A group of 16 small, limestone, desert islands and islets in the Gulf of Salwah, some with cliffs up to 20-30 m high. There is c.20% vegetation cover of saltmarsh bushes, and very extensive seagrass beds in the shallow, clear sea offshore. A highly productive nursery and feeding area for fish. The islands are uninhabited apart from a military garrison.
The islands support the largest known breeding concentration in the world of Phalacrocorax nigrogularis. The main breeding site is on Suwad al Janubiyah island, where 200,000 to 300,000 adults were conservatively estimated to be present in November 1992, along with thousands of nests with eggs. Other breeding species include Sterna caspia (max. 10 pairs), S. anaethetus (max. 100 pairs) and Pandion haliaetus (max. 9 pairs). Wintering species include Podiceps cristatus (min. 50) and Phoenicopterus ruber (750).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: the second largest population in the world of Dugong dugon (V) occurs here (700+); unspecified Gazella spp. on Hawar island (apparently introduced). Reptiles: the sea-turtles Chelonia mydas (E), Eretmochelys imbricata (E), Dermochelys coriacea (E) and Caretta caretta (V) occur, and Chelonia mydas may breed.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The islands are a restricted military area and access by the general public is prohibited, thus they receive some unintentional protection from non-military disturbance. However, over-collection of eggs and capturing of birds (especially chicks of Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) by fishermen is a problem, although the scale has not been quantified. Disturbance by human visitors also greatly facilitates predation of P. nigrogularis chicks by gulls, e.g. Larus cachinnans/L. argentatus. The site has been affected by major oil spills in the past (e.g. during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war), and this is a critical potential threat, especially during the breeding season. The Hawar islands have a fauna and flora which is perhaps typical and representative of the few remaining unspoilt islands in the whole Arabian Gulf, and they are thus increasingly unique in the region. The islands have been proposed as a Wildlife Reserve.
Data-sheet compiled by Dr S. A. Mohamed and E. Hirschfeld, reviewed by Dr K. Fakhro.