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

1 / 4
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)
2 / 4
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)
3 / 4
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)
4 / 4
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)
Short Url
Updated 30 March 2024
Follow

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.”

 


Award winners crowned at close of Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

Award winners crowned at close of Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh

RIYADH: Award winners were crowned on the final day of the fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh on Saturday, at a ceremony attended by prominent artistic and cinematic names, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The winners were nominated by a jury headed by Ibrahim Al-Hasawi from Saudi Arabia, who was joined by Bassam Al-Thawadi from Bahrain, Rawda Al-Thani from Qatar, Khaled Amin from Kuwait, Nujoom Al-Ghanem from the UAE and Ibrahim Al-Zadjali from Oman.
“Hajjan,” a coming-of-age drama set in Saudi Arabia about two brothers who battle to save their favorite camel starring Omar Al-Atawi and Abdulmohsen Alnemr, won the award for best feature film.
It also picked up the best photography award, with Jerry Fassbender recognized for his work on the film. Al-Atawi won the best actor award for his role.
The best actress award went to Bahraini Maryam Zeman for her part in the movie “My Word.”
The award for best short film went to the heavily tipped “Clouds,” about a widower and war veteran who are forced to balance their own morals with societal expectations in southern Oman, directed by Muzna Almusafer.
The award for best documentary film went to Mansoor Al-Dhaheri’s climate change expose “Swimming 62.”
Ziad Al-Hussein took home two awards, including one for best director, for his film “Shiabni Hani.”
The award for best original soundtrack went to Khaled Al-Kammar for his music that featured in the movie “Hawjan,” a modern twist on the ancient Arab jinn mythology, which also opened the latest edition of the Red Sea Festival last year.
The Gulf Cinema Festival was held under the patronage of Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Film Commission, which organized the event.
This year’s festival hosted screenings of 29 films, three training workshops and six cultural seminars.
Abdullah Al-Qahtani, CEO of the commission, said in a speech during the ceremony that the festival embodied a commitment to supporting the film sector in the region and building bridges for cinematic cooperation between the Gulf countries.
He thanked Prince Badr for his sponsorship and support of the festival and the film sector in Saudi Arabia, as well as the general secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Merwas — Riyadh’s beating heart of creativity

Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Merwas — Riyadh’s beating heart of creativity

  • World’s largest music production studio is nurturing Saudi talent, streamlining local industry

RIYADH: Riyadh’s Merwas, considered the biggest art and entertainment factory globally, is proving to be one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest music industry assets.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri, co-founder and CEO of Merwas, told Arab News that the facility, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest music production studio, “is home to all artists.”

She added: “The methodology behind it is to create solutions through the subsidiaries, and invest in both talent and infrastructure.

“Alongside it being a one-stop shop for all content creators, we strive to take our local talents from local to global and create a unique stamp in the industry.”

Spread across almost 5,000 square meters, Merwas fosters creativity, collaboration, and the production of multimedia content, along with hosting workshops, networking sessions, and community events. (AN photos by Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub/Supplied)

The entertainment zone and audiovisual production studio, located in Boulevard Riyadh City, houses 22 main studios alongside its academy.

Some of the top musicians in the world have visited Merwas since it opened in 2022. These include DJ Khaled, the acclaimed Saudi singer Rabeh Saqer, and the Emirati singer Ahlam. Afrojack, a world-renowned Dutch DJ and producer, also led an electronic music boot camp to nurture local talent and inspire a new generation of Saudi artists.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Merwas, located in Boulevard Riyadh City, houses 22 main studios alongside its academy.

• The academy’s classes offer local creatives and artists direct access to seasoned expertise.

• The Earth Sound Studio, or ESS, named after the late Saudi composer Talal Maddah.

Spread across almost 5,000 square meters, the culture factory fosters creativity, collaboration, and the production of multimedia content, while providing artists with access to top-tier services, facilities and industry expertise.

Spread across almost 5,000 square meters, Merwas fosters creativity, collaboration, and the production of multimedia content, along with hosting workshops, networking sessions, and community events. (AN photos by Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub/Supplied)

The Earth Sound Studio, or ESS, named after the late Saudi composer Talal Maddah, features state-of-the-art technology, such as the SSL console, which is used to create depth on music tracks and ensures the true soul of the artist’s voice is protected.

This live recording space is booked almost every day by various artists, and has been used by some of the Arab region’s biggest stars.

The facility, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest music production studio, is home to all artists according to co-founder Nada Al-Tuwaijri. (Supplied)

One of the only five Neve consoles in the world can be found in the Neve Studio. The panel is known for its high-quality sound and warmth, and is ideal for music recording, vocal tracking, and mixing for exceptional audio quality.

Its live studio can accommodate over 120 orchestra members and their instruments to provide a unique recording experience.

Spread across almost 5,000 square meters, Merwas fosters creativity, collaboration, and the production of multimedia content, along with hosting workshops, networking sessions, and community events. (AN photos by Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub/Supplied)

Specifically designed for electronic music production, the EMP Suite is a DJ’s dream, with cutting edge synthesizers and digital audio workstations ensuring an artist leaves the room with a fully produced track.

