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, Kosovo officials discuss parliamentary ties

Saudi, Kosovo officials discuss parliamentary ties
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Saudi, Kosovo officials discuss parliamentary ties

Saudi, Kosovo officials discuss parliamentary ties

RIYADH: The Saudi-Kosovo Parliamentary Friendship Committee, led by Khalid Al-Bawardi, the committee’s chairman and Saudi Shoura Council member, met with Kosovo’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kreshnik Ahmeti and other officials in Pristina.

Discussions aimed to boost bilateral relations and parliamentary cooperation between the Shoura Council and Kosovo Parliament, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Faisal Hifzi, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Albania and non-resident ambassador to Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, attended the meeting.

Additionally, the committee met with Podujeva’s Mayor Shpejtim Bulliqi and discussed cooperation in municipal affairs. The mayor praised Saudi Arabia’s environmental conservation efforts.

The Shoura Council delegation also engaged with local companies, reviewing Kosovo’s future projects and discussing opportunities for economic cooperation.


Saudi authorities arrest 17,030 illegals in one week

Saudi authorities arrest 17,030 illegals in one week
Updated 46 min 27 sec ago
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Saudi authorities arrest 17,030 illegals in one week

Saudi authorities arrest 17,030 illegals in one week

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 17,030 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

According to an official report, a total of 10,662 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 4,147 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,221 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 1,119 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 71 percent were Ethiopian, 27 percent Yemeni, and 2 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 65 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and 17 were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be facilitating illegal entry to the Kingdom, including providing transportation and shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), as well as confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.


KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen

KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen
Updated 25 May 2024
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KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen

KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s aid agency KSrelief  continued its humanitarian projects in Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Yemen.
In Sudan, the agency distributed 950 personal hygiene kits to displaced and needy families in Kosti, benefiting 5,463 individuals. In Wad Sharifi, 330 food parcels were provided to displaced families, benefiting 1,710 individuals. 
Meanwhile in Lebanon, KSrelief continued its implementation of the Al-Amal Charitable Bakery Project in Akkar and Miniyeh. The project distributed 150,000 loaves of bread daily to Syrian and Palestinian refugee families, or about 62,500 individuals.
In Yemen, 897 food parcels were delivered in Al-Abr, benefiting 6,237 individuals, as part of the Kingdom’s humanitarian initiative.
in Somalia, KSrelief continued providing medical services in collaboration with the Kidney Dialysis Center at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu. The center catered to a total of 384 patients and assisted dialysis, medical examination and emergency sessions.


12 arrested in qat smuggling attempt in Saudi Arabia

12 arrested in qat smuggling attempt in Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 May 2024
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12 arrested in qat smuggling attempt in Saudi Arabia

12 arrested in qat smuggling attempt in Saudi Arabia
  • A separate smuggling attempt of 70kg of qat was thwarted in Jazan Region

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 12 Yemeni nationals for attempting to smuggle 266kg of qat through the borders of Asir region, state news agency SPA reported.
The items were seized and handed over to the relevant authority, SPA said on Friday.
A separate smuggling attempt of 70kg of qat was thwarted in Jazan region. Border authorities said the suspects were arrested and the seized items were transferred to relevant authorities for further action.

Mostly chewed by users, Qat is a mild stimulant and illegal across most of the Arab world.

The government has urged citizens and residents to report any information they have regarding drug smuggling or sales to the General Directorate of Narcotics Control. Reports can be made by calling 911 for Makkah, Riyadh and the Eastern Province, and 999 for other regions. Alternatively, information can be emailed to [email protected]. All reports are treated confidentially.

 


Saudi foreign minister meets French counterpart, discusses bilateral relations and situation in Gaza

Saudi foreign minister meets French counterpart, discusses bilateral relations and situation in Gaza
Updated 25 May 2024
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Saudi foreign minister meets French counterpart, discusses bilateral relations and situation in Gaza

Saudi foreign minister meets French counterpart, discusses bilateral relations and situation in Gaza

PARIS: Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah met on Friday with French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Stephane Sejourne in Paris.

The two ministers discussed Saudi-French relations and ways to enhance them as well as improve coordination on various issues of mutual concern.

The two officials also discussed the current situation in Gaza and its surroundings and the need to deliver humanitarian assistance to the civilians in the enclave.

The meeting was attended by Saudi Ambassador to France Fahd bin Mayouf Al-Ruwaili, Foreign Minister’s Office Director General Abdulrahman Al-Dawood and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Advisor Dr. Manal Radwan.