“What we found is simply the beginning, as many remain to be explored and those we were able to explore may not be the most remarkable ones.”

 


Saudi, Iraq officials meet to discuss border security

Saudi, Iraq officials meet to discuss border security
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi, Iraq officials meet to discuss border security

Saudi, Iraq officials meet to discuss border security

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Iraq officials have been meeting in Baghdad to discuss border-security issues, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Shayie bin Salem Al-Wadaani, director-general of Saudi Arabia’s Border Guards, led the Kingdom’s delegation at Iraq’s Ministry of Interior headquarters.

During the meeting, the officials discussed ways to enhance security cooperation, the SPA reported.


Saudi crown prince reassures nation about king’s health during Cabinet meeting

Saudi crown prince reassures nation about king’s health during Cabinet meeting
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi crown prince reassures nation about king’s health during Cabinet meeting

Saudi crown prince reassures nation about king’s health during Cabinet meeting
  • King Salman is undergoing treatment for lung inflammation
  • Crown prince briefed council on outcomes of Arab League Summit

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made reassuring comments about King Salman’s health during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The king underwent medical tests at royal clinics at Al-Salam Palace on Sunday after he suffered from a high temperature and joint pain, SPA said. 

He was diagnosed with lung inflammation and prescribed a course of antibiotics as treatement at the palace in Jeddah.

The crown prince also briefed the council on the outcomes of the Arab League Summit, emphasizing the Kingdom's commitment to Arab issues, joint action development, regional security enhancement, and defending Arab interests.

Minister of Information Salman bin Youssef Al-Dosari stated after the session that the council discussed recent state activities, particularly efforts to strengthen regional and international cooperation.

The council affirmed the Kingdom's commitment to international cooperation in combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and corruption.

The Saudi cabinet also granted authority to the Minister of Energy, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman, to finalize a memorandum of understanding with Pakistan on energy cooperation. 

The cabinet also approved the Kingdom's accession to an international agreement on wetlands of international importance, particularly as habitats for waterbirds.


Saudi, Japanese culture ministers discuss cooperation

Saudi, Japanese culture ministers discuss cooperation
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi, Japanese culture ministers discuss cooperation

Saudi, Japanese culture ministers discuss cooperation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Farhan met in Tokyo on Tuesday his Japanese counterpart Masahito Moriyama.

The pair discussed enhancing cultural cooperation between the two countries within the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030.

Prince Badr said the Kingdom’s participation in Expo 2025 Osaka will offer opportunities to learn about the Saudi culture, history, and future vision.

Moriyama thanked Prince Badr for the Saudi ministry’s efforts in opening new horizons to enhance cultural exchange between the two countries.


Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president
  • Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian died on Sunday when their helicopter crashed in dense fog

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Waleed Elkhereiji, on Tuesday offered condolences and sympathy to Iran following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash.

Elkhereiji delivered the message, on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, to the Iranian ambassador to the Kingdom, Alireza Enayatiat, at the nation’s embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi foreign ministry said. He was accompanied by Abdulmajeed Al-Samari, the deputy minister for protocol affairs, who similarly expressed his condolences.

The Iranian president, foreign minister and six other people were killed on Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed amid dense fog in mountainous terrain near the border with Azerbaijan.


Saudi Arabia, Japan leaders exchange views in video summit meeting

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia, Japan leaders exchange views in video summit meeting

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. (SPA)
  • The crown prince expressed his desire to visit Japan as soon as possible to further strengthen ties with Japan
  • Kishida expressed his wishes for King Salman’s early recovery

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a productive video meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.
Kishida offered his best wishes for King Salman’s health, a gesture that was appreciated by the crown prince.
The crown prince expressed his desire to visit Japan as soon as possible to further strengthen ties with Japan. Kishida expressed his wishes for King Salman’s early recovery and said that he was also looking forward to strengthening the strategic partnership between Japan and Saudi Arabia, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo.
As the two countries approach the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, the Japanese prime minister expressed his desire to work even more closely with Saudi Arabia. He emphasized the shared goal of realizing peace and stability in the Middle East, a sentiment that was echoed by the crown prince. The leaders agreed to establish a “strategic partnership council” chaired by them to further strengthen bilateral relations.
Kishida expressed gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s stable supply of crude oil to Japan over the years. He also expressed his anticipation for Saudi Arabia to continue playing a leading role in stabilizing the global oil market, including through production increases, a sentiment that was appreciated by the crown prince.
Kishida added that he would like to cooperate in establishing a global supply chain for clean energy, such as hydrogen and ammonia, and promote cooperation in the field of mineral resources while using Japanese technology under the “lighthouse initiative” agreed between the two countries in July last year.
The crown prince said that Saudi Arabia would like to cooperate with Japan in various areas, including clean energy, and the Kingdom remained committed to providing a stable supply of crude oil to Japan.
Kishida expressed interest in creating business opportunities in Saudi Arabia, and making direct investments in Japan in a wide range of fields, including construction, power transmission, hydrogen, digital fields, information and communications technology, space, health, medicine, food and agriculture.
He also said that he would like to work together to achieve an early realization of the Japan-GCC free trade agreement. This agreement, once implemented, will significantly boost trade and investment between Japan and the GCC countries, creating new business opportunities and fostering economic growth. Negotiations are scheduled to resume soon.
The crown prince said that he welcomed the resumption of negotiations for the Japan-GCC free trade agreement and cooperation with Japan in fields beyond energy.
On peace and security, Kishida explained Japan’s diplomatic efforts and contributions in Gaza, including humanitarian aid and diplomatic initiatives. The crown prince said that he envisioned continued cooperation with Japan on diplomatic efforts to realize peace and stability, appreciating Japan’s active role in the region.
Kishida said that he would be pleased to hand over the symbolic “torch” of the expo to Saudi Arabia following Expo 2025 in Osaka-Kansai. This act symbolizes the continuation of the spirit of international cooperation and cultural exchange. He added that he would like to encourage cultural exchanges in entertainment, tourism, academia and football.
The crown prince said that Japan was an outstanding country in terms of culture and that he sought to strengthen cooperation with Japan in this area.
Read More: Saudi, Japan discuss ties at Vision 2030 business forum in Tokyo