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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is committed to the environment’s conservation and working to transform the landscape by promoting large-scale tree planting, combating desertification and enhancing biodiversity, an expert said at the first Hima protected areas forum in Riyadh.

Keynote speaker Dr. Faisal Wali, energy and water manager at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, who spoke on Monday on the “Conservation in an Era of Climate Change” panel, said: “Saudi Arabia is committed toward conservation.

“Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s economic and social reform plan, prioritizes environmental sustainability under the National Transformation Program, National Renewable Energy Program, Environmental Strategy and the Saudi Green Initiative, and aims to transform the landscape by promoting large-scale tree planting, combating desertification and enhancing biodiversity.”

The Arabian leopard, which is critically endangered, provided a flagship species for conservation efforts in the Kingdom, Wali noted. Recognizing Saudi Arabia’s efforts, the UN last year designated Feb. 10 as the International Day of the Arabian Leopard.

He went on to add that loss of habitat and fragmentation were major threats to wildlife and that the Kingdom had established protected areas and camera traps to monitor populations of its animals.

Speaking of conservation efforts in the Red Sea, he stressed that it was home to more than 1,200 species of fish and more than 300 types of hard corals in a unique ecosystem.

The Red Sea boasts the world’s largest coral nursery and research is being conducted on threatened species like the hawksbill sea turtle.

Wali emphasized the work KAUST was doing toward sustainability goals, adding that the efforts of Saudi Arabia, which had been bolstered by Vision 2030, offered a promising path into the future.

Climate change is not a problem limited to the Middle East, he noted, but a global phenomenon, and conservationists had worked on creating protected areas, reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainable hunting practice.

Coral bleaching in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, rising sea temperatures, and acidification are recent issues that are adding to growing problems,Wali explained.

He added that conservation efforts included implementing stricter rules on fishing and tourism, promoting marine-protected areas and funding research on coral resilience. Conservation efforts had a track record of success when it came to protecting endangered species, he added.

“We need to build upon this success by incorporating climate considerations into conservation strategies. Climate change presents new challenges but pre-existing conservation efforts provide a foundation,” he said.

Panelist Mohammed Qurban, CEO at the Saudi National Center for Wildlife, said that the center was working to address problems: “Under Saudi Vision 2030, environmental strategy conservation in the face of climate change is paramount. With five dedicated centers working in tandem and the implementation of the 30×30 program, we are actively addressing environmental challenges head on.”

Dr. Mazen Asseri, director at the National Center for Meteorology, highlighted the management of protected areas for conservation, and the accuracy of data that will help in monitoring the wildlife population and protecting biodiversity.

He added that collaboration between governments, nongovernmental organizations and local communities was crucial, but that working together would ensure the continued survival of the planet’s biodiversity.

Dr. Jacques Trouvilliez, executive secretary of the secretariat of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement, stressed the need of ecological corridors for conservation, and the need to maintain habitat ecology.

He praised Saudi Arabia, adding: “I am glad that the Kingdom has a timely response in Vision 2030, and its green initiatives are crucial to conversations.”

Dr. Andrew Gardner, chair of the Emirates Natural History Group, who moderated the panel discussion, pointed out that climate change had a huge effect on biodiversity, causing many challenges, recent excessive rains and flash floods in the UAE and Oman providing a good example.

The National Center for Wildlife organized the forum to discuss conservation efforts for natural habitats and wildlife in Saudi Arabia.

It was inaugurated on Sunday by the minister of environment, water, and agriculture and chairman of the board of the National Center for Wildlife, Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli.

The four-day event, which concludes on April 24, is the first of its kind in the region and attracts both local and international participants.

Since its founding in 2019, the National Center for Wildlife has addressed challenges facing wildlife and marine ecosystems, aiming to protect the environment for future generations.

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