Prevention is better than cure: Persian Gulf biodiversity vulnerability to the impacts of desalination plants

Glob Chang Biol. 2019 Dec;25(12):4022-4033. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14808. Epub 2019 Sep 21.


Due to extremely high rates of evaporation and low precipitation in the Persian Gulf, discharges from desalination plants (DPs) can lead to ecological stresses by increasing water temperatures, salinities, and heavy metal concentrations, as well as decreasing dissolved oxygen levels. We discuss the potential ecological impacts of DPs on marine organisms and propose mitigating measures to reduce the problems induced by DPs discharges. The daily capacity of DPs in the Persian Gulf exceeds 11 million m3 per day, which is approximately half of global daily freshwater production; multistage flash distillation (MSF) is the dominant desalination process. Results from field and laboratory studies indicate that there are potentially serious and chronic threats to marine communities following exposure to DP discharges, especially within the zoobenthos, echinodermata, seagrasses, and coral reefs. DP discharges can lead to decreases in sensitive species, plankton abundance, hard substrate epifauna, and growth rates of seagrasses. However, the broad applicability of any one of these impacts is currently hard to scale because of the limited number of studies that have been conducted to assess the ecological impacts of DP discharge on Persian Gulf organisms. Even so, available data suggest that appropriately sited, designed, and operated DPs combined with current developments in impingement and entrainment reduction technology can mitigate many of the negative environmental impacts of DPs.

Keywords: brine discharge; corals; desalination plants; macrofauna; plankton; seagrasses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthozoa*
  • Biodiversity
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Ecology
  • Indian Ocean
  • Salinity