Protection and Preservation of Aquatic Ecosystem in Saudi Arabia

Subject: Law
Pages: 28
Words: 7666
Reading time:
29 min
Study level: College


There are many conventional, traditional, and customary rules formulated to regulate the utilization of water-related resources of different nations. However, the majority are dictated by people’s perceptions towards the issue of sovereignty of states. Applicability of such laws in Saudi Arabia, therefore, means that acts amounting to aquatic pollution would entail illegal acts if they entangle the erosion of the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia.

This perception widely holds in the “case of shared freshwater resources where the focus of the equitable use principle is on the balancing of different use interests in the resource and not on the protection of ecological interests.”[1] Nevertheless, in the recent past, numerous developing regimes of aquatic ecosystem international law stand out as departing and extending far beyond the obligations adhered to by traditional approaches.

The modern focus of conservation and protection of aquatic ecosystems in Saudi Arabia predominantly rests on the need for the creation of laws that foster the use of international watercourses in a manner that is not only equitable but also reasonable. Based on the works of Brunnée and Toope, such an approach entails the “prevention of significant transboundary harm by including more ‘purely’ environmental obligations, such as provisions that require the adoption of a more ecosystem-oriented approach to such protection (27).”[2] The ecosystem approach is the heart of the aquatic ecosystem international law formulations binding Saudi Arabia[3].

Its roots are anchored in the United States scientific literature of the 1930s and ’40s and simply look at the aquatic ecosystem as a single unit, as opposed to a set of interconnected components. As Ehrlich (97) et al informs, “An ecosystem is a functional unit that includes both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) elements”[4]. EGEL (The Experts Group on Environmental Law), on the other hand, claims that the aquatic ecosystem embraces “a system of plants, animals, and micro-organisms together with the non-living components of the environment”[5]. For discussions in this paper, the aquatic ecosystem will be used to mean both fresh and salty water’s living organisms (biotic) and nonliving organisms (abiotic) that support the life of the biotic component.

Akin to the setting of the international laws on aquatic life protection and conservation to which Saudi Arabia subscribes is the need to regulate non-navigational human activities (Brunnée and Toope 51). To achieve this goal, it is necessary to identify aquatic ecosystems, which are most vulnerable to deterioration and destruction by human activities. This helps people to apply the international law provisions explicitly on specific cases in an endeavor to make it more effective in the monitoring of undue human activities. Nevertheless, this presents a challenge particularly by considering the works of various scholars.

For instance, “at present, there is no global legal framework, which defines international responsibilities and mechanisms in the identification, creation, and protection of Marine Protected Areas beyond national jurisdiction.”[6] This paper opens a broad space for the interpretation of Saudi Arabian’s obligations and rights as stipulated in the international law that set guidelines and regulations for human interactions with the aquatic ecosystem.

In the development of the debate, the paper recognizes that negative interference of the aquatic ecosystem in Saudi Arabia has negative impacts on the dry land. Hence, the conservation and protection of aquatic biodiversity, as expressed by the international legal policy instruments, is not only necessary for consideration in the international arena but also amounts to treaties to which Saudi Arabia and the international community need to adhere. Additionally, the paper argues that Saudi Arabia is largely dependent on desalination for the provision of fresh water[7].

Desalination entails adding brine[8] (water with high salt concentrations) to the sea. Since the paper argues that adding brine to the sea will probably affect the marine environment, the paper finds it crucial to scrutinize whether decisions to establish desalination plants are consistent with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the law of the sea (UNCLOS) – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Schwarte and Siegele 33). In an attempt to shed light on this concern, the paper provides a substantial and comprehensive treatment of regional treaties amounting to international laws on aquatic ecosystems binding Saudi Arabia.


Why enact Saudi Arabia’s aquatic ecosystem conservation and protection strategies by international law?

Based on estimations, oceans cover about 70 % of the total surface of the earth. Schwarte and Siegele approximate that this surface has “an average depth of almost 4,000 meters”[1]. They further assert, “It is estimated that more than 90 % of the planet’s living biomass is found there.”[2] In this line view, it is also plausible to note that the aquatic ecosystem manages large amounts of pollutants generated both within it and in the dry land (Misra and Kupitz 22).

Additionally, apart from supporting almost all life on earth, it buffers and regulates both global temperature and weather[3]. It is also claimed by scientists that aquatic environments such as deep sea beds remain unexploited and hold high potentials for the generation of knowledge that may go far in the discovery of medicinal interventions of incurable diseases that have threatened the existence of people (Schwarte and Siegele 37). Failure to conserve and protect Saudi Arabian’s aquatic ecosystem would thus deprive the state of all these benefits.

From a different dimension, Saudi Arabian’s marine life remains highly threatened by wastes disposed of by people, especially plastic debris. This threat applies also to other nations globally. Schwarte and Siegele (37) support its existence when they contend that “Plastic and synthetic materials are the most common types of marine debris and many animals have been injured or have died after being entangled in or ingesting these materials.”[4]

These wastes threaten health, productivity biodiversity and self-purification of the aquatic environment of Saudi Arabian waters[5]. Other activities such as uncontrolled fishing and shipping, also lead to compounded damage to the aquatic life (Vijverberg 324). This amplifies the fear that if Saudi Arabia does not take plausible interventions through embracing appropriate international laws to regulate these human activities, some aquatic species may get lost long before they have been discovered.

