This year’s World Environment Day (WED) put a high beam on illegal trade of wildlife. Event sponsor, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), called on everyone to “go wild for life” and take action to help safeguard species under threat. In Saudi Arabia, a team of environmentalists and corporate volunteers took to a beach along the southern Red Sea to do their bit for marine life.
The Saudi crew, headed by an environmental team from Italian oil and gas contractor Saipem SpA, chose a beach cleaning project. Baish Beach is a stretch of sand in the Farasan Islands, located 50 km off the Saudi port city of Jazan, near Yemen and Eritrea. See the “before” condition, above, versus the “after” condition, below.
Volunteers from Aramco Management, Nasser S Al Hajri Corporation, and Consolidated Contractors International Company – ranging from day workers to Senior Vice Presidents – slapped on sunscreen and donned rubber work gloves (safety first!) and spent the day picking up plastic bottles, bags, and paper products. They raked smaller debris from the powdery sands.
In addition, Saipem engineers installed metal waste containers along the beach access road to encourage visitors to properly dispose of their garbage. The results were impressive, but without public education and penalties for littering, how long until the beach again looks like a landfill?
Earlier this year, Saudi tourism authorities announced that they targeted the Farasan Islands for development as the kingdom moves to diversify its economy beyond fossil fuels. Most of Saudi’s islands are along its Red Sea coast, some 1,150 in total. Sixty-six of these beaches – ringed by mangrove forests and coral reefs – have been selected for investment, including the three main Farasan islands (Farasan, Sajid and Muharraq).
Rustom Al-Kubaisi of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage told Telegraph Travel the country was aiming to attract luxury hotel developers to build “scuba diving, spa and resort facilities” on the three main islands. Readily accessible by ferry, the islands are home to nesting sea turtles, Arabian gazelle, and a wide range of seabirds. Perhaps they will coordinate with the developers of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, who have successfully combined five-star luxury with strict sustainability standards.
“For the time being it is aimed at Saudis and expats, but maybe Western tourists in the future, why not,” said Al-Kubaisi.
That “why not” prompts several responses. Restrictions on female travelers deter women from visiting Saudi Arabia; currently only foreign men come to the islands for underwater sports. The proximity to Yemen is problematic; as example the British Foreign Office currently deems Jazan off-limits for its subjects.
Jazan is the second smallest region of Saudi Arabia, running 300 km along the southern Red Sea coast, just north of Yemen. About 1.5 million people live in the archipelago. It’s Saudi’s poorest zip code, with about one third of its families living below the poverty line.
The Farasan Islands are Saudi Arabia’s first conservation protected area. Kudos to these volunteers for their efforts on Baish Beach. The cleanup team are all stakeholders in the Jazan IGCC (integrated gasification combined-cycle) project.
Images courtesy of Saipem SpA