Environmental Protection in the Arabian Gulf.


The Arabian Gulf had been subjected to tremendous development activities in the past 40 years, this, in addition to two fierce wars which must have had some impact on the marine environment. This paper will investigate and summarise through review of numerous scientific studies, the recommended applied and or implemented strategies for conservation and how these may have an impact on the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry. The conclusions and recommendations made (in both, global terms and for oil and gas industry) primarily represent the author's own views and in some parts acknowledged views of a number of professionals who were asked to contribute their vision on the future of protection of the Gulf marine environment. Whilst this paper is directed towards the Marine Environment, similar conclusions can be drawn for land and atmospheric issues.

Development and impact.

The Gulf had witnessed a tremendous increase in anthropogenic intervention in its ecological setting in the last forty years. On the coastal areas, development of major cities, dredging, land reclamation, ports and harbors, other beach developments, refineries and other petrochemicals, water desalination plants, power stations, sewage systems, agriculture, factories etc. had sprung up with very little assessment of its environmental impact.

The picture is not different in the offshore areas, increased drilling for oil and as, construction of platforms, thousands of kilometres of under water pipelines, thousands of marine transport and service vessels and work barges (not mentioning military transport and activities), expanded fishing industry, merchant shipping and finally, an enormous number of oil and gas tankers grazing the Gulf waters by the hour. In one study, a figure of one ship every six minutes enters the strait of Hormuz was mentioned, and according to Linden et al., (1990), 20,000 to 35, 000 individual tankers pass through Hormuz every year.

The above development poses a number of questions with regard to environmental impact, these are

  • How much of the original ecology of Gulf has been changed in the past 40 years, (for better or for worse). Because no studies exist for the pre-development period, the comparison cannot be made. The knowledge we possess now was mostly developed during 1970's and 1980's, with the bulk of it accumulated after 1990 in response to the Gulf war environmental crisis. Most, if not all of this knowledge is summarised in more than forty scientific studies published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 27, 1993.

  • Are the Gulf States exhausting or damaging one of the most valuable renewable resource by not balancing the economic and social needs of the people and the limits of what the environment can tolerate?

  • How much of the Gulf environmental impact was contributed by the offshore oil and gas industry.

In the following sections, we will attempt to answer the above questions through an overview survey of the literature available, to discuss the relevant conservation and regulatory initiatives and propose future strategies.

The Environmental Impact As of Today Natural Pressures.

The Gulf is already under natural environmental stresses due to its arid, shallow nature and its relative youth, see table 1 which gives a summary of the Gulf physical and biological nature as tabulated from Shepard (1993) and Price et al., (1993). Against this background, the impact of development activities and from man made disasters and misuse can be better assessed and understood.

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