The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), the developer behind the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project, and the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), the main authority in geological exploration and mapping of the kingdom, have partnered for one of the largest surveys of the Red Sea area. Findings from an initial 10-day dig, carried out by SGS paleontologists, revealed several significant findings and areas of interest, including the bones of an enormous marine lizard over 80 million years old.
The survey was the first step on a journey to uncover the rich history of the region and to provide geological research, data and expertise to assist with the design and construction process. The parties intend to continue their work together to identify unique geological attractions for tourism, establishing the Red Sea as a destination where visitors can discover Arabia’s rich natural history.
“The spirit of adventure has always been tied to the essence of discovery. Our destination is already home to the site of Saudi Arabia’s first underwater excavation, but above the water, we are now finding geological and paleontological evidence of millions of years of activity in the region,” said John Pagano, CEO of TRSDC.
“This partnership continues our commitment as a responsible developer to identifying, preserving, and displaying these natural treasures found right beneath our feet. Paleontology is a growing area of study within the Kingdom, and we are hoping to help support interest in discovering the ancient heritage buried along our coastline.”
TRSDC partnered with the Saudi Geological Survey to carry out advanced geological and paleontological research across both The Red Sea Project and AMAALA sites
The excursion along the Red Sea coast unearthed various samples spanning from the Late Cretaceous to the Eocene period – roughly 80 to 45 million years ago. Approximately half of the sites surveyed produced rare fossils, with researchers expecting to discover many more on future digs. The findings represent the first record of marine mammals from the Paleogene period to be found in the Red Sea coastal area.
Scientists exploring the AMAALA site uncovered numerous fossilized remains of sea cows, crocodiles and turtles, as well as bones of mosasaurs, a family of giant marine lizards commonly referred to as ‘The T-Rex of the Sea’ that existed between 66 and 80 million years ago and reached up to 18 meters in length and 14 tons in weight.
Several marine vertebrates found by the team were recorded for the very first time in the area – including remains of one of the largest turtles to have ever inhabited the region. These findings come in addition to a prior discovery of a partial plesiosaur skull recovered from the site.
Additional discoveries from younger sedimentary beds emerged during this phase of geological exploration in the area, including vertebrate and invertebrate faunal assemblages of marine crocodiles and turtle bones, and massive colonies of coral reef barriers. This new information shows us that 20-16 million years ago the Red Sea depth was 200m above today’s actual sea level, and the seawater encroached and flooded deep inland by approximately 100km over time.
In addition to paleontological findings, researchers identified signs of prehistoric human activity among the rocks of the crystalline basement at The Red Sea Project. These signs were in the form of prehistoric rock art thought to be petroglyphs produced by an ancient civilization yet to be identified.
Fossils of the giant Mosasaur – often called ‘The T-Rex of the Sea’ – are among the notable discoveries from the initial survey
The CEO of SGS, Engineer Abdullah Shamrani said: “The rare finds from the central coastal areas of the Red Sea tell fascinating stories about the evolution of life in the region over the past tens of millions of years. Our partnership with TRSDC is helping us uncover the mysteries of these important and unexplored geological areas, highlighting the true extent of the historic value of the destination. I’m sure we’ll discover important landmarks for geology that tourists from around the world will want to see and learn about for themselves.
“This partnership between SGS and TRSDC intends to unveil important geological discoveries along the Red Sea region, and we are committed with our significant partner to protect and develop the priceless geological and historical heritage in the Kingdom to produce sustainable touristic destinations in accordance with the kingdom’s 2030 Vision.”
The partnership’s early successes testify to the historical significance of the Red Sea’s coastal waters. Over 1,600 historical and geological sites have already been identified within TRSDC’s development area, and future guests will have the opportunity to discover and explore current and emerging finds.