The world’s largest ever plant migration

26 October 2023
Red Sea Global’s nursery aims to plant 30 million trees by 2030 as part of its commitment to protect the environment


Red Sea Global has been vocal about its commitment to regenerative tourism. This approach means that as well as protecting the local environment, it also seeks to enhance it. 

A demonstration of this commitment can be seen at the gigaproject developer’s nursery, which aims to plant 30 million trees by 2030.

“This is the single largest horticultural migration ever attempted in human history,” says Grant Shaw, senior nursery director, Red Sea Global. 

The nursery covers an area of 100 hectares or 1 square kilometre and has been operating for two years. It will expand to 180 hectares to supply plants for the resorts being built at Red Sea Global’s Amaala project, a luxury tourism destination being developed along the Red Sea coast in northwestern Saudi Arabia. 

There are 380 people working at the nursery and that number is expected to rise to 600 as the nursery expands. 

The nursery performs a variety of functions for the Red Sea Project and Amaala. These include importing plants and acclimatising them before they are moved to a resort, testing whether foreign species can be grown successfully in the kingdom, and researching how to cultivate local Saudi plants. 

“A lot of Saudi Arabia’s indigenous species of plants have not been commercially cultivated,” says Shaw. 

“We are trying to work out how to grow them.”

Overcoming challenges

Cultivating desert plants is a challenge. Desert species often have low germination rates of about 5 per cent – which means for every 100 seeds planted, only five will grow.  

While not every plant can be cultivated successfully, there are some success stories, such as a species known as Limonium Axillare or Beach Lavender, which grows well in salty conditions. 

Shaw also highlights a naturally occurring grass that was found at one of the Red Sea Project’s hotel construction sites.

“The native sedge grass we discovered at the Desert Rock site has done very well,” he says.

This is the single largest horticultural migration ever attempted in human history
Grant Shaw, Red Sea Global

As well as indigenous plants, the Red Sea Global team is importing plants – about 15 shipping containers a day. The plants are typically selected from a similar latitude to the Red Sea Project site so that they are used to a similar climate.

“We target plants from a similar latitude, but our biggest challenge is the salt content of the soil,” says Shaw.

To tackle this, Red Sea Global has established a facility to produce better soil. 

Water is another crucial component for operating a successful nursery. At the moment, water comes from treated sewage effluent (TSE) and reverse osmosis. As the population living at the Red Sea Project grows, the mix will shift to 100 per cent TSE.

Plants are typically selected from a similar latitude to the Red Sea Project site so they acclimatise

Plants with history

Some of the imported plants have interesting stories. There are 50 olive trees with records that date back to the year 115AD, when they were taken to Spain and planted during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan. Given that they were mature trees when they were relocated, it is likely that they are now 2,000 to 2,500 years old. 

Red Sea Global purchased the olive trees when they had to be moved. “The trees needed to be removed to make way for a road that was being constructed,” says Shaw. “We were able to save them and bring them here.” 

The trees were not cheap. Each one costs €15,000 ($15,876). The most expensive trees at the nursery, however, are two Australian Boab trees, which cost $85,000 each and are estimated to be about 2,000 years old. 

Another set of plants with a history are a collection of Doum Palms. These trees are indigenous to Saudi Arabia, but are very difficult to move. They have a long taproot that if damaged kills the tree. 

About 45 years ago, a Thai collector was given permission by the king of Saudi Arabia to take some young Doum Palms back to Thailand. There, the trees were grown in large pots and also hybridised with other species. As they were kept in pots, the Red Sea Global team was able to acquire some of these trees and relocate them back to Saudi Arabia.

Grass is also being imported. For golf courses, Red Sea Global has broken from the regional trend of using salt-resistant Paspalum grass and has instead chosen to grow Zoysia grass, the preferred turf for sporting facilities in North America. 

“Everyone said it would not work, but we have proven that it can. Now golf course architects are specifying it in the region, and that is great because the grass is much better from a sustainability point of view,” says Shaw.

Such a diverse range of plants will help to differentiate the Red Sea Project and Amaala. “There is a lot of talk about the buildings that make up the project, but the real legacy will be the life that we are introducing,” says Shaw.

Main image (top): The olive trees are 2,500 years old 

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MEED's October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes: 

> COMMENT: Riyadh reshapes its global role
> POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
> SPORTSaudi Arabia’s football vision goes global
> ECONOMY: Riyadh prioritises stability over headline growth
BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
> UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building

> DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
> POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
> WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
> GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
> TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions
> JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower



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