The Red Sea Development Company Signs Master Research Agreement with KAUST


Partnership cements framework to conduct future research that will preserve and enhance the project area’s environment

Riyadh: The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), the developer behind the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project, has signed a Master Research Agreement (MRA) with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

The agreement, which is open for renewal after five years, follows extensive collaboration between the two organizations on flora and fauna assessments, marine spatial planning, and an international competition called the Brains-for-Brine Challenge. The MRA cements the legal framework for mutually beneficial research projects on topics including, sustainability of marine environments, waste management systems, sustainable food production, energy conservation, and carbon sequestration. 

“There is a growing realization that tourism, along with many other human activities, needs to be far more sustainable and even regenerative in its approach. The Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia is one of the most pristine environments in the world and by working with KAUST, we can not only preserve, but actually enhance this unique treasure for future generations,” said John Pagano, CEO of TRSDC.

“Our ambition is to become one of the first global destinations to demonstrate a regenerative approach to tourism. This partnership will not only help us to achieve our goals, but we hope to share what we learn here with the rest of the world.” 

Delivering a net conservation benefit

The Red Sea coast is home to a vast array of thriving coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and the associated richness of biodiversity. The collaborative research and development of both parties will inform and guide efforts to go beyond environmental protection and ensure that these critical habitats are enhanced to support the growth of flora and fauna populations, including critically endangered species like the Hawksbill turtle.

“It is hard to imagine an area of interest and expertise more inextricably linked to KAUST than the Red Sea. From the three-kilometer-deep central axis that harbors unique microbial communities to the coastal regions hosting some of the most diverse and productive coral reef ecosystems in the world, our scientists have unraveled the Red Sea’s long-held secrets,” KAUST President Tony Chan said.

“Through this collaboration with TRSDC, we expect visitors to come away with an appreciation of, not only the unique regenerative approach to tourism offered by TRSDC, but also, through KAUST, by the Kingdom’s vast and deep understanding of this ocean system as a whole!”

Establishing scientific monitoring to track environmental changes over time is one of the first assignments already underway as part of the new research agreement and will be vital in helping TRSDC achieve its commitment to deliver a 30 percent net conservation benefit by 2040.

“Achieving carbon neutrality and enhancing biodiversity in this unique and pristine location is a challenging task, but it is of great importance. By working with some of the world’s greatest scientists at KAUST, it is a challenge that we can rise to,” said Dr Rusty Brainard, Chief Environment Officer at The Red Sea Development Company.

As another example of how KAUST is significantly influencing environmental stewardship for The Red Sea Project and AMAALA, 11 of the current staff of the TRSDC Department of Environment and Sustainability have roots at KAUST, including seven that earned doctoral degrees at KAUST and two that completed postdoc appointments at KAUST. 

A KAUST-TRSDC working group is presently planning for a joint Marine Research and Coral Conservation Center at The Red Sea Project site. The space will act as a base for long-term marine research and monitoring, and in time will be open to future visitors so they can learn about the natural environment and wildlife in the area.  

“The Red Sea Project is an important part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the country’s economy and create new, environmentally sustainable opportunities for the Saudi people,” said KAUST Vice President for Research Dr. Donal Bradley. “KAUST, through its scientific and technological expertise, is delighted to be in a position to support the development of this project to become a premier global destination for luxury, regenerative tourism.”

KAUST researchers and scientists supported the development of the destination’s master plan with the delivery of an extensive Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) exercise. As a result, 75 percent of the project’s islands will be left undeveloped in a conservation-to-development ratio unprecedented in any documented coastal development plan in the world.

The Red Sea Project has already passed significant milestones on the destination and work is on track to welcome the first guests by the end of 2022, when the international airport and the first hotels will open. Phase One, which includes 16 hotels in total, will complete by 2023.

Upon completion in 2030, the destination will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. The destination will also include luxury marinas, golf courses, entertainment and leisure facilities.

Dr. Rusty Brainard was appointed as Courtesy Professor of Marine Science at the Red Sea Research Center in the Division of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering, at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in January 2020. 

As a result of the MSP delivered to inform the project master plan, a scientific paper titled “Reconciling Tourism Development and Conservation Outcomes Through Marine Spatial Planning for a Saudi Giga-Project in the Red Sea” was published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC – is a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia. TRSDC was established to drive the development of The Red Sea Project, a luxury, regenerative tourism destination that will set new standards in sustainable development and position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.

The project is being developed over 28,000 km2 of pristine lands and waters along Saudi Arabia’s west coast and includes a vast archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands. The destination also features sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, and ancient cultural and heritage sites. It is designed to include hotels, residential properties, leisure, commercial and entertainment amenities, as well as supporting infrastructure that emphasizes renewable energy and water conservation and re-use, as well as a circular waste management system to achieve zero waste to landfill.

Activity for the first phase of development is well underway and is on track to be completed by the end of 2023. The project has surpassed significant milestones, with over 500 contracts signed to date, worth over SAR 15 bn ($4bn).

The 100-hectare Landscape Nursery, which will provide more than 15 million plants for the destination, is now fully operational. There are more than 7,000 workers currently on-site and 80km of new roads are now complete, including the new airport road, to better connect the destination. The Construction Village, set to house 10,000 workers, is now open and development is progressing well at the Coastal Village, which will be home to around 14,000 people who will eventually work at the destination.

About KAUST:

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) advances science and technology through distinctive and collaborative research integrated with graduate education. Located on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia, KAUST conducts curiosity-driven and goal-oriented research to address global challenges related to food, water, energy, and the environment. 

Established in 2009, KAUST is a catalyst for innovation, economic development and social prosperity in Saudi Arabia and the world. The University currently educates and trains master’s and doctoral students, supported by an academic community of faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and research scientists.