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Overseas projects in the Middle East have presented a catalyst for Woods Hole Group to open a new office in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Middle East countries have experienced a number of large-scale environmental impacts.  The disruption to the Gulf region’s terrestrial, aquatic, and coastal environments brought on by three Gulf wars within the past 20 years are prime examples.  Additionally, booming economies have introduced wide-scale development with related side-effects that impact terrestrial, aquatic and coastal zones.

The response to these environmental disruptions has been an increased awareness by environmental decision-makers and concerned citizens in the Middle East.  Subsequently, environmental regulations have been strengthened to address these challenges, and this has fueled a growing environmental economy. 

Dr. David Aubrey, Managing Director of Woods Hole Group Middle East, LLC (WHGME) and Chairman and founding CEO of Woods Hole Group, recognized the valuable cultural and environmental significance of the Gulf Region.  Woods Hole Group management identified the business trend as an opportunity to grow the firm’s global presence. 

Pursuing a growth strategy in the Gulf region, Dr. Aubrey has been implementing projects and developing business opportunities in the Kingdom for the past ten years, and subsequently spearheaded the opening of a new regional office.  Realizing the potential for a continued presence in the Middle East, WHGME was established with the mission to address environmental issues specifically in the Gulf region countries.  The focus of WHGME has been on environmental remediation and restoration, environmental monitoring and real-time observation systems, civil and coastal engineering services, information technology, and program management.  WHGME currently has ongoing projects in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and other states in the Gulf Region that are managed from the Riyadh Office.

Dr. Aubrey has attracted local scientists and engineers recognized in their respective technical fields to join the WHGME team.  These professionals were drawn in part from the Saudi scientific and engineering community, bringing with them complementary skills and experience in solving environmental problems in the Middle East. 

One of the first hires was Dr. Abdulkader Al-Sari, a senior scientist with more than 25 years experience gained inside and outside of Saudi Arabia, in Geology and Environment with emphasis in Remote Sensing and GIS (Geographic Information Systems).  He was joined by environmental specialists with experience from inside and outside Saudi Arabia. 

This approach of combining Saudi nationals, U.S. nationals, and other expatriates with extensive experience in the Middle East ensures that the staff is intimately familiar with the local environmental issues, priorities, and policies.  WHGME is committed to acclimating with the culture and business climate in the region.  This tradition began in 2001 when Woods Hole Group began an ambitious project to assess the potential of remediating damage to wetlands from the 2001 Gulf War oil spill.

From January 1991 through June 1991, approximately 11 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf Region.  At the time, the 1991 oil release was the largest in the world (four times larger than any prior Gulf spill and more than three times larger than any prior spill worldwide). This oil formed a plume that reached a maximum coverage of approximately 200 km2.  Most of the released oil came ashore on the Saudi Arabian Gulf Coast line in late January and February 1991 when tides were exceptionally high and the coast was experiencing high on-shore winds.  The combination of high tides and strong winds carried the oil beyond the intertidal zone into sabkahs, upper marsh, and back beach areas.  Despite intensive efforts to contain and remove the oil, virtually all of the coast line between Kuwait and Abu Ali was impacted.  Approximately 292 km of exposed sand beaches were adversely impacted, as were large expanses of salt marshes, tide flats, and rocky shores. 

Fourteen years after the spill approximately 78% of salt marshes, 88% of tidal flats, and 90% of sand and rock beaches remain impacted by oil.  The extent and duration of oil impacting these habitats indicates that the ecological impact is more persistent than previously expected. The most obvious remnants of the oil spill are along the coastal zone where hardened viscous tar actively prevents re-colonization of the rocky substrate. 

Woods Hole Group began working in Saudi Arabia in 2001 with a baseline biological survey of five selected habitats including salt marsh, rocky shore, tide flat, lagoon, and sand beach habitats.  These were selected to conduct oil remediation trials to provide scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of active remediation on each habitat.  The prevailing view of an United Nations (UN) sponsored expert panel was that natural recovery was occurring and that any remediation effort would cause more damage to the ecosystem than no action. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia disagreed with this point of view and hired Woods Hole Group in 2003 to conduct trials to demonstrate the efficacy of various remediation technologies.  After the trials were conducted, Woods Hole Group resurveyed the remediation sites.  These data exhibited encouraging results. 

Based on the success of the remediation trials, the Woods Hole Group was asked by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2006 to reassess the viability of the remediation efforts in order to develop large-scale remediation plans.  A team of wetland scientists from the Woods Hole Group resurveyed the remediation demonstration sites and found that several of the remediation techniques had provided a jump start for biological recovery.  These results showed that certain remediation techniques benefit the recovery process while contributing no negative impacts to the ecosystem. This was a promising development for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it provided scientific evidence supporting active remediation of Saudi Arabia’s oil-impacted marine, coastal and terrestrial environments.

 

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