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Vegetation is an important ecological component of offshore islands in the Arabian Gulf (AG), which maintains long-term resilience of these islands. This is achieved by influencing sediment retention and moisture acquisition via condensation during periods of high humidity and by providing a variety of microhabitats for island fauna. The resilience of offshore islands’ ecosystems in the Saudi waters is important because they host the largest number of nesting hawksbill and green turtles in the AG. This study defines the characteristics and the long-term trends in vegetation cover of the offshore islands used by sea turtles as nesting grounds in the northern AG. To establish a ground-validated baseline for vegetation profiles, a 50 m × 50 m grid system is developed on Karan and Jana islands (Is.) with photo-quadrats taken at each grid intersection. The 1,317 and 444 photo-quadrats, for Karan and Jana Is., respectively, were analyzed for maximum plant height and percent cover of living (green) plants, dead plants, and bare sand. Landsat 7 and 8 satellite top-of-atmosphere reflectance images were used to calculate the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from 1999 through 2018 to analyze the long-term vegetation profiles of the islands. Monthly rainfall data from five meteorological stations along the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) are presented to provide a context of the long-term NDVI time series variability. The ground-validated vegetation profiles provided baseline data during the onset of summer in 2017 and revealed differences in maximum plant height and the extent of living, dead vegetation and sand cover on Jana Is. (28.3 cm, 19.9%, 63.3%, and 16.8%) and Karan Is. (21.7 cm, 20.6%, 48.7%, and 30.7%), respectively. The NDVI data for both islands are grouped into three periods, namely: 2001–2007 - high winter, low summer; 2008–2013 – low winter, low summer; 2014–2018 – irregular high/low winter, low summer. The long-term trend showed a slightly decreasing NDVI when compared in the context of the high NDVI measured for the two islands during the early 2000 s, particularly during the winter time. An extended reduction in winter NDVI was recorded for six years from 2008 to 2013, which coincided with reduced rainfall in the region and prolonged La Niña. Five extreme dips in winter NDVI values coincided with strong (2000, 2008, and 2011) and moderate (2012 and 2018) La Niña events. Long-term vegetation profiles of the offshore islands seemed to be tightly coupled with long-term rainfall patterns.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Ecological Indicators. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Ecological Indicators, volume 117, in 2020.

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