Introduction to the Environmental Studies of The MeSedA-project and further Research in the deep Red Sea

Following the discovery and early investigations of hot brines and metalliferous sediments in the central Red Sea graben system in the 1960s, the German company Preussag conducted three expeditions from 1969 – 1972 under license from the coastal states for resource exploration, aiming at economic exploitation. In 1976 Preussag was awarded a development contract for exploration of the Atlantis-II-Deep with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of the Sudan, issued by the Saudi-Sudanese Commission for the Exploitation of the Red Sea Resources, also called Red Sea Joint Commission. These countries had agreed on the limitation of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) by the 1000 m depth contours and on their common exploration and exploitation of the deep graben system between these lines, because of their overlapping EEZs (Bäcker 1990).

The exploration contract “Metalliferous Sediments Atlantis-II-Deep” (MESEDA) originally lasted until the end of 1981. It included three cruises (RV “Sonne” 1977 – 1978, RV “Valdivia” 1979 and 1980 – 1981) each of several months duration, and a mining test with the drilling ship “Sedco 445” in 1979. Due to the insight of Preussag and the Commission all exploration cruises were accompanied by environmental studies concerning the water column and the seafloor to greatest depths, but also at reef sites. It had been of particular concern to the Commission to follow the regulations proposed for their inclusion into the Jeddah Convention (1982) on the Protection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, under discussion during the years of the MESEDA campaigns, and to protect the Red Sea environment from adverse mining impacts (Mustafa and Amann 1978, for the Commission and Preussag, respectively; Abu Gideiri 1984; Nawab 1984).

The environmental investigations were funded by the Red Sea Joint Commission, the German Ministerium für Bildung und Wissenschaft, and by other German resources like the home universities and institutions of scientists and technical personel.

The report of the environmental studies was to be delivered at the end of 1981 at the time of contract termination. It had been well in progress several months earlier, when the Saudi-Sudanese Joint Commission terminated the contract abruptly and radically for reasons not communicated. This coincided with the decrease in metal prices, when interest in exploration for polymetallic nodule mining also faded out in various countries.

Although we were advised not to invest any more effort into editing the report, we finished it in December 1981. However, it was not officially accepted and did not receive a Preussag Report Series number. We do not know how many copies of the report exist and where they are located. Although referred to in various publications, our report was never available in the scientific literature, and it became forgotten for decades.

Prior to 1981 several papers based on the environmental studies referred to in the report were published. Further publications were produced in the following years (e. g. Thiel, Karbe, Weikert 1986, Karbe 1987, Thiel 1987, Weikert 1987). The Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt (Germany) participated in the project through Dr. Michael Türkay and by taking responsibility for the curation of all the benthos material collected in the deep waters. This resulted i. a. in the publication between 1980 and 1996 of a series of 20 specifically numbered taxonomic papers in their journals Senckenbergiana biologica and Senckenbergiana maritima including also some ecological articles published in these and other journals.

The report remained dormant for 30 years.

The German research vessel “Meteor” (III) conducted its research cruise # 5 (Nellen et al. eds 1996) in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in 1987 to study basic oceanographic patterns of these seas. The research in the Red Sea was planned as a comparative study of deep-sea ecology throughout its north-south extension, also aiming at a wider view compared to the environmental MESEDA studies, restricted to the central area around the Atlantis II Deep. However, permission for research in Red Sea EEZs was permitted only by the Republic of the Sudan, whereas Egypt gave limited permission, but with scientifically unacceptable conditions. Therefore, the Red Sea investigations during this cruise were restricted to the area of the Sudanese EEZ, extended to full depth of the central graben system. In order not to violate Saudi Arabian waters and seafloor, a mid-line between the Sudanese and the Saudi Arabian coasts was carefully constructed (in Nellen et al. eds, pp. 43 – 51). The results elaborated on the deep water plankton and benthos support our earlier MESEDSA conclusions. (Thiel et al. 1987; Türkay 1996, Weikert and Koppelmann 1993, 1996;).

In 2010 the companies Diamond Fields (Canada) and Manafa (Saudi Arabia) were licensed to conduct further exploration work and future exploitation of the Atlantis-II-Deep. We therefore decided to make our 1981 report public by internet publication. Text, tables and figures are presented without any change from the original version, except for the correction of one printing error. We are most grateful to Michael Türkay from the Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut, Frankfurt, for offering to accommodate our report within the Senckenberg web sites.

We are convinced that the data presented in our report are still of value for assessing environmental considerations of mining the Atlantis-II-Deep, but we know also that the report did not answer all questions, particularly summarized in Chapter 6 “Conclusions” (p. 326 – 331) and Chapter 7 “Recommendations” (p. 332 – 334). Further environmental research needs to be conducted by a new generation of scientists, probably applying more sophisticated models to the particulate and the dissolved phases in tailings discharge and their far-distant and long-term dispersal fate, and also using modern remotely controlled equipment for conducting targeted sampling, observations and measurements of the benthic – probably also hydrothermal vent – communities.

Hamburg, December 2011                         Hjalmar Thiel 1)
                                                                          Ludwig Karbe
                                                                          Horst Weikert

P.S.  The fourth editor of our 1981 report had been Dr. Andrew J. B. Mill, in 1981 employee of the Imperial College London, United Kingdom. Along various pathways we tried to contact him, however, without success. We are confident that he would endorse the publication of our report in the interest of the Red Sea environment.


1) Corresponding editor:



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