Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Arabian oryx, invertebrate animals, terrestrial mammals, Gulf of Aden, Persian Gulf War
Environmental protection is an ancient tradition in Arabia, and special reserves were known long before the advent of Islam. Today Saudi Arabia has an extensive system of protected areas, including one national park, a number of nature reserves, and several classes of special-use areas. Some protection has been extended to sensitive marine habitats off the coasts.
Saudi Arabia is mostly desert. Only 0.1 percent (1995) is forested, although the government conducts a reforestation program. Livestock grazing represents the largest environmental threat to the sparse natural vegetation. A high population growth rate has put extreme pressure on the delicate arid environments of the interior and created concern over the management of scarce resources, especially water. Underground aquifers are overdrafted, and the government has spent huge sums on desalinization plants to provide artificially processed fresh water.
Saudi Arabia is one the world’s largest producers of petroleum products and suffers a number of related problems, including oil spills on land and off its coasts. Marshes and other sensitive marine habitats, especially in the Persian Gulf, have been in decline for decades because of oil pollution. They are important not only as rare habitat but as key elements in the ecology of commercially harvested fish and shrimp. The 1991 Persian Gulf War caused catastrophic damage to some of these areas.
For a country largely composed of desert, Saudi Arabia has fairly rich biodiversity. Eighteen percent of its invertebrate animals, seven of its nine amphibians, and all of its indigenous freshwater fish are found nowhere else. There are an estimated 3,500 species of plants and 59 terrestrial mammals, 19 of which are endangered, vulnerable, or rare. Government-sponsored wildlife teams are working to increase populations of threatened houbara bustards and Arabian oryx. In addition, there are 413 recorded species of birds, 11 of which are rare or endangered.
Saudi Arabia participates in international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, hazardous wastes, and ozone layer protection. Regionally, the country has committed itself to the cooperative protection of shared marine environments in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden.
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