Persian Gulf Essay

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Located in a politically volatile region at the center of the world’s most important and accessible oil deposits, the Persian Gulf is one of the most environmentally vulnerable bodies of water in the world. Within the past few decades small fishing villages on the Trucial Coast, the coastline of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, have experienced phenomenal economic growth. Dubai, for example, has become a hub for air and sea transport, finance, and trade throughout Eurasia. This development has led to a significant increase in pollution and ship traffic in the gulf.

The Persian Gulf wars in Iraq and Kuwait and Saddam Hussein’s destructive environmental warfare have left a harmful environmental legacy. Crisscrossed by oil pipelines, dotted by refineries and sulfur stations, the Saudi coastal oil facilities are a ripe target for terrorists wanting to cause global economic panic. The prospect of conflict with Iran and its development of nuclear technologies have also made the Gulf vulnerable on its northeastern shore.

The Persian Gulf, barely connected to the Arabian Sea by the narrow straits of Hormuz between Oman and Iran, functions almost as its own ecosystem. It is some 1,000 kilometers long and 300 kilometers wide, but is only 35 meters deep on average. Any oil spills or pollutants that enter the gulf take a long time to exit the straits and dilute. With mangroves, salt marshes, mudflats, coral reefs, and sea grass along its shore, the warm waters of the Gulf are home to a great diversity of marine life, one of the richest in the world. Large numbers of migratory seabirds flourish in the warm, shallow marshy habitat. The dugong-a large, rare, slow moving sea mammal-is found in significant numbers near the coast. Sea turtles are also commonly found nesting on the Trucial sands.

The potential for conflict in the Persian Gulf region remains high and the risk of environmental fall out from large-scale warfare does not seem to be ending any time soon. The unbridled development of oil-producing states will continue to threaten fragile marine environments on the coasts. The Persian Gulf is too often referred to as “the Gulf,” as a purely political entity and as a potential center of international political crisis and change. The potential for environmental crisis in gulf waters, however, is perhaps just as high. It remains to be seen if either the political or the environmental consequences of recent Western intervention in the region can be managed.


  1. Haim Bresheeth and Hira Yuval-Davis, , The Gulf War and the New World Order (Zed Books, 1991);
  2. Micah Sifry and Cristopher Cerf, eds., The Iraq War Reader (Touchstone, 2003).

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