International laws on aquatic ecosystems recognize the need to regulate shipping activities. Likely dangers posed by shipping to aquatic life range from deliberate or accidental oil spillages, noise, discharge of operational wastes of the sea vessels, ballast water, release of anti-fouling paints to chemical residues among other threats. Other activities such as military operations, seismic studies, and exploitation of gases and oils are inherent causes of hearing loss, disruption of mating activities, communication, migration

patterns, and feeding of whales and dolphins among other ocean biotic species. Laying deep-water cables cause disruptions to the aquatic ecosystem in general. Saudi Arabia has thus found it significant to adopt international laws on aquatic life conservation and protection. Such laws capture various mechanisms and methodologies of regulating aquatic human activities so that they amount to milder effects on the aquatic ecosystem.

Literature Review

Public international law on aquatic life protection and conservation binding Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia subscribes to public international laws. These laws prescribe principles and rules that regulate the various relationships existing between states and other organs that are subject to the application of international law. Such organs include European communities without negating the United Nations. Ehrlich et al inform that international public law is “primarily created through states and covers almost all areas of inter-state activities such as trade, diplomacy, postal services, transboundary emissions, and the use of outer space and war.”[1] Brunnée and Toope posit, “Public international law governs issues relating to the global environment, control and jurisdiction over territory, human rights, and international crime”[2].

The aquatic environment is perhaps one of the inter-States interconnected environments whose use is subject to international law application[3]. It is critical to note that even though the international public laws serve the interests of individuals and various interests groups, it primarily confers varying obligations coupled with rights to States only in situations where it is called for. This implies that it is only on limited occasions that Saudi Arabia citizens can base their claims for their rights directly from the international law stipulations.

International law rests on customary law and international treaties. “Treaties are agreements between states and only bind the participating parties.”[4] Discussing international law as it applies to Saudi Arabia’s aquatic ecosystem is consequently merely an introspection of the related customary law and the proceeds of various international treaties (Gunter 187). Essential also to note is that, in the discussion of the international treaties, the terms protocols, covenants, pacts, and conventions are synonymous. The United Nations charter is perhaps one of the most vastly known international conventions, which is more often than not termed as “the constitution of the international community”[5].

Other than this protocol, Schwarte and Siegele shed light that “there is no hierarchy between different international treaties and therefore conflicts amongst different treaty regimes may be addressed in the treaties themselves but can be subject to often contentious questions of application and interpretation.”[6] Stemming from this treaties are the regulatory regimes, which directly monitor the compliance of the actions of the signatory Member States to the stipulated regulations by the international codes of conducts about their aquatic ecosystem activities.

Saudi Arabia subscribes to the Convention’s law and customary law that applies to the conservation and protection of aquatic ecosystems deployed in the establishment of international laws. These two laws are complementary in many aspects. Conventions depend on codifications laid out in the customary law. The practices of the nations, including Saudi Arabia, subsequently produce the provisions of the protocols further. In this context, the actions of various states lead to the emergence of more rules within the sphere of customary law.

However, as Brunnée and Toope reckon, “What constitutes currently applicable international law is however often a question of interpretation dependent on political factors operating within the sphere of international relations.”[7] In addition to provisions of treaties, academic investigations, States’ behaviors, precedence’s of international courts and direct evidence forms persuasive sources and frameworks for international customs adopted by Saudi Arabia.

Application of International law in Saudi Arabia’s aquatic ecosystems conservation and protection

Saudi Arabia recognizes the concerns of the international law on aquatic conservation and protection in her formulation of aquatic ecosystem conservation and protection laws. The international law on aquatic ecosystems channels its efforts to curtail the human activities that pose threats to marine organisms both living and non-living. Important treaties and international laws that govern the conservation of aquatic environments include the marine mammal protection act (1972) enacted in the US and the treaty on fishing and conservation of living resources in the high seas (1966) among others. Now, the rest of the paper highlights these treaties and their jurisdictions showing how they relate to the conservation and preservation of aquatic life. In this endeavor, the concept of what is termed as high seas in international law is essential to scrutinize before proceeding to the global international protocols applicable in Saudi Arabia.

High seas

The study of the implication of the concept of high seas began as early as the seventieth century. Brunné and Toope posit that “by the first half of the 19th century the notion of the high seas as an area exempt from claims to national sovereignty by any State had, with some exceptions, become generally accepted.”[8] States had no legal obligation under international provisions to intercept other States’ high sea operations in as much as they entailed lawful activities. However, in the modern aquatic international law provisions, lawful activities on the high seas are widely dictated by conventions of the United Nations about high seas (UNCLOS).

This convention, under international law on aquatic ecosystems conservation and preservation, is the constitution that provides guidelines for use of the world’s oceans. The guidelines embrace navigational rights, scientific research of marine environments, technology transfers, commercial activities such as fishing, gases and oils mining, environmental controls, and settlement of disputes likely to arise because of regulation of these activities.

