The Farasan Islands, a coral archipelago in the Red Sea, off the west coast of Saudi Arabia, has just been included in UNESCO’s world network of biosphere reserves. This is an encouraging promise for the preservation of this gold mine of biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine, in the midst of a period of increasing tourism activity in the region.
As part of its efforts to preserve the environment, UNESCO launched more than 50 years ago the safeguard program entitled “Man and the Biosphere”. Today, this program includes no less than 727 protected sites in 131 countries, in what is commonly called UNESCO’s world network of biosphere reserves.
To this long list, 20 new territories have just been added in 21 different countries, bringing the total coverage to the equivalent of 5% of the Earth’s landmass.
The Farasan Islands, the “Saudi Maldives”
Located some 40 kilometers off the coast of the city of Jizan, in the west of the country, this small archipelago composed of three main islands (84 in total) is a real anthill of life. They are home to rare and endemic species of flora and fauna that contribute to make this reserve the first biosphere reserve in Saudi Arabia.
Among others, threatened red mangrove specimens, a relict population of Dugong classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list, and the largest population of Idmi gazelles in the country, are some of the animals that can be found in the area, along with pelicans, crabbers and fishing birds, but also dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and manta rays that make up the local underwater fauna.
Nature, but not only
In addition, nature is not the only element to preserve since the regional culture is also very rich, with notably the presence of an old Ottoman fort built in 1832, which still stands in the area. The local communities also use traditional forms of small-scale subsistence farming and fishing with ancestral methods. A whole range of skills that have been passed down through the ages and that should be preserved to best promote the local culture.