DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Offshore Projects Division of the Saudi Aramco’s Northern Area Projects Department (OPD/NAPD) have sponsored a coral relocation project in the Arabian Gulf. The aim was to minimize ecological disturbance caused by a planned offshore pipelay installation.
Aramco says a coral assemblage was discovered less than 100 m (328 ft) from the beach in the Safaniya offshore field during the pipelay environmental-impact assessment. The corals were in the path of a trench due to be constructed for the pipe, and would have been destroyed during dredging.
Previously, mitigation measures were taken to lessen the impact of this operation, but these did not compensate for direct habitat losses arising from the dredging, Aramco adds. “Recognizing that offset measures will not provide useful compensation for the loss of this coral assemblage,” says EPD marine environmental specialist Yusef Fadlalla. “We recommended to OPD/NAPD a radical mitigation measure that would give these threatened corals a chance to survive. We decided the corals have to be moved to a safe area.”
Reef Ball Australia and Reef Ball USA, both of which had experience in coral relocation and artificial reef development, were contracted to move the corals. OPD/NAPD project engineer Kahsif Saeed coordinated and supported the work carried out by the Reef Ball consultants.
Following a preliminary survey, a three-week campaign got under way to relocate over 500 small and large colonies of corals to a nursery area around 700 m (2,297 ft) away and a similar distance from the beach. Various small fish and invertebrates were also relocated. The operation coincided with the cuttlefish breeding season, these animals continuing to lay their eggs on hard natural surfaces as well as the artificial surfaces provided by the concrete coral bases, diver gear, transfer baskets, and coral colony tags found in the nursery area.
Aramco says the biological observations of cuttlefish breeding behavior were a coincidental benefit of the relocation operation. Some coral colonies were also moved along a line that connected the nursery area to the original location in order to expand the range of the corals and to help re-establish corals in the impacted area. Without this EPD initiative, Aramco claims, the corals would not have survived.