Posted on January 12, 2021
According to Nektarios Mitsokapas, The Red Sea Project, currently under construction on the coast of Saudi Arabia, is one of the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism projects.
The Director of the Marine & Infrastructure Division of Greek marine civil engineers, Archirodon, adds that once fully completed in 2030, visitors will be able to explore an archipelago made up of more than 90 pristine islands and swim in a lagoon filled with thriving coral reefs.
To safeguard this extremely sensitive ecological environment, The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), the developer behind the destination, has made embedding regenerative techniques into every detail of construction its top priority.
Those high standards and unswerving commitment to sustainability has made this one of Archirodion’s most challenging projects yet – but also one of the most interesting. At almost every stage, the company needed to adapt or reinvent entirely its techniques to ensure that marine infrastructure and coastal development construction methods do not affect the environment.
Coastal development can often result in an impact on habitats and alterations to ecosystems. This is not an option at The Red Sea Project. Scientists, academics, global environmentalists and marine construction experts have closely scrutinised each stage of the planning and implementation of work in the Al Wahj-Umluj lagoon to ensure that it goes beyond business as usual to set new standards in sustainability ahead of the first visitors arriving at the end of 2022.
Archirodon’s scope is to build a 1.4km causeway that will deliver access to Sheybarah Island, one of the destination’s main development sites. Archirodon is also constructing a jetty in the form of a quay-wall enabling the access to infrastructure works on Sheybarah island itself. It is a huge challenge to build jetties and causeways in a lagoon inhabited by coral reefs without affecting the environment. To overcome this, we are doing something quite incredible – by carefully removing corals and transplanting them in purpose-built coral habitat before the work starts. This painstaking work undertaken by a team of divers and marine equipment. So far 700 crates of coral, each containing 4 corals, have been replanted by Archirodon. The company is truly embracing the project’s commitment to preserve pristine coral reefs and equally keen to contribute to the enhancement of natural beauty of the lagoon.
ADAPTING TO NOCTURNAL SPECIES
Reducing disruption to the reefs is of critical importance. To ensure minimal disruption, night-time working has been limited to reduce noise and light disturbance to the corals, as well as to nesting birds and two species of endangered turtle that swim in the Red Sea. This is to help maintain natural nocturnal activity.
Archirodon has also installed real time monitoring buoys. These measure temperature, salinity/PH and turbidity in the lagoon’s water in order to quickly spot where work exceeds allowable limits. If the level of turbidity ever rises above 2mg/l, work will be immediately halted to make sure turbidity is allowed to return within the limits.
The activity is performed in a controlled manner, during daytime hours only and with controlled pace and limited sailing speed. To save time, the company must be extremely efficient with the loading, sailing full, offloading and sailing empty cycle with little room for errors or breakdowns. It takes a minimum of five hours to sail a loaded rock barge from the Coastguard Jetty to Sheybarah Island Jetty and 6 hours to sail from the Mainland North Jetty to the key development sites so time must be saved in these ways to ensure that the progress remains consistent. Despite these barriers, progress is well ahead of schedule, with over 4.5km of 6.2km of the causeway’s construction completed so far, thanks to a strict adherence to the construction program.
TRSDC and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) recently co-published a research paper in Frontiers in Marine Science journal highlighting how careful design and planning can allow coastal development to enhance rather than jeopardise conservation efforts. Placing environmental science at the heart of construction is embedded into the destination. Nektarios Mitsokapas concludes that this project is the first step to completely rethink how Archirodon in the marine construction industry leaves the environments it builds much improved on how they were found.