In the words of Schwart and Siegele, the “Convention also sets out the international consensus on the scope and regime for different jurisdictional maritime zones.”[9] Marine time zones jurisdictions stipulates that coastal states have the only legal capacity to practice their sovereign rights to only belts extending 12 nautical miles from their territories. Vessels belonging to foreign states, as a repercussion, have only the rights to get into those belts on innocence “grounds”.

On the aspects of utilization of natural resources, scientific research, some economic activities coupled with environmental protection, UNCLOS provides that coastal states have sovereign rights to the extents of 200 nautical miles. Beyond this extent, other states have the right to lay their submarine cables, have freedom of navigation, and even overflight. Within the exclusive economic zones, states have the right to carry out and enforce immigration customs, sanitary and fiscal regulations, and laws consistent with that States’ legal provisions.

Saudi Arabia amongst other nations has laws that regulate activities of its vessel sailing in aquatic environments. However, international law sets the jurisdiction applicable to vessels sailing on the high seas. According to the United Nations conventions, as confirmed by Schwart and Siegele, “Ships that sail in the high seas remain under the jurisdiction of the State that they fly its flag”[10]. In the interest of regulation of overfishing, the international law on aquatic preservation and conservation as provided for by UNCLOS demands that high water fishing vessels should acquire authorization permits before engaging in fishing activities in such waters.

It is however apparent that under the United Nations conventions, “The principle of Flag State jurisdiction is subject to some exceptions”[11]. For instance, in case of piracy, a nation’s ship and or a plane may take any appropriate action against pirate’s vessels and their crews. On a different dimension, the international law as it pertains to restriction of high seas activities accords Saudi Arabia the right to stop, arrest, and search and or board high sea vessels subject to international agreements or on the grounds of ad hoc. This application of the international law may perhaps be well exemplified by, illegal fishing interceptions such as the arrest of Spanish fishing vessels by Norwegian boats in 2006.

Global international conventions

Under international agreements, there are no specific areas and designations tagged as protected aquatic habitats. Additionally, international law does not establish internationally agreed legal frameworks that address imminent threats acerbated by human activities on aquatic environments to designated regions. The global treaties in existence more often indirectly or directly concern themselves with conservation and protection of the aquatic environment in general. The following discussion introspects such treaties applicable in Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations’ conventions amounting to international laws on sea binding Saudi Arabia

Under provisions of the UNCLOS, the marine environment is subdivided into different zones. The provisions spell out the various responsibilities and rights of differing states in connection to the laid-out zones. The UNCLOS also postulates that states have general calls to ensure cute protection of marine environment lying both beyond and within national jurisdictions. The convention goes on to provide that states have noble roles to either jointly or individually take strategic measures vital for reduction, prevention, and where necessary total control of pollution of the aquatic ecosystem by any source, water vessels, exploitations of sea resources, dumping of both land-based and sea-based wastes among others.

The UNCLOS also requires states to take a collaborative approach in the management, protection, and conservation of aquatic biotic components. This particularly applies where various nations fish on common grounds. In this context, Schwart and Siegele inform that the united nations treaty provides that “Conservation measures must be designed based on the best scientific evidence available to maintain populations at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield and avoid threats to the species associated with or dependent upon harvested species”[1]. The UNCLOS declares sea beds coupled with their sub-soils that are beyond the stipulated state’s jurisdictions as heritages common for the entire human race.

The global human race, through its States, deserves to conserve and protect such heritages collaboratively. “All resource exploration and exploitation activities in this ‘area’ are to be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole taking into particular consideration the interests of developing states”[2]. Under the international laws, the international seabed Authority (ISA), whose mandate Saudi Arabia appreciates, was to serve this purpose.

Agreement on fish stocks

Within the spectra of the international laws that regulate the aquatic ecosystems and bind Saudi Arabia, is the 1982 United Nations fish stocks agreement. This law articulates “straddling fish stocks” coupled with “highly migratory fish stocks” management with conservation measures as stipulated in the UNCLOS implementation agreement arrived at during the 10th December 1982 convention.

In the international law provisions, this law is interpreted consistently with the UNCLOS provisions on how the international community needs to interact with aquatic ecosystems. As Koslow (2009) posits, “In areas beyond national jurisdiction fisheries management is to be based on the precautionary approach, i.e. the absence of adequate scientific information must not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation measures”[3].

The conservation measures addressed in this law are evident in Saudi Arabia’s aquatic ecosystem conservation and protection strategies. Such measures relate to but are not limited to the deployment of selective fishing technologies and tools coupled with the deployment of management methodologies that are akin to the protection of fish species that live within the same ecosystem. Additionally, this law makes provisions and sets conditions that, parties that do not necessarily subscribe or belong to the fisheries agreement must fulfill (Millero and Sohn 77). It calls such parties to take proactive roles in both conservation and cooperation in the protection of vulnerable fish stocks.

To this extent, Koslow (2009) reckons that “a State whose vessels fish on the high seas, must also take the necessary measures to ensure that these vessels respect regional conservation regimes”[4]. The law only permits States to give permits to fishing vessels to which they can only exercise their control. This is necessary since it amounts to a means by which Saudi Arabia can be able to monitor irresponsible conduct extended by the fishing vessels and their crew, which may pose danger to the aquatic ecosystem.

