In a historic announcement, Saudi Arabia has secured its first-ever UNESCO Natural Heritage Site designation. The Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve, nestled along the western fringes of the expansive ar-Rub al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), has been officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This prestigious recognition highlights the Kingdom’s unwavering commitment to preserving its rich cultural heritage and nurturing its pristine natural ecosystems.
A Monumental Announcement by His Highness Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud
The momentous announcement of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve’s inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List was made by His Highness Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, who serves as the Saudi Minister of Culture, Chairman of the National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, and Chairman of the Heritage Commission. This remarkable achievement was the result of extensive efforts and reflects Saudi Arabia’s dedication to protecting its diverse cultural and natural treasures.
Celebrating Saudi Arabia’s Culture and Biodiversity
The inscription of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve on the UNESCO World Heritage List is a cause for celebration, underscoring Saudi Arabia’s rich culture and remarkable biodiversity across its vast landscapes. The Reserve’s recognition as a Natural Heritage Site is a testament to the Kingdom’s commitment to safeguarding its natural heritage and promoting sustainable development, a key component of Saudi Vision 2030.
His Highness Prince Bader’s Vision
His Highness Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, in his statement, highlighted the global significance of this inscription. He emphasized how it sheds light on the paramount importance of natural heritage worldwide and underscores the exceptional value of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve.
A Unique and Vast Sand Desert
Stretching across an expansive area of over 12,750 km2, Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve is a true marvel of nature. It stands as the only major sand desert in tropical Asia and holds the distinction of being the largest continuous sand sea on Earth. With its awe-inspiring vistas of the Empty Quarter’s sands and some of the world’s largest complex linear dunes, the Reserve boasts outstanding universal value.
A Sanctuary for Flora and Fauna
This UNESCO Natural Heritage Site serves as a haven for both flora and fauna. It supports the survival of more than 120 indigenous plant species, including those endangered by the harsh desert environment. Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve is also home to gazelles and hosts the world’s only free-ranging herd of Arabian Oryx. These remarkable creatures find refuge in this unique and challenging landscape.
Meeting World Heritage Standards
Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve meets the rigorous standards set by UNESCO for World Heritage Sites. As a sand desert of outstanding universal value, it boasts a diverse and unique landscape. The Reserve encompasses a range of natural habitats critical for the survival of key species and represents five sub-groups of Saudi Arabia’s national ecosystems, contributing significantly to biodiversity conservation.
The Result of Collaborative Efforts
This UNESCO recognition is the fruit of concerted national efforts. Various Saudi entities, including the Ministry of Culture, the National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, the National Centre for Wildlife, and the Heritage Commission, collaborated to make this achievement possible.
Joining the Ranks of Saudi UNESCO Sites
The inclusion of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve in the UNESCO World Heritage List adds to Saudi Arabia’s already impressive roster of UNESCO sites. These include Al-Ahsa Oasis, Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah, Ḥimā Cultural Area, Historic Jeddah, and Rock Art in the Hail Region.
Conclusion: A Treasure to Cherish
The inscription of Uruq Bani Ma‘arid Reserve as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site is a momentous occasion that underscores Saudi Arabia’s dedication to preserving its cultural and environmental treasures. It opens a new chapter in the Kingdom’s efforts to protect its natural heritage for generations to come. As we celebrate this achievement, let us also acknowledge the importance of safeguarding our planet’s most precious landscapes and ecosystems.