The Sanctuary Project
International follow-up projects
The Sanctuary Project
The Project Area

The Gulf War Oil Spill and first international actions
During Gulf War 1991 the Iraqi forces intentionally released oil from Mina Al-Ahmadi Island, Mina Saud, and Mina Al-Bakr. Moreover, they reversed tanker pumping systems and bombed tankers to maximise the oil spill. An estimated 11 million barrels of oil were released into the Arabian Gulf.

When the wind direction suddenly changed, the oil beached. Oil slick in Dauhat ad-Dafi.


The oil slick moved southwards along the Arabian Gulf. It was clear that only international cooperation could help to protect the environment of the Arabian Gulf shores. Interestingly, this environmental crisis provided a case study in the practical application of science. As quick as possible, an Emergency Response Centre was established at Dhahran by numerous organisations such as MEPA, NOAA, USEPA, and experts of the EU, Australia and Japan. Furthermore, investigation teams of UNEP and IMO arrived on site.
Many concerned Saudi Arabian organisations pooled their resources under the coordination of the Emergency Response Centre. Some of these organisations were: RCJY, ARAMCO, NCWCD, KFUPM or the Saudi-Arabian Navy and Coastguard.
The Research Institute of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM/RI) led the scientific wing of the Emergency Centre. Their tasks were:

  • providing advice and expertise to the Centre;
  • coordinating scientific activities both at a national and international level;
  • providing scientific information;
  • participating in planning, implementation and evaluation of operations and suggested techniques.

Initial scientific work
During the oil spread the numerous teams observed the proceeding oil slick along the coast and its first ecological effects by daily monitoring flights and remote sensing. Techniques and plans for clean-up procedures, remediation, conservation of uncontaminated areas and protection of human health were worked out.
A Wildlife Rescue Centre was established by NCWCD and RCJY near Jubail Industrial City. The tasks of this Centre were the collection, cleaning and rehabilitation of oiled birds, turtles and sea snakes.
The first important jobs of the Emergency Response Centre teams consisted in collecting geological, geographical and ecological information along the Saudi Arabian Coast. These data were needed to create maps and to provide fundamental information about water, sediments and all sorts of biological factors.
More than one million barrels of oil were collected offshore by skimmer ships and more than half a million barrels were collected on the shoreline.
Mixtures of old and new technologies for clean-up operations were tested at several sites.

Two project ornithologists are cleaning an oil-fouled duck at the Jubail Field Reserch Centre


International follow-up projects

  • Establishment of a Marine Habitat and Wildlife Sanctuary – carried out by the EU and the NCWCD in an area between Abu Ali Island and Ras az-Zaur from October 1991 to June 1995. Over 70 scientists conducted various research, monitoring and development programs.
  • R/V Mt. Mitchell Cruise – a 100-day research cruise by ROPME and NOAA to the Arabian Gulf. Part of the cruise consisted of studies on seagrass, corals, fisheries, sediment transport, oceanography, marine biology and marine chemistry.
  • R/V Umitaka Maru Cruise – carried out by the Tokyo University of Fisheries and ROPME for two weeks in three successive years, ending in December 1994.

The NCWCD/EU Project “Establishment of a Marine Habitat and Wildlife Sanctuary for the Gulf Region”

After the 1991 Gulf War Oil Spill the concerned agencies in Saudi Arabia and a Task Force from the European Union proposed the establishment of a Marine Habitat and Wildlife Sanctuary north of Jubail.
The main involved organisations were:

  • European Union (EU)
  • Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
  • Saudi Arabian National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD)
  • King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM)
  • Meteorology and Environmental Protection Administration of Saudi Arabia (MEPA)
  • Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt

The Project gets started
Based on the Environmental Response Plan drawn up by EU experts, the NCWCD, MEPA and the KFUPM/RI, the Project “Establishment of a Marine Habitat and Wildlife Sanctuary for the Gulf Region” was set up and launched in October 1991. The two embayment systems Dawhat ad-Dafi and Dawhat al-Musallamiya and some coral islands were selected to become the Sanctuary area. This area has been most severely affected by the oil spill.
Former buildings of the NCWCD and the RCJY used as a Wildlife Rescue Centre for the treatment of 1500 oiled birds and other wildlife since February 1991 were made available to the Project. They were transformed into a field research station with wet and dry laboratories, a computer room, offices, stores and a Visitors' Room.

Research preparations
A Geographical Information System (GIS) was installed on Project computers. A detailed base-map of the area was produced from various sources and digitised into the GIS. This provided the scientists with an important tool for data analysis. The Centre was operational in November 1991. However, some additional field camps had to be set up throughout the study area in order to allowed scientists to conduct surveys in more remote areas.

Scientific work
The EU’s part of the project was implemented by the Senckenberg Research Institute. The NCWCD was responsible for the Saudi Arabian component. Over 80 scientists and support personnel participated in this international, multidisciplinary project under the auspices of these two institutions. They started to assess the ecological effects of the oil spill, documented biological diversity and tried to develop sustainable remediation methods.
The NCWCD/EU Project “Establishment of a Marine Habitat and Wildlife Sanctuary for the Gulf Region” was subdivided into three phases:

  • an initiation phase from October 1991 to April 1992;
  • followed by an implementation phase from May 1992 to October 1993;
  • and a transition phase from November 1993 to June 1995.

Over a period of more than 3½ years some 35 research and development projects were conducted by the multidisciplinary team of scientists from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Thereafter the NCWCD took over the management of the newly established Sanctuary.

Satellite image of the Study Area (Google Earth)


The Project Area

The study area consists of two large coastal embayment systems and five offshore coral islands. It covers an area of about 2300 square kilometres with more than 400 kilometres of coastline. The terrestrial component consists of bedrock outcrops, sand sheets, dunes and sabkhat. The intertidal zone is characterised by sandy beaches, rocky shores, salt-marshes and mangroves. Seagrass beds, coral beds and coral reefs form the major types of subtidal habitats. The Sanctuary area contains specimens of all major habitat types of the western Gulf. It includes the northernmost mangrove stands, the largest and most diverse coral reefs, and the most important nesting sites in the Arabian Gulf for marine turtles and several species of seabirds. The upper intertidal zone was heavily hit by the 1991 Oil Spill, while the lower intertidal and subtidal usually escaped contamination.

(Alam 1996, Fleming 1996, Krupp & Khushaim 1996, Ziegler & Krupp 1996, Abuzinada & Krupp 1994)

(photos: F. Krupp)