Tilapia in the Desert Land

Trip to Al Kharj

For my 14 years as expats in Saudi Arabia, these past few weeks was the hottest temperature I’ve experienced; and seems to continue till the month of September or October, the month usually winter seasons starts.

But the hottest time of the year doesn’t prevent me and fellow employees to went out yesterday (Friday) for a fishing trip to Al-Kharj to relax from a week very busy hours of work, or to ease even for just a day our homesickness away from home. This blogger in particular, July 13 is my daughter’s birthday and I am not with her to celebrate her 9th years of existence.

Al Kharj "Sunrise"

Al Kharj "Sunrise"

We traveled at 4:00 AM and arrived Al Kharj city proper at 5:10 AM. We were able to take a photo of the famous city landmark, the Al Kharj Tower on way back to our accommodation. Going to our destination we were not surprised that the roads are deserted for the reason that it was Friday and due to hot season. But all of us were amazed seeing a mall (Geant) in the area, perhaps the biggest mall in the Kingdom as written in their billboard.

Al Kharj or El-Kharj is 87 kilometers from Riyadh city proper which is 52 kilometers away from our accommodation in the 3rd Industrial Area. Al Kharj is a small city but the area in general is home of agricultural production in Saudi Arabia. Leading processing plant that deal in the production of food beverages and dairy products are located in Al-Kharj. And as what I have seen, the largest farms of the notably “Dates Palm” the national fruit of Saudi Arabia is likewise found in the area. Other agricultural products as we noticed along our way; are watermelons, barley, sorghum, onions, grapes, citrus fruit; and poultry.

Al Kharj is part of Riyadh, the country’s capital and largest city that lies among oases on a dry, rocky plateau; and it is

Al Kharj Tower

Al Kharj Tower

in the center of the whole Kingdom. Unlike Jeddah and Dammam or Al Khobar there are no coastal areas found in these region. Though Saudi Arabia lacks permanent lakes and rivers, but considerable reserves of underground water have been discovered across the countries that have been used for irrigation purposes in agricultural production.

 Water is very important in Saudi Arabia, large desalinization plants was built for the supply of drinking water, as well as the intakes of power plants and oil refineries. Most of the population including expatriates Filipinos buy mineral water for daily drinking use.


The Wetlands

 In Saudi Arabia where rain rarely occurs but heavy one when it comes, Inland Wetlands or Marsh provides natural flood control by serving as basins for excess rainwater. These floodwaters then empty into the adjoining farmlands. Many countries experimental planting showed that fruit trees and grains could be grown successfully by means of the old water-distribution systems using drainage, dams and catchment’s basins.

The Wetlands

The Wetlands

One native Saudi national we’ve met pasturing his camels near the Marsh said that the agricultural success of production in Al-Kharj contributed much in the co-operation among neighboring farms to use drainage, irrigation, erosion control, or other special type conservation programs where water reserved is not so abundant. “The Saudi government irrigation program is very helpful to farm owners,” he explained. We agreed with him as showed by the many big culvert lined up along the road that proves Government serious on-going irrigation improvements that will benefit farm owners in the area.



The trip in search of “Tilapia”

Our visit to Al Kharj is to have a proof and see to ourselves the presence of tilapia in one of the wetlands. We heard from OFWs in the neighboring factories that “Tilapias” are abundant in many Marshland located outside Al-Kharj city proper.

Though I am convinced that there are tilapias and other rare species of fish in the Saudi desert particularly in the



coastal areas of Jeddah and Al Khobar but at the center of a dry and rocky plateau like Al Kharj needs to have a proof at least by my very own eyes.

 Tilapias as what I have known are commercially important species that have been cultivated in several Asian countries, including the Philippines. They have interesting behavior and attractive coloration. The larger species are important as a source of food and are cultivated extensively. Fresh and smoked tilapias are now readily available all over the world. However, the smallest known tilapia species is listed as an endangered species. According to my research “tilapia can survive in waters with oxygen conce

ntrations as low as 0.1 parts per million, and one species inhabits hot springs with water temperatures as high as 40 deg.C (104 deg. F).” It means it can survive in Saudi Arabia.

 In Philippines Tilapia are raised in artificially created fishponds, in the fish-farming industry known as aquaculture. The aquaculturists carefully manage their production to ensure and maintain quality of water used in fish farming. It maybe because some of our lakes and swamps are already polluted that eating tilapia may harm consumers health.

To see is to believe

As explained above, Wetlands or Marsh served as basins for excess rainwater use for irrigation system. The tilapia that we caught using Philippine made “Fishing Net” or “Lambat” for the said purpose proves that tilapias are abundant in the area.

Rod, Rey and Edwin

Rod, Rey and Edwin

Out of my curiosity, I made a personal survey to look where the source of water came from, which I found out coming from the adjoining farm. A canal was built for the purpose and the “huge pre-cast culvert” near to it is ready for installation. I later discovered that the marsh where the tilapias are found had a small dam or barrier use to empty the waters into the adjoining farmlands. And according to our native Saudi friend, the wall is open in time of rainy days or when there is a rain. It should be monitored and close again when the other farms have enough supply of water in their own Marsh.

Thus the timing of the water that flows during rainy days or by the use of the underground water supply influences the use of the marsh by fish and wildlife, especially for spawning and waterfowl migrations.

 While preparing to pack up, a “Mooror” or “Highway Traffic Police” stop at the nearby road and asked, “what are we

The Catch

The Catch

doing?”, we simply said fishing tilapia. He approached us and said in Arabic “Inta Akil Hada” it means, “You eat those?” We chorused and said, “Yes!” Then he replied, “Allah! You’re so great; in my country YOU provide food for Filipinos even in the desert”. We inform him that Tilapia is clean and favorite fish of Filipinos, he replied, “My friends, what I mean is – God give us oil from underneath and now God provide food for Filipinos in the desert lake.” We all smile to him and before he goes back to his mobile car he said, “be sure to go home before 12:00 noon, the sun is so angry.”

But I advised my friends to bring one sample of the catch to a Saudi acquintance working at Ministry of Health to conduct testing first, to make sure that what we caught are safe for human consumption.

 Government and local executives in our country should not ignore the beauty of wetlands. Wetlands in other countries provide many opportunities for recreational activities, such as bird watching, hunting, fishing, trapping, and hiking. Once develop a possible local tourist attraction will emerge that will contribute enhancement of its local economy.

It was indeed a fulfilling trip, in one hot summer Friday in Saudi Arabia’s Wetlands.

Next entry “The Monkeys in the Desert Land.”


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