Our team completed a broad multidisciplinary survey in 2003 characterizing several thousand transects along 850 km of oil-impacted shoreline to determine the impacts of the 1991 oil spill on the Saudi Arabian Gulf from the western end of Abu Ali Island to the Kuwait border. Salt marshes and tidal flats there form a very significant portion of the oil-impacted coastline. These habitats were heavily oiled in 1991 and significant loss of biological communities was reported then. Although a large scale response effort followed the spill, the size of the spill overwhelmed it. The overwhelming majority of the spill site is remote and will likely receive little or no cleanup and/or restoration effort.

After completing the survey, we conducted an ecological survey at two selected salt marsh transects using line-intercept and quadrat counts counting macrovegetation and intertidal macroepibenthos within one impacted (recovering) and one unoiled (comparison) transect. The objective of our paper is to present useful highlights regarding the nature of the recovery of intertidal macroepibenthos and the vegetation associated with salt marshes. A continuing impact to key species and their assemblages is documented and discussed. We conclude that while recovery has progressed from initial reports of significant damages in 1991–1993 the overall recovery of the salt marshes is far from complete. Some areas of considerable size and importance show little or no sign of recovery. In summary, the oil spill of 1991 was arguably the largest coastal spill in history. Long-term effects are widespread, appear to be profoundly large-scale, and in some cases salt marshes show little sign of natural recovery.

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