Desalination in Saudi Arabia: how it affects aquatic ecosystem

Overview of desalination

The term desalination is deployed to refer to any of the myriads of processes employed to remove some quantities of salt and or mineral in saline waters. The main aim of desalinating salty water is to obtain fresh water often fit for human consumption and or irrigation. Table salt is amongst many other potential by-products of desalination. Traditionally, the process has been deployed in many sea-going vessels including ships and submarines[5].

However, the modern focus of desalination is pegged on the need to produce human consumption fresh water in cost-effective ways. In this context, desalinated water in Saudi Arabia is an additional way of providing fresh water from sources that are not dependent on rainfall apart from recycled water. Even though on large scale, desalination is highly sophisticated and hence specialized infrastructure is required with consequences of making the process an expensive means of acquiring freshwater as opposed to other sources such as groundwater, in some nations such as Saudi Arabia and Australia, desalination is relevant.

The relevancy of the desalination in such nations is typically evidenced by the fact that such nations have been traditionally dependent on water retained behind dams. Since the average amount of rainfall falling globally has reduced with advances of global warming, scarcity of freshwater has been experienced often thus prompting nations to seek other ways for obtaining the deficit. Indeed, according to International Desalination Association, “14,451 desalination plants operated worldwide, producing 59.9e6 cubic meters (2.12×109 cu ft) per day, a year on year increase of 12.3% by

2009”[6]. Furthermore, this figure pushed upwards to reach the level of 68 million in 2010 with anticipations of hitting120 million by 2020. Of this figure, 40 million is planned for the Middle East[7]. The significance of desalination in Saudi Arabia perhaps is profound by considering that the world’s largest desalination plant (Jebel Ali) is situated in the United Arabs emirates.

Water desalination in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia produces an immense quantity of her fresh water from desalination process. According to Lee, by 2010 Saudi Arab produced 24 million cubic meters of water from the process on daily basis. In deed this was about half of the world’s total quantity of fresh water obtained this way. In the same year, Saudi Arabia initiated world’s mega solar powered plant for desalinating water. This plant is located in the Al-Khafji city in the Persian Gulf (Lattemann and Hopner 13). According to Lee, Saudi Arabia endeavor to “enlarge its water desalination capacity using high-tech green technology is a smart move, multi-dimensionally strategic and future-oriented”1.

This endeavor is in fact worthwhile since Saudi Arabia largely depended on production of fresh water through plants powered by natural gas or oil as the source of energy. Putting into perspective that global oil prices have been on the rise, the process of using oil in desalination process arguably, is economically unsound. Lee (2011) contends with this argument. He adds, “A cubic meter of water costs between 40 and 90 US cents to produce, depending on the price of fuel…the Kingdom uses a tremendous amount of energy—1.5 million barrels of oil per day—to provide power to the country’s 30 government-operated water desalination plants”2. This ideally means that with escalation of oil prices, the cost of fresh water realized from desalination process also increases proportionately.

In Saudi Arabia, saline water conversion office (SWCO), “had constructed twenty-four desalination plants across the Saudi Arabian coast, including the twelve major plants on the western coast on the Red Sea and another three on the eastern coast on the Arabian Gulf”3. The capacity of desalination to constitute the Saudi Arabian major source of fresh water is apparently conspicuous by considering the SWCO observation that in 2002, about 27 plants had been constructed in Saudi Arabian kingdom to provide 814 million cubic meters to water supply, on daily basis in major industrial centers and urban areas. Precisely, 70 percent of Saudi Arabian drinking water is supplied through desalination process.

To build plants for desalinating water dependent on solar energy demand a lot of money and energy which Saudi Arabia arguably has in plenty. In fact, the government of Saudi Arabia had been proactively supporting construction of mega water desalination plants in the nation through privatization of plants constructions coupled with their operations especially via encouraging international collaboration on the aspects of adoption of upcoming technologies for minimization of overreliance on oil energy sources to power her desalination plants.

Stemming from this argument and from the previous discussions, it is apparent that Saudi Arabia had been largely and will continue focusing on deploying desalination as her chief process of obtaining fresh water for human consumption in the nation. However, from the need to protect aquatic ecosystems, several queries arise- do desalination process affect aquatic ecosystem negatively or positively? Do the endeavors to practice desalination on large scale consistent with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the law of the sea (UNCLOS) – United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea especially bearing in mind that desalination entails adding brine(concentrated salts) to the sea?

Impacts of desalination to aquatic life/Marine Life

Variations of salinity afflict the size and growth of various aquatic lives coupled with disturbance of a variety of marine species. Apparently, limits of tolerance of aquatic organisms to various salinity levels constitute crucial aspects to consider while attempting assessing marine population disturbance. More precisely, disturbance of salinity levels in seas have multifold impacts on aquatic species.

On one hand, some species such as shellfish benefit from such alteration while on the other hand some other species are adversely impacted. Alteration of salinity levels of up 35 to 70 ppt can impacts aquatic ecosystem in a number of ways. Change in seawater salinity influence “development of species and the propagation activity and faster individual growth, survival of larval stages of animals and life expectancy (shorter or longer generation time), population density of organisms (higher or lower population growth rate) and also breeding of species and reproductive traits”4. Based on scholarly research, around the discharge outlets of desalination plants, the salinity levels vary from 80 ppt opposed to 35 to 36 ppt in the seawater.

