The IBA comprises a group three islands - Ylken Araltobeh (Bolshoi Kamennyi), Sredniy and Kishkineh Araltobeh (Malyi Kamennyi)- situated in the north-eastern, and deepest, part of the lake, 10 km to the west of Kabanbai (Zharbulak) village. The islands form an archipelago 17 km in length and 1.5-6 km in width. They are formed of Paleozoic bedrock and the gravelly upper portions are covered with vegetation typical of stony deserts, with a preponderance of xerophyte herbs such as Artemisia terrae-albae, Salsola arbuscula, Nanophyton erinaceum, Eurotia ceratoides and Kochia scoparia. There are also scattered patches of Tamarix. The northern faces of the islands are gently stepped terraces and the northern and western shores consist of rough rock outcroppings or cliffs. On Ulken Araltobeh island there are three small lakes resembling lagoons that, at the right time of year, are used by nesting and moulting waterfowl. Srednyi island is the focal point for colonial breeding waterbirds. This island has a hill with a smooth top rising 53-60m above the water.
The rocky islands of Alakol lake are renowned as regular nesting grounds for a variety of colonial waterbirds including several with the regional and/or global protection status: Oxyura leucocephala, Aythya nyroca, Larus ichthyaetus, Larus relictus and Pelecanus crispus. The 2006-2007 counts were undertaken in June-July.
Habitat and land use
The archipelago is included in Alakol State Nature Reserve (Zapovednik). All areas are free of any economic development or activity bar scientific research and conservation.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Recently, a substantial threat to the tranquility of the islands’ ecosystems has arisen from a rapidly developing tourist industry. The unlicensed exploration of the islands by recreational groups can endanger colonial waterbird breeding success.
Alakol(skyi) State Nature Reserve (Zapovednik), created in 1998. The reserve consists of two parts, and one of these - the island part with an area of 332 ha - is included completely in the IBA. Generally, the PA overlaps with the IBA, but in this part the IBA contains the PA.