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Located 50 km south of the town of Sfax and 25 km south-east of Mahares, Kneiss is a large area of wetland in the Gulf of Gabès. The site includes the surrounding semi-desert grasslands, the shoreline, intertidal flats and five offshore islands. The vegetation of the main island of Djeziret Bessila (650 ha) is composed of halophytic species including Halocnemum, Arthrocnemum and Suaeda species.
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The Gulf of Gabès in general, with its tidal range of up to two metres and its extensive mudflats at low water, is one of the most important sites in Tunisia for waders and piscivorous waterbirds, both on migration and in winter. The Kneiss islands and the shoreline opposite at Oued Maltine, is the ornithological centre-point of the Gulf of Gabès, but many of the typical species may also be found at other sites in the Gulf such as Kerkennah (site TN026), Thyna (TN027), Akarit (TN034), Bordj Kastil (TN036), Gourine (TN037) and Boughrara (TN038). The tidal mudflats provide habitat for wader species that otherwise occur only in small numbers in the Mediterranean, such as Ostralegus haematopus, Arenaria interpres, Pluvialis squatarola, Numenius arquata, Limosa lapponica, Calidris canuta and Limicola falcinellus, some of which have their only major Mediterranean wintering grounds in the Gulf. Some waders breed, notably Charadrius alexandrinus, Recurvirostra avosetta, Himantopus himantopus and Tringa totanus; the latter is particularly interesting since it scarcely breeds at all in northern and central Tunisia, and thus the breeding population in the Gulf of Gabès is isolated from others further north. Other trans-Saharan migrant waders such as Calidris minuta, C. alba and C. ferruginea occur in large numbers on passage, and some stay to winter; this is the only area in the Mediterranean with considerable numbers of wintering C. ferruginea.The Gulf of Gabès is also notable for its wintering Platalea leucorodia (most of the central European breeding population winters here), and for wintering Casmerodius albus, Ardea cinerea and Egretta garzetta. There are ground-nesting colonies of E. garzetta. Among gulls and terns, large numbers of Larus melanocephalus and L. genei, mostly originating from Black Sea colonies, winter and there are some breeding colonies of L. genei. Wintering terns include Sterna sandvicensis and S. caspia in good numbers, with breeding colonies of S. nilotica, S. albifrons and S. hirundo (the latter, like Tringa totanus, only breeds in any numbers in the Gulf of Gabès and is thus isolated from more northerly breeding colonies). S. bengalensis occurs in small numbers on passage, and has been suspected of breeding.The above paragraphs refer to the Gulf of Gabès in general. Kneiss is the most important area, since it has the largest area of mudflats, the most important high-tide wader roosts, and some of the major breeding colonies. It is also the most important wintering area for waders in the Mediterranean, numbers of which can reach 330,000. The islands hold breeding populations of Egretta garzetta, Tringa totanus, Larus cachinnans, Sterna hirundo and S. albifrons. There are also historical records of Numenius tenuirostris.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Îles Kneiss. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 10/07/2020.