In this context, salinity degree of seawater in which brine is discharged is a function of the distance from the desalination plant. Ideally then, the impacts of desalination plants on aquatic ecosystem also varies with respect to distances of the location of the flora and fauna with respect to the location of the discharge area.

According to studies concerned with impacts of salinity variation on marine organisms, the most pronounced effects of desalination evidence themselves to mobile species including plankton and fish. “The reaction will be highest in those organisms with a plankton stage in their life history”5. Another study conducted by Parry, claims that salinity impacts different marine species population, sizes and their behavior differently. According to Parry (1960) “increasing the salinity level up to 50 ppt could possibly have an enormous impact on the size of several types of fish and the survival rate, but the impact on salmon seems to be less than rainbow trout, which on the other hand can survive salinity changes better than the brown trout”6. Additionally, the study argues that high probabilities exists that salinity is a mega function affecting fish stocks distribution (Moser and Gerry 37).

On the other hand, juvenile fish’s offspring stocks such as croaker are indeed highly vulnerable to fluctuations of salinity levels as compared to spot progenies7. Nevertheless, mature species of these stocks are able to tolerate varying salinity levels. Gunter argues that salinity increment negatively correlates with marine species8. The discharged brine from desalination plants is often at much higher temperatures than that of the sea naturally. This has the overall effects of raising the temperatures of the sea above normal values, which in turn affects the flora and fauna of Saudi Arabian aquatic ecosystem differently.

Saudi Arabian decision to exploit desalination in mega scale makes it clear that marine thermal pollutions would also likely escalate. This rise up in temperature is produced by cooling water that is released in to the seas from the desalination plants and results to a major variation in seawater temperature along differing layers of seawater body. The sea water temperature is distributed in the order: surface which covers 10 percent of the sea water level-over 17 degrees centigrade: thermocline layer, which covers about 25 percent downwards from where surface level reaches-4 to 17 degrees centigrade and the rest is deep water leavel-4 degrees centigrade9.

There in fact exist valid studies on the impacts of thermal pollution arising from desalination plants on abundance coupled with distribution of marine fauna and flora. In any desalination projects, the temperature of the discharged brine indeed is one of the most crucial factors of consideration. However, no matter all interventions that are possible, practically the brine cannot be released into the seas at temperatures below ambient temperatures. Based on this account many marine biologists enormously contend that “significant impact can occur to the natural balance and distribution of the marine life if a temperature alteration applied to the ambient environment”10.

In this context, a direct correlation exists between the behavior of marine flora and fauna and the degree of temperature alteration. Ideally then, sea temperature is a key variable for determination of the manner in which flora and fauna life of the marine ecosystem is distributed in Saudi Arabian waters. Largest temperature values alteration has been found to take place within the closest vicinity of outfall diffuser of brine discharge systems.

In this end, Abdul-Wahab (2007) study finds a direct association between seawater temperature and the distance of discharge sites of desalination plants. Jenkins and Wasyl maintain, “The discharge temperature can spike to as high as 57°C at the mouth of the plume discharge”11. This indeed can have an immense impact on aquatic life especially on noting that generally seawater temperature varies from 10 to 25 degrees centigrade when not interfered with human activities including desalination endeavors.

Tantamount to salinity variation impacts on the reproduction and growth of various marine fish stocks species, temperature also influences their growth and reproduction especially mobile species with planktons coupled with fish being most susceptible to temperature changes12. This is perhaps a confirmation of the results of an earlier study on impacts of temperature on marine life conducted by Vijverberg in 1980. The study focused specifically on impacts of temperature variation on planktons and claimed, “increasing the temperature of the ambient environment will lead to a positive effect on reproduction biology and the growth rate of several species of plankton”13.

Hiked sea temperature results in decreased hatching time of eggs for fish and acceleration, of rate of growth (Jenkins and Wasyl 73). Arguably, then the rate of production of fish stocks is escalated with possibilities of creating imbalance between the fish and the food sources rates of replenishments. Such an imbalance is evidently unhealthy for continued existences of the Saudi Arabian aquatic fauna element of the aquatic ecosystem. A typical example is the impacts of temperature rise on the maturity rates of Moina mangolica. Aquatic biologists confirm that their maturity age drops by 2.4 days right from 5.8 days at 20 degrees centigrade to 3.4 days when temperature is raised to 30 degrees centigrade.

It is thus clear that the impacts of desalination on aquatic flora and fauna in Saudi Arabia are both positive and negative. Such impacts depend on the species and on the extents of temperature variations. However, in making this inference it is perhaps relevant to note that minimal data exist on the impacts of temperature variations on various kinds of fauna and flora species. Additionally, the existence of limited number of researches on influences of salinity in relation to fluctuations of temperatures makes the overall determination of impacts of desalination on aquatic flora and fauna challenged.

The myriads of impacts of desalination on plants within the aquatic environment are valid (Abdul-Wahab 328). The effects of desalination plants manifests themselves in terms of entrainment and impingement of aquatic species due to intake of escalated quantities of saline seawater coupled with air pollutants emission from the desalination plants. A fundamental concern of desalination plants are chemical and concentrates discharges released to the marine environment (Scovazzi 17). These discharges often have immense impacts on the sediments and water quality, impairment to marine system functioning and affecting negatively the intactness of ecosystem of Saudi Arabian costal ecosystem.

