Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan consisting of hundreds of islands, is unique. It has long served as the pivotal bridge linking Northeast Asia with the rest of the world, and today, Okinawa again is a significant bridge connecting Saudi Aramco with the Asian region.
Saudi Aramco has operated a crude oil terminal in Uruma City on the east coast of Okinawa Island since 2010, when an agreement with the Japanese government was signed. Saudi Aramco uses the terminal to store Arabian crudes, and then it sells the crude oil to various markets in the Asia Pacific area. The agreement provides Japan the first priority in the event of an emergency.
Okinawa also was the site for three successful executive retreats that Saudi Aramco hosted in the past, uniting Saudi Aramco senior management with regional customers. With Okinawa being the symbol of the connectedness with Asia Pacific, Aramco Asia-Japan (AAJ) has been building and deepening its commitment to the island through various activities that deliver clear environmental footprints and a social license to operate on this beautiful island.
Collaborating for environment and knowledge
Situated at the northernmost end of the border between the Pacific and the Indian oceans, Okinawa is a tropical hotspot where different ocean currents meet, attracting a variety of marine species. It is believed that the effect of climate change and other marine ecosystem marvels can be observed in areas around Okinawa Island before any other parts of the world.
With support from AAJ, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University’s (OIST) team installed the Ocean Cube Observatory System here. It is one of the very few ongoing, long-term consecutive underwater monitoring systems in the world, which provides year-round biological and physical data to understand marine biological diversity. Witnessing more growth in the collaboration, AAJ has recently entered into signing an agreement to provide further assistance to OIST’s research and development activities in the marine-environment field.
AAJ also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of the Ryukyus for supporting its research and development activities related to mangroves, which is another symbolic treasured marine life in Okinawa. Similar to the coast in Saudi Arabia, mangrove trees along the coast of Okinawa provide critical habitat for birds and marine lives that are threatened from various development projects. Since the signing of the MoU, the university’s internationally renowned Tropical Biosphere Research Center conducted a data collecting experiment on one of the Okinawa islands using a newly adopted pilotless drone. It also expanded the research area by conducting joint field work with a research institute in Malaysia through which they successfully discovered new living species.
Efforts begin at the grassroots level
Okinawa is home to ecologically significant coral reefs that support the highest diversity of endemic species, plants, and animals around the world. Unfortunately, those coral reefs across Okinawa have been decreasing over the past 30 years. It is believed to be caused by coral bleaching, the massive appearance of starfish, and other phenomenon derived from the destruction of the marine ecosystem due to climate change and urban development.
AAJ has joined hands with a local initiative, the Okinawa Coral Reef Conservation Council, a platform with about 100 local member nonprofit organizations (NPOs) that are active in ensuring a better future for coral reefs around Okinawa. They breed and transplant coral seedlings, conduct studies on how to restore the coral reefs, and conduct educational programs reaching out to schoolchildren to nurture understanding and an appreciation for the natural environment.
One of the NPOs, INO (which means “inland sea” in the local language in Okinawa), is a group of fishermen between 30 and 80 years old who have joined forces with some academic advisers. The group’s primary activity is to breed fish and plants, using their professional fishermen skills such as operating boats and diving skills. Although it is just one small effort, AAJ values this kind of diligent and continuous effort that NPOs bring, along with their strong passion for their hometown.
AAJ also supports the council’s annual awareness campaign “Okinawa Coral Reef Week.” This outreach to community members of all ages, as well as tourists, uses a series of experience-based programs, exhibitions and symposiums organized by the NPOs to highlight their environmental cause.
Taking a boat ride to see both the coral being cultivated and the reefs flourishing after planting, Ahmed M. Alkhunaini, representative director of AAJ, said, “It was a valuable opportunity to witness the step-by-step efforts made by the local community for the betterment of their home island.”
Okinawa is, and will continue to be, the bridge between Saudi Arabia and Japan, and also brings Asia Pacific even closer.