A raised, rocky limestone peninsula west of Masirah island (site 017), with c.160 km of coastline fringed by extensive inland sabkha, at least c.12,000 ha of intertidal flats and shallow seas. There are five tidal inlets; Khawr Barr al Hikman, at c.4,000 ha, is the largest khawr in Oman and the most important for birds. Up to 7 km width of mudflats is exposed at low tide; the major area (south of Khawr Barr al Hikman) is called Bayad Dimnah. Inland near the coast there are also areas of sand/gravel plain and of sand-dunes. The richest and most extensive seagrass beds in Oman grow in the bay of Ghubbat Hashish. There is much coral offshore, and the mudflats are fringed with reefs at very low tide. The area is rather isolated and sparsely populated. Fishing is the major human activity, predominantly in winter, and especially prawn fishing in Ghubbat al Hashish. Many people migrate to tend date groves north and inland in summer, when prevailing very strong, cold winds make fishing very difficult.
See box for key species. One of the most important coastal areas for wintering waterbirds (other than wildfowl) in western Asia, especially for waders. A survey between December 1989 and January 1990 counted at least 220,678 waterbirds of 52 species. Although the situation has not been investigated comprehensively during the migration seasons, even larger numbers of waterbirds are expected to occur in autumn than in winter, and numbers in spring are also likely to be very important. Other notable counts in winter include Platalea leucorodia (182), Circus aeruginosus (28), Pandion haliaetus (44), Falco peregrinus (8) and Recurvirostra avosetta (64); the peak count for Charadrius mongolus/C. leschenaultii is 10,083. On the island of Mahawt there is an isolated breeding population of Zosterops abyssinicus, possibly of an undescribed subspecies. A total of 119 species has been recorded.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Gazella gazella (V) and probably G. subgutturosa (rare). Reptiles: the area is an important feeding ground for at least four species of sea-turtle: Caretta caretta (V), Chelonia mydas (E), Eretmochelys imbricata (E), Lepidochelys olivacea (E) and probably Dermochelys coriacea (E). Offshore there is a vast monospecific reef of cabbage coral Montipora foliosa, possibly unique in the world.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No current problems are known, and potential threats appear to be few, due to the relative isolation and low human population density of the area. The whole area is proposed as a National Nature Reserve (288,000 ha), apart from 2,000 ha of the west coast of Ghubbat Hashish.
Data-sheet compiled by Simon Albrecht; summary bird data supplied by Oman Bird Records Committee (per Jens Eriksen).