On global fronts, the impacts of discharges on the aquatic ecosystem attracts the attention of the world health organization prompting issuing of a general guidance on the same as discussed in details by Lattemann and Hopner (2008). Additionally, recent publication have paid special concerns to “some regional seas with high or increasing desalination activity, such as the Arabian Gulf, the red sea, the Mediterranean or costal waters off California”14. Stemming from these regional concerns of desalination, variety of impacts of desalination is conspicuous.

Whether in Saudi Arabia or any other place in the world such as California or Australia where desalination has being adopted as a major source of fresh water for human consumption, many sources saline water in desalination plants exist. However, the commonest source especially in Saudi Arabia had been open sea intakes. As Lattemann and Hopner (2008) note, “the use of open intakes may result in losses of aquatic organisms when these collide with intake screens (impingement) or are drawn into the plant with the source water (entrainment)”15.

Construction of intakes and piping causes an imminence disturbance of seabeds something that leads to re-suspension of sea sediments pollutants and even nutrients along the sea water column. Even after completion of the installations, structures may incredibly afflict the sediments and water exchanges. The structure may also act as manmade reefs for a variety of organisms. This impacts are arguably, however, milder as compared to the aquatic ecosystem impacts produced by the by products of the desalination process. More specifically, the process produces immense quantities of concentrates often leading to hiking of seawater temperature without negation of the fact that heavy metals may also be found in such discharges arising from corrosion of metallic components of the plants’ structures.

Moreover, the plants often undergo periodic cleaning using chemicals whose remnants are a threat to the aquatic ecosystem when released into the seas. Indeed chemical cleaning and pretreatment is required by virtually every desalination plant. Such treatments include “treatment against biofouling, scaling, foaming and corrosion in thermal plants, and against biofouling, suspended solids and scale deposits in membrane plants.”16 In Saudi Arabia, typically by-products alongside with chemical residuals are directed to the seas together with the concentrates. Such residues consequently end up interacting with the aquatic ecosystem of the Saudi Arabian seawaters.

Negative repercussion of discharging desalination by-products and concentrated of desalination plants’ conspicuously evidences themselves when such discharges coincide with various ecosystems that are sensitive to them. Such impacts are largely dependent on the physico-chemical characteristics of various reject streams and on biological and hydro-geographical features of the environment receiving them. According to Lattemann and Hopner (2008), “enclosed and shallow sites with abundant marine life can generally be assumed to be more sensitive to desalination plant discharges than exposed, high energy, open-sea locations, which are more capable to dilute and disperse the discharges”17.

Through consideration of the above impacts of desalination on the likelihood to create condition that may lead to negative interference of the aquatic ecosystem, it is perhaps relevant that considerations on what Saudi Arabia is doing to curtail such impacts are given some introspection. This is discussed through consideration of various mitigation strategies.

Saudi Arabia considers evaluation of a myriad of impacts of desalination projects on the aquatic ecosystem as one of the most plausible of ways of mitigating their resulting effects. One of the sufficient tools deployed to facilitate the evaluation process is environmental impact assessment (EIA). As Lattemann and Hopner (2008) inform, “IEA is a systematic procedure for identifying and evaluating all potential impacts of a proposed project, and for developing appropriate mitigation measures and alternatives, such as modifications to the process or alternative project sites”18. As a mitigation strategy, Saudi Arabia requires desalination plants not to use open intakes but rather make use of various combinations of different meshed screens combined with lesser velocities of intake (Moser and Gerry. This goes far in reducing entrainment and impingement of marine organisms including fish and turtles among others.

Additionally, it is also necessary that entrainment of small organism including planktons and eggs are prevented from being drawn into the desalination plants. In this end, Saudi Arabia legislates that intakes of desalination plants must be located far away from breeding areas. Consequently, intakes needs being located in deep waters, underground or even offshore. Arguably through compliance to this requirement an additional benefit is gained in terms of acquiring better quality water.

This then means that less of pretreatment is done meaning that in overall; fewer chemicals would find their way back into the seas. Unfortunately, where accessibility of deep waters can only be obtained through construction of underground intakes, more soil and sediments disturbance is experienced as compared with when open sources are deployed. In this context, the overall decision on the type of intake to use is a compromise of the magnitudes of impacts each approach would pose to aquatic ecosystem.

Discharge of brine arising from desalination process as argued in this section presents multifold repercussions to the aquatic ecosystem. Indeed desalination plants are founds being incredible determinants of distribution, abundance, growth and reproduction rates of aquatic ecosystem. As argued before, The UNESCO convention of 1972 calls for all states to point out all the sites that are essential for preservation, protection and more importantly for transmission to natural and cultural heritage generations of future across the globe. Apparently, open intakes located at the breeding areas of the fish stocks are among such areas vital for protection, something that Saudi Arabia endeavors to ensure that it is precisely achieved.

