Santalum alba

Photo of green sandalwood berries and leaves

General Description / Cultural Significance

Sandalwood, Santalum alba, is a very old and traditional incense for the people of Bahrain. The aromatic wood with its distinctive and healing fragrance, is imported to the country, but many Bahrainis buy it online and have it shipped in directly to their homes. It is an aroma that all who live on this island nation of desert terrains know well; their culture has valued it for centuries.

Climate Change/Conservation Status

The climate change stakes are high for Bahrain, the smallest country in the Middle East and one of the world’s most oil-rich. Almost all of Bahrain’s population lives within 96.56 meters (60 miles) of the coast and, like all island nations, coastal communities are at increased risk from rising sea levels, flooding, saline intrusion and erosion. Not only is the country’s elevation low, but recent summer temperatures have been the hottest on record, affecting the infrastructure of the entire country. Climbing water temperature is affecting marine life viability, and so, the traditional way of life for many Bahrainis.

Rising sea levels have been predicted to submerge twenty-seven to fifty six percent of Bahrain by 2100. Bahrain is trying to meet this impact with the construction of new desalination plants and land reclamation projects, efforts that some environmentalists criticize as an ultimately unsustainable quest.

Santalum album is considered a Vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in the countries from which it is imported. Currently, the demand for Sandalwood exceeds what is grown and legally harvested. Sandalwood trees are affected by illegal harvesting, exploitation and both decline in habitat and habitat loss. Other countries have increased their cultivation of the plant successfully, such as Australia. 

Alternate Names
Bay Tree

Arunkumar, A.N., Dhyani, A., & Joshi, G., 2019. Santalum album. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T31852A2807668.en

Bodetti, A., 2019. Will Bahrain Disappear Beneath the Waves? LobeLog. [website]

Debusmann, B., 2018. Bahrain ‘severely threatened’ by climate change, says government. Arabian Business. [website]

Harvey, F., 2018. Bahrain applies to Green Climate Fund to help clean up waste from fossil fuels. The Guardian. [website]

Permanent Mission of the State of Bahrain to the United Nations. This statement can be found on the World Sensorium original website.