by Environmental Protection Department
“Green Matters” is a regular column offered by the Environmental Protection Department highlighting challenges and potential solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues of the day.
Launched in 1970 and observed in more than 193 countries, Earth Day (April 22) hosts events that promote a collective responsibility to promote harmony with nature and the Earth and achieve balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity.
Translation: Protecting our planet and all of its resources is everyone’s responsibility every day — even yours, if you want to ensure a healthy quality of life for your children and grandchildren.
Earth Day carries an annual theme, and this year’s focus really hits home for Saudi Aramco — “Protect Our Species.”
Our company has long worked hard to protect the Kingdom’s rich flora and fauna.
Take the Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary, in which Saudi Aramco and partners successfully reintroduced the Arabian oryx, the ostrich, and the sand gazelle into a 637-km2 protected area in the Rub’ al-Khali where they once flourished.
We have also planted more than 2 million mangrove seedlings, which are beginning to absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to climate change, nourish fish populations and even physically bolster the Kingdom’s shorelines.
A mangrove eco-park will soon give the public the opportunity to learn more of these benefits right before their very eyes.
Looking Forward to the Trees
Yet looking forward, a relatively new initiative — 1 Million Trees — really reflects this year’s Earth Day theme, through the company’s initiative to plant in select locations 1 million terrestrial trees native to the Kingdom.
Part of a larger effort Kingdomwide, the 1 Million Trees initiative is a key component of our corporate and social responsibility activities.
By planting native trees in strategic sites throughout the country, Saudi Aramco will help combat desertification, sequester carbon, enhance native biodiversity, and create attractive shaded areas.
Trees, shrubs and other plants help stabilize sand. Not only do roots help bind the sand together, but the plants themselves help slow down the movement of wind over the landscape.
Losing patches of trees and shrubs in desert areas allows wind to pick up loose sand and blow it into the air, causing large amounts of dust particles to kick up in the air and later morph into sand and dust storms.
This process of sand movement caused by vegetation loss is known as desertification, which is considered to be one of the largest threats to sustainable development in the world along with the loss of biodiversity.
A Native Solution
Adding to the initiative’s benefits are the native properties of the trees, meaning they have adapted to the challenges of living in Saudi Arabian environments that are marked by low rainfall and highly saline soil and water.
Once planted and growing, these trees will support Saudi Arabia’s biodiversity by providing food and shelter for various animals and birds, and that’s key, because an estimated 33% of all native plants and animals in the Kingdom are vulnerable to extinction. (Planting exotic trees is not effective, as they tend to support only exotic wildlife).
It should also be pointed out that native plants are culturally relevant to Saudi Arabia as well.
The ancient Bedouin named most of the more than 2,500 species of plants that exist here, and they used many for medicine, cosmetics, food and art, for thousands of years. By planting native trees, plants, and shrubs, we are helping to preserve this unique cultural heritage.
Importantly, these native plants require less water than most exotic plant species, which carries an incredibly significant advantage when undertaking an initiative of this magnitude in such a dry country.
What About Water?
So what about water? Trees consume it to live after all.
Saudi Aramco has considered irrigation issues, and we are pleased to report that the 1 Million Trees initiative will be irrigated only with treated wastewater to sustain the Kingdom’s precious hydrological resources. No groundwater will be used in this initiative.
We will also explore water saving technologies for use in the initiative. One such technology involves the use of polymers, which will reduce the amount of irrigation water required to grow plants. The polymers are inserted into the soil near each plant and begin to absorb and retain large amounts of water. Soon afterward, the nearby plants are able to tap into the stored water within the polymers, which ultimately reduces the irrigation frequency required for plant growth and survival.
The feasibility and suitability of this and other water saving technologies will be investigated in this initiative.
The Many Benefits of Trees
To conclude, the trees will:
- Reduce sand movement and costs associated with sand management
- Reduce dust particles in the air, thereby improving local respiratory health
- Restore native biodiversity and attract native birds
- Restore culturally significant plant species
- Increase shade and evapotranspiration, thereby making the local area cooler
- Increase surface and renewable water table elevation by reducing temperatures and absorption of carbon dioxide to lower pollution
- Sequester more than 20 million kg of carbon per year
- Create beautiful scenery.
So back to this year’s Earth Day theme of “Protect Our Species.” Saudi Aramco is doing its part and will always continue to do so. That leaves you. What can you do to complement the 1 Million Trees initiative?
You can do more than you think. Consider the following steps:
- Avoid excessive harvesting of firewood
- Avoid off-road driving, because this destroys our precious plants
- If you are a hunter, consider shooting birds with a camera instead of a gun
- If applicable to you, do everything possible to prevent overgrazing and ineffective farming practices.
While you might not have control over the weather, you do have control over your desert activities.
So keep plant and animal life in mind when enjoying the Kingdom’s jebels and its magical shifting sands.