Gulf of Salwah

Year of compilation: 1994

Site description
The western sector of a shallow, enclosed bay between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, from al-'Uqair south to Salwah on the border with Qatar (c.100 km of coastline). It is bordered by a generally well-vegetated sandy coast where the high level of groundwater allows the growth of date palms and reedbeds at the edge of the sea, with reeds Phragmites often extending into the seawater. The area contains large sabkhahs and elevated peninsulas surrounded by shallow, hypersaline lagoons, and the intertidal zone consists largely of flats of sand and sand-rock. Marine substrates are sand and rock supporting extensive seagrass beds. Elevated parts have been isolated by the present water level, forming islands close to the coast (e.g. Zakhnuniyah, Samamik, Judhaym). These are often muddier than the mainland, support a good growth of salt-tolerant vegetation, and seabird colonies are found on sandier parts. Unaybir, a small island at the southern tip of the gulf, consists of elevated fossil coral rock. Small-scale traditional fishing occurs, with a small fishing settlement on Zakhnuniyah. The mainland supports major rock quarrying operations and is used for camel grazing. The ruins of al-'Uqair are of considerable historical value.

Key biodiversity
See box for key species. The gulf holds the main breeding sites in Saudi Arabia of Phalacrocorax nigrogularis (see box). There are important breeding numbers of three species of tern (see box), as well as the only known breeding Sterna caspia on the Saudi Arabian Gulf coast (3-5 pairs). There are many wintering Larus ichthyaetus (189 in January 1993) and L. cachinnans/L. argentatus, largely associated with breeding colonies of P. nigrogularis. Other winter counts include 1,260 Larus genei.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Dugong dugon (V; globally important population).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The marine environment is relatively undisturbed, but would act as an oil trap in the case of a large spill to the north. Chicks from the Phalacrocorax nigrogularis colonies are occasionally harvested by people from the Hofuf and Dammam areas. Quarrying is a major threat to large parts of the elevated coastline, and vegetation on some parts has been removed for the creation of recreational beaches. At present there is only a small area of land-claim near al-'Uqair, but plans exist to create a large recreational and residential complex with marinas and artificial beaches. The site is proposed as a Resource Use Reserve in the NCWCD System Plan for Protected Areas.

Data-sheet compiled by P. Symens, A. Suhaibani and M. Werner.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Gulf of Salwah. Downloaded from on 03/02/2023.