A Red Sea coral archipelago, 40 km offshore, with dozens of low-lying islands and islets. Some islands are bare and surrounded by coral, while others are sandy. The largest island, Farasan Kabir (c.39,500 ha), is 120 km long and up to 75 m high; inland vegetation comprises Acacia-Commiphora bushland with Ziziphus and Salvadora, as well as Euphorbia thickets and dense, 3-m-high Asparagus bushland. There are several dense stands of mangrove (mostly Avicennia but also Rhizophora). Some islands are fringed with salt-tolerant bushes. Farasan Kabir, Saqid (the only other large island: 15,600 ha) and Qummah are permanently inhabited (c.7 villages), but there are Coastguard stations and/or temporary fishing camps on other islands. There is a pearl fishery, a small amount of cultivation (dates and sorghum), and a few herds of goats.
See box for key species. The islands are important mainly for breeding seabirds and raptors, but have only been incompletely surveyed. Other breeding species include Phaethon aethereus (6-12 pairs), Pelecanus rufescens (40+ pairs), Egretta gularis, Ardea purpurea, Pandion haliaetus (40 pairs) and Sterna bergii (100 pairs). There are important concentrations of wintering waterbirds on the southern beach of Farasan Kabir, including Arenaria interpres (335).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Gazella gazella farasani (endemic); Asellia patrizii (only site in Arabia). Reptiles: Coluber insulans (endemic); many sea-turtles (globally threatened) breed.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The islands are managed as an established protected area by the NCWCD, and rangers patrol the two main islands to prevent poaching; 15,500 ha are fully protected as Special Nature Reserve and Natural Reserve. Seabirds' eggs are taken and are being over-exploited, and feral cats are a problem for nesting seabirds on some islands. Large numbers of migrant shrikes are trapped to extract their fat (for cooking); the impact of this on the migrant populations has not been studied. On the two main islands there are threats to the habitat from uncontrolled grazing and the possible exploitation of potash in the future.
Data-sheet compiled by P. Gaucher and J. M. Thiollay, with comments by P. Symens.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Farasan Islands. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2022.