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How TRSDC is supporting Earth Day

By Carlos Duarte, Professor of Marine Science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

With a renewed focus on global CO2 emissions and COP26 just around the corner, the climate crisis continues to dominate the public and media landscape. This year’s Earth Day, taking place today, highlights the need for change under the theme ‘Restore Our Earth’. This focuses not only on the need to reduce our impact but our role in repairing the damage we’ve done.

The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) actively supports this regenerative approach through its uncompromising commitment to sustainability. On the west coast of Saudi Arabia, TRSDC is developing the world’s first regenerative tourism destination that not only minimizes the impact on the environment but seeks to actively enhance this area of extraordinary natural beauty and diversity, achieving a net positive impact across all three dimensions of the sustainability concept: environmental, social and economic. 

To protect and enhance the spectacular biodiversity at the destination, TRSDC has implemented a regulatory framework of innovative policies and ambitious strategies to deliver this ground-breaking approach. 

The steps we take
From conception to execution, a regenerative approach is at the heart of every decision TRSDC takes. This began with an extensive Marine Spatial Planning exercise undertaken in partnership with KAUST, building on an assessment of the conservation status of the area, which helped the team to better understand the impact of development and operations, and develop elaborate designs with the objective of enhancing, rather than damaging. It also identified areas of special conservation value, and as a result, the decision was made to leave 75% of the destination’s 90-plus islands untouched. In fact, just 1% of the entire project area will be developed.

As the team’s understanding of this incredibly diverse environment grew, the Master Plan was, and still is, continuously adapted to protect the sensitivity of the individual islands and environments. The data provided will continue to inform TRSDC’s decisions to meet their ambitious goal of achieving a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040.

Mitigating CO2 emissions 
TRSDC and KAUST are also working together to restore and enhance the flourishing marine ecosystem at the destination to combat climate change through a robust regenerative approach. This concentrates on mitigating CO2 emissions through the natural environment by actively restoring and enhancing coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and salt marshes.

Only recently has the conservation community discovered the immensely important role these plants play in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, mangroves and seagrass meadows bury carbon at a rate 30 times higher than that of forests by ‘sinking and trapping’ the carbon in deadwood and leaves on the sea floor. 

The mangroves at The Red Sea Project have been found to be six times more effective than mangroves in other parts of the world at calcium carbonate dissolution – a process that increases the ocean’s alkalinity and in turn increases its capacity to safely store CO2 from the atmosphere in seawater. 

Together, TRSDC, KAUST and a number of other academic and scientific institutions involved in the project are looking to raise awareness of this ground-breaking approach as one that delivers a positive impact for the environment. 

100% Renewable Energy  
In a further bid to enhance and protect the environment, TRSDC will house the world’s largest battery storage facility of 1000MWh that will support energy resilience for phase one of the project. This first phase will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, a blend of wind and solar power, and will remain completely off-grid 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The resulting saving in CO2 emissions to the atmosphere is equivalent to nearly half a million tons each year.

The sheer size and scale of the facility puts this innovative regenerative tourism destination at the forefront of carbon neutrality. In fact, a tourism project of this size, powered solely by renewable energy, has never been achieved anywhere in the world.

A collaborative approach 
As we celebrate Earth Day today, it is still imperative that businesses and individuals hold a shared responsibility to protect our environment not just today, but 365 days of the year. Engaging with the wider local communities, particularly with school children, to raise awareness of the environment and how best to protect it is essential. This is where all three dimensions, environmental, social and economic, converge to lead Saudi society into a new meaning for sustainability, focused on a regenerative approach to all components, that TRSDC wishes to share with their guests.

There is a huge amount of exciting work taking place at TRSDC and I am proud to be part of such a forward-thinking project.