A Smart Solution to an Age-Old Problem
One of the challenges for endangered species that live in the Arabian desert is access to fresh water. A case in point: the Arabian oryx, a member of the Bovidae family native to the Arabian Desert.
At one time, Arabian oryx were plentiful in the desert region extending across the Arabian peninsula. They were hunted to extinction in the wild by 1973, although a number of oryx remained in private collections and zoos. Since 1963, captive breeding programs in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates have worked to restore the species. Oryx bred in captivity and maintained in preserves and private collections are slowly being reintroduced into the desert. The IUCN estimates there are now more than 1000 Arabian oryx in the wild, with 6000-7000 held in captivity worldwide in zoos, preserves, and private collections.
Maintaining these rare animals in the desert requires providing them with access to fresh water. Unfortunately, the ground water beneath the Arabian desert has a high salt content; there is little fresh water naturally available. Although oryx can go several weeks without water, it’s essential for their survival. They evolved with an ability to detect rainfall from a distance, and in the wild will follow the infrequent rain great distances to eat the new plants that grow afterward.
Not much water, lots of sunshine.
As part of a local project to reintroduce oryx to the wild, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has built a desalination plant to supply fresh water for oryx and other desert animals. In an area where it would difficult (or impossible) to install electrical power, a smart solution was devised: solar panels power the plant.
The solar-powered desalination technology was developed specifically for the project by Hitachi Group. The desalination unit uses reverse osmosis to remove salt from the groundwater, which then flows into pipes laid under the sand, feeding waterholes for oryx and gazelles. There are plans to build more desalination plants in UAE as part of an ongoing wildlife conservation effort.
Added Bonus: The lessons learned on this project enabled Hitachi group to develop solutions to create potable water for human consumption in other regions of the world.