Masirah is a large island c.20 km off the east coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea. The land is gently undulating with a central spine of hills (up to c.280 m) and peripheral coastal plains. The site includes the small islands of Jazirat Shaqaf (J. A'Shaghah), Jazirat ash Shi'inzi (J. Thu Khayr) and Jazirat Kalban (Qa'ad Kalban), as well as all other associated islets. The central and northern parts of the west coast have the most extensive mudflats. The east coast is mostly exposed ocean beach. Trees are few, and the plant cover is almost entirely composed of dwarf shrubs such as Limonium, Suaeda and Arthrocnemum. About 5,000 people live on the island, mostly in the north. Fishing is the mainstay of the local economy.
See box for key species. Together with the adjacent Barr al Hikman (site 016), this is one of the most important sites for wintering and migrating waterbirds in the Middle East (excepting wildfowl). Other notable species in winter include Circus aeruginosus (21) and Pandion haliaetus (58). Concentrations of feeding and moving seabirds occur off the east coast, especially during the monsoon-induced upwelling in June–August: Bulweria fallax (see box), Puffinus carneipes (200, August), Puffinus persicus (see box), Oceanites oceanicus (500, November), Stercorarius pomarinus (30, July), S. parasiticus (30, July), Anous tenuirostris (48 at roost, July) and A. stolidus (106 at roost, July). Interesting 'falls' or concentrations of Palearctic migrants occur, e.g. Otus scops (25, October), Caprimulgus europaeus (50, October), Merops superciliosus (300, April–May), Coracias garrulus (87, April), Acrocephalus palustris (310, May) and Phylloscopus sibilatrix (30, September). A total of 298 species has been recorded, including many vagrants.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Gazella gazella (V), Lepus capensis jefferyi (endemic to Masirah). Reptiles: the island is a sea-turtle breeding ground of global importance; four species breed: Caretta caretta (V), Chelonia mydas (E), Eretmochelys imbricata (E) and Lepidochelys olivacea (E). Two restricted-range lizards endemic to Oman are present.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Large numbers of tern and gull eggs and gull chicks are collected for food by local people (especially from the islets of Shagaf and Shi'inzi), and given that recent reports suggest that nesting populations of most seabirds breeding on and around Masirah are declining, it would appear that over-exploitation of this resource may be a problem, as is excessive disturbance at the colonies, especially at very low tide when Shagaf and Shi'inzi can be reached by vehicles and motorcycles. Feral cats occur on the main island. The area of interest is covered by three proposed National Nature Reserves: East Masirah (4,500 ha, north-east coast and sea), South Masirah (19,000 ha, southern half of island plus sea) and Masirah Straits (86,000 ha, west coast of island and eastern half of straits, including Jazirat Shagaf).
Data-sheet compiled by Simon Albrecht; summary bird data supplied by Oman Bird Records Committee (per Jens Eriksen).
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Masirah island. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 06/02/2023.