This endeavor is largely consistent with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the law of the sea (UNCLOS) – United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea. Indeed Saudi Arabia has no capacity for soliciting for exclusion in the applicability of the law on justifications of the need to supplement her challenges of shortage of fresh water for industrial and domestic use through ways that are harmful to the aquatic ecosystem19. Such undue ways entangles irresponsible interference of aquatic ecosystem through desalination. However, in strict compliance with UNCLOS, Saudi Arabia has put appropriate mitigation strategies to ensure that her desalination plants are complaint with the pacts.

The extent of UN protocols to measure up to international laws binding Saudi Arabia

From the most basic perspective, Saudi Arabia’s protection and conservation of aquatic ecosystem laws follow precisely the UN pacts, which in turn profile the international customary laws that regulate the application of principles of the preservation and conservation of aquatic ecosystem. These principles include the prevention and control of significant harm, equitable utilization, and calls for placing a notification of intended measures.

The principles are largely also advocated for by ILC commentaries. CBD (Convention on biodiversity) is one of the International protocols on biodiversity applicable in Saudi Arabia’s conservation and protection of aquatic ecosystems laws (Hiscock and Southward 346). It serves in facilitating the conservation of the aquatic biodiversity by ensuring the employment of the constituent components of the diversity in a manner that is both sustainable and facilitative of equitable sharing of all the benefits accruing from its utilization (Mann and Lazier 74). In Saudi Arabia, CBD concerns cutting across all the genetic resources while not negating every aquatic ecosystem species.

As Millero and Sohn (1992) posit, the law provides “that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat”[1]. Even though CBD’s do not apply to areas that are beyond the stipulated zones in the national jurisdictions under the international law per se, the laws hold for States individually in matters of regulation of the human activities, which are a great foe to aquatic biodiversity in the areas such States, are situated. In regions not within the jurisdiction of States, CBD laws hold when applied to activities executed under all the parties’ control. In such contexts, the laws also call for collaborative conservation and protection of aquatic biodiversity by all States to ensure sustainability in the utilization of the biodiversity.

Miller and Sohn add that “concerning the marine environment, the CBD is to be implemented consistently with the rights and obligations of States under the law of the sea”[2]. It is with these concerns that COP (conference of the parties), is vital in the endeavor to implement the concerns of the CBD. The seventh COP laid out the targets critical for the development of a worldwide network embracing coastal coupled with marine necessary areas of protection before the end of 2012 (Henthorne Para. 3). Under international laws, these critical elements would facilitate the enactment of an open-ended ad hoc group. The principles established in the conventions received minimal diplomatic criticisms making it clear that they amount to international law[3]. Nevertheless, it is essential to note that the concepts of no harm and equitable utilization are still contentious.

This perhaps could well be explained by referring to the Gab.íkovo-Nagymaros case (Murakami 72). The judgment of the world court merely depended on the principle of no harm, apart from where general concerns of the environmental harm were brought into the picture, in making its judgment even though Hungary relied more on it. Alternatively, the court made its judgment based on the principle of equitable utilization as may be seen in the phrase “Hungary’s basic right to an equitable and reasonable sharing of the resources of an international watercourse”[4]. Since the international court’s precedence forms an essential source of international law, the practicality of application of the principle of no harm remains questionable as to whether it is a part of international law principles on aquatic ecosystem protection and conservation.

The principles stipulated in the UN convention and adopted by Saudi Arabia merge with the customary law principles that regulate the relationships of nations in matters of shared freshwater resources. International customary laws provide that “states must protect the ecosystems of international watercourses”[5]. This is largely consistent with provisions of articles 20 and 21 of the UN protocols of 1997. Modern international treaties appreciate the need to protect and conserve not only water but also all those dryland areas that either affect or have a link with the health conditions of aquatic ecosystems. As Scovazzi reckons, the customary laws appreciate

“It is important not only to prevent, reduce, and control the pollution of international watercourses but also to preserve riparian “buffer zones” so that freshwater species and the water itself is not degraded by activities on the land”[6]. Arguably, this is the main context of the UN protocols stipulations embraced by Saudi Arabia.

Recommendations and conclusion

The modern focus of conservation and protection of aquatic ecosystems rests in the need for the creation of laws that foster making use of international watercourses in a manner that is not only equitable but also reasonable (McCaffrey 27). However, the paper holds that acts entailing aquatic pollution would entail illegal acts if it entangles erosion of the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia’s waters. This means that even if Saudi Arabia is accorded rights to use her watercourses within her territory by the international laws, she needs to use them in a manner that does not affect negatively the biotic and abiotic constituents of the aquatic ecosystem.

The paper argues that the Saudi Arabia laws on protection and conservation of aquatic ecosystems are derived from the UN protocols that more often than not reflect the concerns of international customary law, which in turn serves as a vital source of international law (Fischetti 118). International law protocols establish legal provisions for non-navigational employment of watercourses belonging to the international community. “Its provenance can be traced to a resolution adopted in 1970 by the UN General Assembly calling upon the ILC to study the law of international watercourses with a view to its progressive development and codification”[1].

The pacts of 1997 that address the need for the preservation and protection of aquatic ecosystems are available in articles 20 and 22[2]. As the statement informs, “Article 23 requires that watercourse States take measures to protect and preserve the ‘marine environment’, thereby linking the use and protection of watercourses with the protection of the marine environment in a manner consistent with a broad ecosystem approach”[3]. In particular, article 20 stipulates that all the watercourse States must be necessary either jointly or individually to conserve protect and preserve all the international watercourses (Neuparth and Helena 64).

