Jordan's only coastline: Aqaba is a port town at the head of the very deep Gulf of Aqaba (2,000+ m) of the Red Sea. The coastal plain is very limited, and alluvial fans spread from the inland mountains to the shore, which is composed mainly of rock and sand/gravel beaches, fringed in part with coral reefs. Most habitats in the area have been substantially altered by man; freshwater springs along the coast support irrigated market gardens and native palm groves (near the beach), and some natural scrub vegetation survives near the Israeli border. There is some undisturbed desert to the south of the area. A very important area economically for Jordan, with port, industries, and tourism; fisheries are secondary in importance.
See box for key species. A migratory bottleneck site also holding a breeding bird community representative of the Rift Valley. The enormous spring passage of raptors just across the border at Eilat only occasionally passes over Aqaba, as indicated by the relatively small maximum daily counts: Buteo buteo (105, April) and Accipiter brevipes (75, September). Generally raptors cross the Rift Valley into Jordan further north up Wadi Araba (see site 013), but spring passage at Aqaba undoubtedly exceeds 50,000 raptors per season nevertheless. Raptor passage in autumn is relatively insignificant, however.
Other spring migrants occurring in good numbers include Nycticorax nycticorax, Ardea cinerea, Sterna hirundo, Chlidonias leucopterus, Sylvia curruca, S. atricapilla, Passer hispaniolensis and Emberiza hortulana. Falco pelegrinoides and Corvus rhipidurus are resident and the town has a small population of Corvus splendens (min. 10-20 pairs).
A diverse selection of non-breeding seabirds occurs offshore between spring and autumn due to an upwelling at the head of the Gulf; species appear to occur only in small numbers although there has been no detailed investigation (daily max. less than 20 unless stated) and include Calonectris diomedea (50+, June), Puffinus pacificus, P. griseus, Sula leucogaster, Stercorarius pomarinus, S. parasiticus (75, June), S. longicaudus, Larus leucophthalmus, Sterna repressa and S. anaethetus, as well as vagrant pelagic species.
Non-bird biodiversity: The reefs have a relatively high diversity of corals and support a moderately diverse reef-fish community, including the Red Sea endemic Paracheilinus octotaenia.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Port expansion, and coastal development for industrial, military and touristic uses, are a critical problem around Aqaba due to lack of space. A new highway, giving access to the port, now crosses the formerly undisturbed Aqaba hinterland. Little natural coastline will remain unless some conservation action is taken soon. Overgrazing and excessive hunting are problems locally inland. Offshore, marine habitats are being degraded by pollution from phosphate dust, chemical and hot water effluent, and sewage, and by anchor damage. A marine National Park has been proposed, to cover the central third of the Jordanian coast including mountain hinterland areas, and feasibility studies are underway.
Data-sheet compiled by Ian J. Andrews.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Aqaba coast and mountains. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 21/01/2022.