Abstracts Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 166.1994, Frankfurt a.M.

The impact of the 1991 Gulf War oil spill on bird populations in the northern Arabian Gulf - a review

A b s t r a c t: The Arabian Gulf is of international importance for breeding and wintering seabirds and wintering and migrating waterfowl. Following the massive oil spill which occurred in 1991, a monitoring scheme to assess possible damage was initiated. During the first months more than 30,000 wintering grebes and cormorants, including the endemic Socotra cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) were killed by oil-fouling. This represents from 22 % to more than 50 % of the regional populations of the different species. Large numbers of waders were oil-fouled between February and May 1991. The affected intertidal zone along the Saudi Arabian coast was virtually abandoned for the following two years. Although some mortality has occurred, the records indicate that most waders had dispersed from the affected intertidal habitats and that at least a proportion of the oil-fouled waders survived. Since the autumn of 1992, large numbers of waders have reappeared on the previously oiled intertidal areas indicating that recovery is proceeding. The internationally important breeding colonies of terns on the offshore coral islands escaped any serious impact from the oil spills in 1991. The following year a major decrease in breeding success was caused by a lack of prey fish stocks. At the time of writing it is not clear whether the reduction in prey fish populations and the resulting decrease in the terns' breeding success is attributable to the Gulf War oil spill, or caused by natural fluctuations in fish populations.


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