Merwas is also home to three production suites, designed for content creators who require a comfortable and professional environment for music production, editing, and mixing. Each suite is equipped with industry-standard gear, software, and acoustics to support a wide range of projects.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri, Merwas cofounder and CEO

The studio also provides private rehearsal spaces to ensure Saudi talents are nourished to their full potential. The versatile space is designed for musicians, performers, and other artists to rehearse and refine their craft within a comfortable environment with access to instruments and equipment.

Part of the charm of recording studios is the live jam sessions that have given birth to some of the most iconic records to date. Merwas’ Band Live/Control Room also captures the spontaneity of live performance within its soundproof walls.

Alongside (Merwas) being a one-stop shop for all content creators, we strive to take our local talents from local to global and create a unique stamp in the industry.

Nada Al-Tuwaijri, Merwas cofounder and CEO

Championing audiovisual pursuits, the studio has made space for high-quality podcasts and videos to come to life.

The podcast suite and FM radio recording spaces are tailored to immerse listeners with unbeatable audio clarity, while the 25-meter-long Green Screen room helps ideas come to life, whether commercial, film, or music video.

Spread across almost 5,000 square meters, Merwas fosters creativity, collaboration, and the production of multimedia content, along with hosting workshops, networking sessions, and community events. (AN photos by Abdulrhman Bin Shalhoub/Supplied)

Material can then be edited at the color-grading suite, which is essentially a small theater with 4K projector. Producers, directors, writers, and engineers gather here to put the final visual touches on video projects through its DaVinci color grading software and hardware.

Academy Classes offers local creatives and artists direct access to seasoned expertise. These feature advanced stations for sound production, engineering, and technical programs, with everything necessary for a basic understanding and training of music production.

The studio hosts workshops, networking sessions, and community events in an effort to flourish the music industry locally while making it a magnet for international talent. Anyone can be a part of this community by booking a suite or signing up for a workshop on their website merwas.sa.

Merwas has positioned itself at the the forefront of the entertainment industry being the first of its kind in the MENA region. In less than a year since its launch, it has already became a hotspot for musicians across the globe to visit and utilize its services, from rising talents to international A-listers.

Founded by Al-Tuwaijri and Chief Content Officer Rumian Al-Rumayyan in partnership with Sela, Merwas treasures Saudi creativity and is a vital part of building an ecosystem and community for local artists.

Their partnership with the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property has set a new focus on preserving the rights of local creatives, pillared by the aim to enrich the culture of the Kingdom while empowering its citizens and their creativity in an environment of abundant knowledge, education in culture, art, entertainment and music.

 


15k held for labor, residency, border violations in Saudi Arabia

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
Updated 11 min 58 sec ago
Follow

15k held for labor, residency, border violations in Saudi Arabia

  • The report showed that among the 996 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 64 percent were Ethiopian, 33 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested almost 15,000 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 9,479 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 3,763 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 1,430 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 996 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 64 percent were Ethiopian, 33 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 37 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and six 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.

 


Authorities bust drug smugglers across Saudi Arabia

Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Authorities bust drug smugglers across Saudi Arabia

  • The Saudi government urges anyone with information related to suspected smuggling operations or customs violations to call the confidential hotline 1910, the international number +966114208417, or to email [email protected]

RIYADH: Saudi authorities recently made several drug-related arrests and confiscations in operations across the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Border Guard land patrols in Al-Ardah governorate, Jazan region arrested a Yemeni national attempting to smuggle 60 kg of qat.

In the Saqam sector of Najran region, the land patrols thwarted the smuggling of 58 kg of hashish.

The General Directorate of Narcotics Control arrested a Bangladeshi resident in the Hail region for attempting to sell methamphetamine, a narcotic substance commonly referred to as “shabu.”

The authorities also arrested a citizen in Jazan for selling amphetamines, highly addictive drugs that stimulate the central nervous system.

Preliminary legal procedures have been completed for all the individuals involved and all seized items have been handed over to the relevant authorities.

The Saudi government urges anyone with information related to suspected smuggling operations or customs violations to call the confidential hotline 1910, the international number +966114208417, or to email [email protected].

Tips received relating to smuggling and breaches of common customs law are treated with strict confidentiality. Financial rewards are offered for valid tips.

 


Saudi deputy FM meets Colombian counterpart in Bogota

Francisco Coy Granados receives Waleed Elkhereiji in Bogotá. (Supplied)
Updated 11 min 50 sec ago
Follow

Saudi deputy FM meets Colombian counterpart in Bogota

  • The two reviewed bilateral relations and ways in which they could be strengthened, along with the latest developments and issues of mutual concern

BOGOTÁ: Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed Elkhereiji recently met his Colombian counterpart, Francisco Coy Granados, the foreign ministry reported on X on Saturday.

During the meeting, the two reviewed bilateral relations and ways in which they could be strengthened, along with the latest developments and issues of mutual concern.

The meeting was also attended by Acting Charge d’Affairs of Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Colombia Mohammed Al-Shatri, and the director general of the deputy minister’s office, Mutashar Al-Enezi.