Five uninhabited coral islands (Harqus 27°56'N 49°41'E, Karan 27°44'N 49°50'E, Kurayn 27°39'N 49°50'E, Jana 27°22'N 49°54'E, Jurayd 27°11'N 49°52'E) in the northern Arabian Gulf, 35-90 km offshore. Island areas range from 2 to 120 ha (total c.190 ha), with a maximum elevation of 3-4 m, and they are surrounded by extensive, shallow coral reefs. There are wide, sand beach platforms, and the central parts of the larger islands are well-vegetated with Salsola and Suaeda, and Mesembryanthemum after good rains. The islands support local fisheries, and are valuable for recreational diving.
See box for key species. The site is considered to be the most important breeding site for Sterna bengalensis in the world. See box for key species (numbers of terns are 1991-1993 three-year-averages). Other breeding species include Galerida cristata, Melanocorypha bimaculata (irregular) and Calandrella brachydactyla (irregular). The islands are used as a stopover site by considerable numbers of passage migrants (mainly passerines), especially in spring.
Non-bird biodiversity: Reptiles: important breeding populations of sea-turtles Eretmochelys imbricata (E) and Chelonia mydas (E). Invertebrates: the surrounding coral reefs are thought to be the best-developed and most diverse in the Gulf.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is included in the NCWCD System Plan for Protected Areas, and establishment as a Special Nature Reserve and Resource Use Reserve is proceeding. It has also been mentioned as a potential Ramsar Site. Disturbance from fishermen, recreational divers and the military is increasing. Egg collecting by fishermen occurs regularly, but is not a major threat. Plans exist to build coastguard facilities on Kurayn and an oil installation on Jana. Another island, al-Arabiyah, has already lost all its breeding seabirds and sea-turtles due to the construction of a coastguard station. Oil pollution is a permanent threat. Feral mice Mus musculus occur on most islands and can be extremely damaging when their population peaks coincide with the tern breeding season; a rat was found on Karan in 1992 and a feral cat on Jana in 1991 (both were removed); the increasing rate of visiting of the islands by fishing boats and other craft increase the risk of further damaging introductions. The monitoring of terns has led to a wide awareness of the value of the islands, and conservation measures should include strict control of access during breeding seasons, a ban on military activity, control or extermination of introduced mice and complete avoidance of introduction of other non-indigenous species, and the inclusion of the islands as priority sites in oil contingency plans. There should be continued monitoring of terns' breeding activity and an assessment of the islands' importance for migrating passerines. Guided tours and other activities could be used to educate those who use the islands (fishermen, divers, coastguards).
Data-sheet compiled by P. Symens and A. Suhaibani.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Gulf coral islands. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 04/02/2023.