A clear, shallow, predominantly sandy bay with extensive seagrass beds; Qatif is on its west side and Dammam on the south. Local factors make the intertidal zone the richest in the Saudi Arabian sector of the Gulf: the bay is well-protected from winds and from water currents, allowing sedimentation of the finest particles, and a large nutrient input is provided by run-off from the Qatif oases and by organic waste effluent. The extensive intertidal flats of sand-mud and mud were formerly fringed by extensive mangrove and saltmarshes, but much of these have now been destroyed by land-claim. The bay is an important nursery for shrimps and fish and sustains several traditional fishing communities. It contains one of the largest oil facilities in the world and includes several important archaeological sites.
See boxes for key species. The bay is the most important site for wintering and migrating waders and other waterbirds on the Saudi Arabian Gulf coast, with a total of c.58,000 waterbirds wintering in 1991/92, and more than 20,000 present in April-May 1991. See box for key species: breeding species nest on Za'l, a small island; winter figures are for February 1993; migration figures are incomplete through lack of comprehensive surveys in autumn, but most of the key wintering species, plus additional waterfowl, are likely to migrate through in significant numbers, especially the waders. Other wintering species include Aquila clanga (6; much declined since 1983 when c.20 present, perhaps due to land-claim of mangrove) and Pandion haliaetus (11).
This coast is subject to large-scale urban expansion and to agricultural intensification. Land-claim continues to destroy large parts of the intertidal zone, and much of the bay itself has been dredged. Bird-trapping with mistnets occurs frequently in the remaining mangrove. The oil facilities at Ras Tanurah provide a permanent threat of oil pollution, smaller and medium-sized spills having occurred frequently in the past. There is heavy disturbance from recreational activities at weekends. The site is proposed as a Resource Use Reserve in the NCWCD System Plan for Protected Areas but is not accepted as a potential Ramsar Site. The strict and immediate protection of several relatively intact, smaller-scale, core areas would seem to be a high priority.
Data-sheet compiled by P. Symens and A. Suhaibani.