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Farasan Islands: Saudi Arabia’s little-known gem

Nestled in the Red Sea, approximately 40 kilometers off the coast of Jazan, on the Kingdom’s south-western coast, lies a cluster of coral islands known as the Farasan Islands. This remote archipelago, renowned for its white shorelines and bucolic vistas, has remained relatively untouched throughout history. 

The history of Jazan, the coastal town that serves as the gateway to the Farasan Islands, dates back to the first millennium BC. However, it is the islands themselves that bear witness to the convergence of diverse cultures. The name “Farasan” is derived from “Portus Ferresanus”, a Latin inscription found on the main island and dating from 144 AD. The archipelago also contains numerous other artefacts from the Roman era, including a Roman folded suit of armour made from copper ingots known as “lorica squamata”. Over the centuries, the Farasan Islands have attracted the interest of various civilisations, including the Ottomans and the Germans. During the Second World War, the islands’ strategic location in the Red Sea led to the construction of a German fort on one of the islands in the archipelago.


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A geographical marvel

Declared a protected area by royal decree in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the Farasan Islands comprise more than 170 coral reef-uplifted islands and islets. These islands, situated 40 to 90 kilometers offshore from the city of Jazan, were created from fossil coral reefs that were lifted to ground level, providing a unique living habitat. The archipelago is positioned on the Arabian continental shelf, which stretches 120 kilometers wide and is less than 200 meters deep off the coast of Jazan.

Notably, among the 170 islands, only three are inhabited, with Farasan being the largest and most populous island. This island is home to approximately 12,000 permanent residents who have lived there for decades, often traveling to Jazan for employment opportunities. The Farasan Islands, with their rich marine life and tranquil environment, offer a stark contrast to the bustling city life that can be found on the mainland.


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To protect the biodiversity found in the Farasan Islands, a “Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary” has been established, gaining recognition as a UNESCO protected area. This sanctuary plays a crucial role in preserving the habitat of endangered terrestrial creatures, as well as serving as a sanctuary for migratory birds traveling from Europe.

The coral reefs surrounding the islands are teeming with marine life, making them a paradise for divers and snorkelers. Visitors tend to be attracted to the coral gardens, as they travel to the archipelago to encounter diverse species of fish, and witness the natural beauty of this underwater wonderland.

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Published on 8 November 2023

#Saudi Arabia