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  • Ahmed Saleh

KAUST researchers launch inaugural coral nursery at KCRI for restoration initiative

NEOM, Saudi Arabia, Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor at the KAUST Coral Restoration Initiative (KCRI) by establishing its inaugural coral nursery. Positioned as the largest coral restoration initiative globally, KCRI signifies a monumental stride toward rehabilitating reefs on a global scale, with its primary nursery now officially operational and a second facility underway, both nestled in the Red Sea. Funded by KAUST, a distinguished graduate research institution in Saudi Arabia recently acclaimed as the top Arab University by Times Higher Education, KCRI embodies a concerted effort to revitalize marine ecosystems.

The freshly inaugurated nursery, situated on the coast of NEOM in northwestern Saudi Arabia, promises to revolutionize coral restoration endeavors with a robust production capacity of 40,000 corals annually. Acting as an innovative pilot facility, researchers will utilize it as a blueprint for expansive coral restoration projects. Crucially, this nursery sets the stage for an even grander undertaking: the world's largest and most sophisticated land-based coral nursery. Nestled within the same locale, this advanced coral nursery is poised to accommodate a staggering 400,000 corals yearly. With construction advancing swiftly, the initiative is slated for completion by December 2025.

Coral reefs, harboring 25% of known marine species despite occupying less than 1% of the ocean floor, serve as vital components of numerous marine ecosystems. This underscores scientists' apprehension about the escalating frequency of mass bleaching incidents, with projections indicating that up to 90% of global coral reefs could suffer severe heat stress annually by 2050. As such events become more prevalent, strategies for coral rehabilitation become imperative for sustaining a healthy ocean.

Aligned with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and its endeavors to fortify marine conservation efforts, this monumental initiative capitalizes on KAUST's preeminent research in marine ecosystems. It acts as a testing ground for pioneering restoration techniques. Spanning across a 100-hectare expanse, the initiative aims to deploy 2 million coral fragments, marking a substantial stride in conservation endeavors.

KCRI seamlessly dovetails with KAUST's overarching strategy, spotlighting its commitment to catalyzing positive societal and global impacts. Beyond environmental restoration, the initiative extends educational advantages, further solidifying its alignment with the broader strategic objectives outlined in Vision 2030.

Commenting on this transformative venture, Professor Tony Chan, President of KAUST, remarked, "Recent events underscore the dire global crisis confronting coral reefs. Our aspiration is to spearhead a trajectory that transitions from labor-intensive restoration methods to industrial-scale processes necessary for reversing the current trend of coral reef degradation. As a pivotal output of KAUST's new strategy, the university is channeling the world-class expertise of our faculty, who are actively developing technologies to actualize this vision."

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM, echoed this sentiment, stating, "This significant initiative underscores NEOM's dedication to sustainability and its commitment to devising solutions for the environmental challenges confronting the world. As trailblazers in sustainable development, revitalizing the critical sites of coral reefs represents a natural progression in our collaboration with KAUST. Through our enduring partnership with the university, we aim to highlight the indispensable role of coral reefs as paramount marine environmental systems and emphasize the importance of their preservation for future generations."

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