A huge coastal bay in the Moroccan Sahara, measuring some 37 km by 14 km, separated to the west from the Atlantic by a low promontory of coastal dunes, but open to the ocean at its southern end. The eastern inland side is bordered by coastal cliffs 50 m or so high. The town of Ad Dakhla is situated on the southernmost tip of the spit, linked to the mainland by a tarmac road which runs around the northern end of the bay. There are several other villages around the edge of the bay. The site consists of three geographically isolated units: a northern sector of 20,000 ha covering the northern part of the bay; a western sector, La Sarga, of 300 ha at the southernmost tip of the spit; and a southern sector, Pescadore, of 900 ha located on the mainland coast opposite and south of La Sarga. The bay is relatively shallow and the sandy/muddy bottom is covered in seagrass Zostera and algae. The dunal and coastal habitats are dominated by Suaeda monodiana, Nitraria retusa and Zygophyllum waterlotti. Other plants include Atriplex spp., Lotus spp., Salsola longifolia, Heliotropium undulatum and Lycium intricatum.
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The Baie d’Ad Dakhla is an extremely important wintering site for migrant Palearctic waders and gulls. It regularly harbours more than 20,000 waders—predominantly Calidris alpina, Calidris canutus and Limosa lapponica—more than 20,000 gulls, mainly Larus fuscus and Larus audouinii, and several hundred Phoenicopterus ruber and Phalcrocorax carbo. Five of the eight species of the Sahara–Sindian biome (see Table 2) breed in the desert habitats surrounding the bay, while the remaining three are suspected breeders. One species of the Mediterranean North Africa biome has also been recorded (see Table 2).
Non-bird biodiversity: Three Macaronesian endemic plants, Polycarpaea nivea, Teucrium chardonianum and Limonium tuberculatum, plus one Moroccan endemic, Atriplex glaucum ifniense, are known from the site. Several threatened marine mammals frequent the bay: Orcinus orca (LR/cd), Sousa teuszii (DD) and Tursiops truncatus (DD).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Baie d’Ad Dakhla is public land managed by the Service des Travaux Publics and AEFCS. It is a priority 1 SIBE (No. L39). Activities include sport-fishing, octopus-fishing, fish-farming, tourism and some rearing of camels and goats. The site benefits from some protective legislation: hunting and fishing with nets in the bay are banned and octopus-fishing quotas are set. However, the Baie d’Ad Dakhla is threatened by the growth of the town of Ad Dakhla (and associated increasing levels of pollution), proposed fish-farming projects, the construction of a port in the bay, and a rise in the number of tourists. The site urgently needs the implementation of an integrated management plan.