As explicitly expressed by the Forty-Ninth Session Report of the International Law Commission, the “international watercourses protection obligation is a specific application of the requirement contained in article 5: watercourse States are to use and develop an international watercourse in a manner that is consistent with adequate protection thereof”[4]. Saudi Arabia’s aquatic ecosystem that is necessary for conservation and protection here embraces both non-living and living units that more often operate communally[5]. Under the international law on aquatic ecosystems conservation and protection, article (20) comprises a magnificent basis of sustainable developments. ILC contends, “There is ample precedent for the obligation contained in Article 20 in the practice of States and the work of international organizations”[6].

The 1997 convention outlined that preservation obligation in legal terms means specifically that ‘” freshwater ecosystems that are in a ‘pristine or unspoiled condition’, must be maintained as much as possible in their natural state”[7]. Article 21 of the convention lays the fundamental interrelationships between watercourses and flora and fauna of aquatic ecosystems. The research paper has presented the as one of the human activities whose impacts may present both, positive and negative impacts on the aquatic ecosystem. The discussion of international law applicability to the regulation of aquatic habitat has not been done blindly without paying attention to earlier agreements.

These include 1991 (pacts on water resources: Chile and Argentina) and1995 (pacts on SDC: Shared Watercourse Systems in Southern Africa) conventions among others which immensely form substantial contributions to the enactment of Saudi Arabia’s laws on protection and conservation of aquatic ecosystem (Lee 27). The treatment of the principles of conservation of aquatic ecosystem has not been only limited to fresh watercourses but also extended to include oceans and high seas.

The paper finds this significant since about 70 % of the total surface of the earth is oceans (Koslow 12). Freshwater sources, on the other hand, supply water to seas and oceans, which again provides a home for millions of biotic and abiotic organizations that have both food and cultural heritage significance in Saudi Arabia and other nations[8]. Global agreements for the protection of the marine environment are critical. This is particularly significant bearing in mind that “the current range of permissible regimes, coupled with issues around compliance, enforcement, and ultimately, State sovereignty issues, render such a system unworkable”[9].

Therefore, it calls for the establishment of a single set of international protocols that address the utilization of the final destination of all global waters: oceans and seas. The principles stipulated in the UN conventions merge with the customary law principles that regulate the relations of nations in matters of sharing freshwater resources[10]. In the end, both marine and freshwater aquatic ecosystems in Saudi Arabia would receive equal treatment (Parry 69). This is, in fact, necessary since conserving and protecting either of these, amounts to conservation and protection of the other.

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Ehrlich, Paul and John Holden. “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment – An Ecosystem Approach.” Natural Resources Journal 21.6 (1987): 97-129. Print.

Fischetti, Martin. “Fresh from the Sea.” Scientific American 297.3 (2007): 118–119. Print.

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  1. Lee Erika. “Saudi Arabia and desalination.” Harvard Premier Journal of International Affairs 4(3) (2011): 23-45.
  2. (Lee 25).
  3. Murakami Marianne. Managing water for peace in the Middle East: Alternative Strategies. New York ,USA: The United Nations University, 1995. 55. Print.
  4. Teresa Neuparth and Costa Helena. “Effects of temperature and salinity on life history of the marine Amphipod Gammarus Locusta.” Implications for ecological testing. Ecotoxicology 11.2 (2002): 65. Print.
  5. Hiscock Keith and Jefferson Southward. “Effect of changing temperature on benthic marine life in Britain and Ireland.” Aquatic Conservation 14.1 (2004): 333. Print.
  6. Parry Gordon. The development of salinity tolerance in the salmon, Salmo Salar (L.) and some related species. Freshwater fisheries laboratory. London: Routlege, 1960. 35. Print.
  7. Moser Muller and Gerry Richard. “Differential effects of salinity changes on two estuarine fishes, Leiostomus xanthurus and Micropogonias undulate.” Estuaries 12.1 (1989): 37. Print.
  8. Gunter, Geoffrey. Some relations of estuarine organisms to salinity. Limnology and Oceanography, 6.2 (1961): 185.
  9. Frank Millero and Mary Sohn. Chemical Oceanography. London: CRC Press, 1992. 102.
  10. Abdul-Wahab Sabah. “Characterization of water discharge from two thermal power/ desalination plants in Oman.” Environmental Engineering Science 24.3 (2007):323. Print.
  11. Aurther Jenkins and Johnston Wasyl. Oceanographic Consideration for Desalination plants in Southern California Coastal Waters. Scripps Institution of Oceanography Technical Report No. 54. Marine Physical Laboratory. San Diego: University of California, 2005. 30. Print.
  12. (Hiscock 12).
  13. (Vijverberg 327).
  14. Stephen Lattemann and Timothy Hopner. “Environmental Impacts and Impacts of Sea Water Desalination.” Desalination 220.3 (2008): 3. Print.
  15. (Lattemann and Hopner 4).
  16. (Lattemann and Hopner 4).
  17. (Lattemann and Hopner 5).
  18. (Lattemann and Hopner 10).
  19. (Jenkins and Wasyl 104).