Broadscale changes in the coastal environment along the western Gulf coast are assessed, to identify overt consequences of the 1991 Gulf War. Observations were made on ecosystems and pollution in 1991 and 1992, and compared with pre-war data from 1986. A rapid survey technique was employed, using ranked, logarithmic (0-6) data. Using the data set for 1986 and 1991 (35 sites), oil pollution was significantly greater in 1991 (mean 3.20) than in 1986 (mean 1.77). Oiling was also significantly greater at sites north of Abu Ali than to the south in 1991, but not in 1986. Algae, bird and fish abundances were all significantly greater in 1991 than in 1986. The mean magnitude of oil pollution was also significantly greater in 1991 compared with 1986, using the data set for 1986, 1991 and 1992 (10 sites). However, the mean value decreased in 1992 to a level not significantly different from 1986 (or 1991), suggesting some recovery of at least surface substrata. Of the biota surveyed, only fish showed significant change (increase) in abundance. The observed ecosystem abundance patterns may be attributed as much to seasonal variability, 'background' human impacts and the semi-quantitative nature of the survey, as to war-related environmental incursions. Nevertheless, the apparent increase in certain faunal and floral elements clearly indicates that the Gulf conflict had not caused complete environmental collapse. The surveys also revealed that other pollution (e.g. plastics, metals) and coastal infilling, in particular, remain a major environmental problem. A need is seen for continued integrated coastal zone management.