Lower reaches of the Emba River

Site description (2006 baseline):

Site location and context
The area, comprising the lake complex on the lower reaches of the Emba, is bounded on the north-east by the 30 km-long section of the Aktau-Inderbor railway line, with the largest station, Kulsary, at the furthest point of its run. Another rather decently populated settlement, Koscshagyl, is situated at the southern boundary of the site. On the west it is separated from the eastern Caspian shore zone by a 40km-broad tract of land heavily interspersed with saltpan complexes. The IBA forms part of the vast area extending inland from the coastal zone of the north-eastern Caspian. Under the influence of seepage from the Emba river’s flow, a portion of land with a loose sandy structure has developed into a complex of wetland ecosystems in the heart of the other harsh northern desert. The majority of waterbodies in the depressions in the loamy undulating plain, have a regular oval form and vary in size from 1 to 10 km, at their longest. The terrestrial areas surrounding the lakes consist of a bleak monotonous landscape of clayey and loamy tracts interspersed with alkaline patches, and a few moderately proportioned sandy massifs. The thin cover of vegetation consists of perennial Salsola-Artemisia associations giving way in the depressions to patches of exclusive Salsola annual growth. On the banks of a few major lakes, the waters of which when affected by drought are subject to only moderate contractions in volume and fairly stable salinity, there is a feeble growth of reeds. In those depressions, where the upper stratum of soil does not have high concentrations of salt, ephemeral grasses form splashes of rather compact greenery.

Key biodiversity
A survey of the lake system at the lower reaches of the Emba river was carried out in spring 2006. Waders were found to be the most numerous species, many migrating species occurring in large numbers. The assortment of habitats in the vicinity of the lakes provide suitable feeding and roosting for both northern species - Charadrius morinellus, Calidris alpina, Philomachus pugnax, Numenius phaeopus and Pluvialis apricaria - and the birds of steppe - Glareola nordmanni, Vanellus gregarius, Numenius arquata and Limosa limosa. Incidental records in 2006 included an abandoned nest and eggs of Aquila heliaca and a nest of Buteo rufinus with hatching in progress. In spring 2003, an impressive passage of Vanellus gregarius was observed (grid reference - 47.01 N, 54.02 E). On 09.04.2003 there were 9 males, then, on 10.4.2003, two and a half hours of observations resulted in 8 flocks totalling 134 individuals. On the same day, not far away, another 2 flocks were located each containing no less than 50 birds. There are a few species included in the National Red Data Book recorded: Plegadis falcinellus, Platalea leucorodia, Aquila heliaca, Aquila nipalensis and Chlamydotis undulata.

Non-bird biodiversity: In the mid 1970s to 1980s, the area supported large roaming and breeding populations of Saiga tatarica. Today the number of antelopes capable of reaching that far north-east on their migration, is very insignificant.

Habitat and land use
The barren territories of the lake complex appear to be of little use for any rural economic activities other than nomadic pasturing and small-scale cattle-raising.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The major potential threat to the site, in the near future, is the steadily growing oil-extraction and oil-transportion industry. The proximity of the oil-fields, that are currently being developed in the north-eastern Caspian littoral zone, encourages the further expansion of the industry infrastructure, with its consistent encroachment onto the lowland area of the north-eastern Caspian coast.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Although the current information clearly demonstrates that the site qualifies as an IBA, dedicated, long term monitoring of the site is desirable.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Lower reaches of the Emba River. Downloaded from on 04/03/2024.