Anzali Mordab complex

Country/territory: Iran, Islamic Republic of

IBA criteria met: A1, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2 (1994)
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Area: 15,000 ha

IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
1994 not assessed very high not assessed
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Site description (1994 baseline)
The Anzali Mordab lies in the western part of the broad deltaic plains around the city of Rasht in the south-west Caspian region; the town of Bandar Anzali is situated at the mouth of the main Mordab lagoon. The site, which includes Siahkesheem Marsh (37°24'N 49°22'E, 6,700 ha), comprises a large, shallow, eutrophic, freshwater lagoon, fed by several rivers rising in the Alborz Mountains to the south, and separated from the Caspian Sea by a sandy barrier, c.1 km wide, with open grassland, Punica scrub and sand-dune vegetation. Mid-way along its length the lagoon empties into the Caspian through a narrow channel straddled by the busy fishing port of Anzali Mordab. Much of the centre and east of the Mordab supports vast stands of Phragmites (up to 6 m high) while the western part is mainly open water. The partially enclosed basin of the Rud-e-Esfand (Siahkesheem Marsh) in the south-west is almost entirely overgrown with dense reedbeds. The permanent wetland area is surrounded by a broad belt of flood meadows and ab-bandans (shallow impoundments which retain water for summer use in irrigation). These largely seasonal wetlands are bordered by arable land to west, south and east. Selke Ab-bandan (37°24'N 49°29'E, 360 ha) is situated on the southern edge of the main Mordab, and comprises 360 ha of shallow freshwater marsh and flood meadows with tall reedbeds to the north and arable land to the south. The wetland is surrounded by a low embankment and was originally created as a water storage pond and duck-hunting area. Other similar shallow marshes along the southern edge of the Mordab and around its eastern end continue to be maintained as private duck-hunting reserves. Open-water areas support extensive beds of the water lily Nelumbium maciferum and a very rich growth of other floating and submerged vegetation including Lemna, Potamogeton, Hydrilla, Myriophyllum and Ceratophyllum. The marshes and flood meadows to the south support similar vegetation with the addition of Trapa natans, Juncus and Carex. The Mordab is a very important spawning and nursery area for economically important species in the Caspian Sea fishery and also supports a major local fishery. Duck-hunting is an important activity in winter, including both sport hunting and market hunting for sale in local markets and export to Tehran. Many of the ab-bandans surrounding the Mordab are managed as duck-hunting areas in winter. The duck hunters employ a traditional dazzling and hand-netting technique. Elsewhere in the Mordab, hunting is by shotgun. The protected areas are in the public domain.

Key biodiversity
See box for key species. The Anzali Mordab and its satellite wetlands such as Siahkesheem Marsh and Selke Ab-bandan are extremely important for a wide variety of breeding, passage and wintering waterfowl. The wetlands support a very large breeding colony of Chlidonias hybridus, small colonies of six species of herons and egrets, up to 25 pairs of Circus aeruginosus and (at least formerly -- see below) a large resident population of Porphyrio porphyrio. They also support huge wintering concentrations of ducks, geese, swans and coots. The wetland is the most important wintering area in Iran for Phalacrocorax pygmeus (see box), and one of the most important sites for wintering Haliaeetus albicilla. At least 144 species have been recorded in Siahkesheem Protected Area and at least 157 species in Selke Wildlife Refuge, including Jynx torquilla (fairly common passage migrant).

Due to great hunting pressure the number of waterfowl wintering in Anzali Mordab in recent years has been much lower than in the 1970s, when the total count of ducks and Fulica atra usually exceeded 200,000. The great majority of waterfowl are now confined to the well protected Selke Wildlife Refuge, Siahkesheem Marsh and a chain of private duck-netting marshes along the south side of the Mordab.

Selke Wildlife Refuge continues to support large numbers of birds, but there is evidence of a change in species composition, with more diving ducks and F. atra and fewer dabbling ducks and geese than in the 1970s. This is undoubtedly a result of the higher water levels in the Refuge caused by the rise in level of the Caspian Sea.

There has been a dramatic decline in the population of P. porphyrio at Anzali Mordab in recent years. The reasons for this decline are unknown, as the extent of suitable habitat appears to have increased enormously during the last decade, but may be related to the great increase in water depth and/or spread of Azolla.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V) has been recorded during severe winters.

Data-sheet compiled by Dr D. A. Scott, reviewed by Dept of Environment.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Anzali Mordab complex. Downloaded from on 02/03/2024.