This site consists of a narrow, 100-km-long strip extending along the Gulf of Suez/Red Sea coast, from Ras Gharib in the north to the bay of Ghubbet El Gemsa in the south. Gebel El Zeit itself is an isolated, elongate mountain that reaches up to 457 m and overlooks the southern end of the Gulf of Suez. The eastern flank of the mountain falls steeply to the sea, while the western flank slopes more gently and merges with a 20-km-wide plain that separates Gebel El Zeit from the rest of the Red Sea hills further west. To the north there is a wide coastal plain fringed near the shore by several areas of sabkha, the largest of which is Sabkhet Ras Shukheir. This contains several pools of hyper-saline water and large patches of saltmarsh. To the south are Ghubbet El Zeit and Ghubbet El Gemsa, two large shallow bays with extensive intertidal mud and sandflats. Numerous small wadis drain the mountains of the area and dissect adjacent plains. These are lined with scattered Acacia trees.
See Box for key species. The Gebel El Zeit area is a very important migration corridor for soaring migrants, particularly birds of prey and storks. Because of the geography of the Gulf of Suez as a whole and the micro-geographic configuration of the Gebel El Zeit area, which is the narrowest point in the southern part of the Gulf of Suez, over 250,000 Ciconia ciconia and many other migrant soaring birds are funnelled through this stretch of coast on both spring and autumn journeys. Birds of prey, storks and pelicans migrate through and usually land, rest or roost near the coastline and on the surrounding desert plains and hills. Resting and roosting storks, especially, utilize the two bays of Ghubbet El Zeit and Ghubbet El Gemsa and the saltmarsh at Sabkhet Ras Shukheir.Gebel El Zeit itself serves as a stepping-stone for birds that make the crossing between the western coast of the Gulf of Suez and south Sinai in spring. Many of the birds observed at Elat, and further north in Israel, most probably pass through this area. For example, c.16,000 birds of prey belonging to 18 species and 20,000 Ciconia ciconia were counted in two weeks of observations spread over three spring seasons. The most numerous birds of prey are Aquila nipalensis, Buteo buteo, Pernis apivorus and Accipiter brevipes.In autumn the area is especially critical as many birds, after crossing the Gulf of Suez, arrive tired, flying at low altitudes and often land in large numbers. Almost all of the vast numbers of Ciconia ciconia that migrate over South Sinai in the autumn (most of the world population) pass through the Gebel El Zeit area. A one-day count on 7 September 1998 produced a total of 56,000 Ciconia ciconia. Up to 100,000 birds cross the Gulf of Suez in this region in a single day. Ciconia nigra, Pelecanus onocrotalus and many species of birds of prey also pass through the area in huge numbers. Moderate numbers of waterbirds utilize Ghubbet El Zeit and Ghubbet El Gemsa, particularly during migration. Some of the large flocks of ducks seen migrating far offshore, during spring and autumn, rest on the sheltered waters of these bays. Also, large numbers of seabirds from breeding colonies on neighbouring islands feed regularly in the sea off Gebel Zeit.
Non-bird biodiversity: Marine: There are seven species of sea grass in the bay of Ghubbet El Zeit forming one of the most diverse and extensive sea-grass beds in the northern Red Sea. These beds are potential feeding grounds for Dugong dugon (VU) and endangered marine turtles.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Sabkhet Ras Shukheir has been proposed for protection. Oil pollution from onshore and offshore oil facilities, as well as from passing vessels, is one of the most serious threats to birds in this area. The uncoordinated tourist developments spreading north from Hurghada are rapidly consuming all natural habitats and are threatening to completely alter the landscape of the region in the near future. Associated pollution and man-made obstacles (such as powerlines, windmills, airports, etc.), could pose unforeseen threats to vast numbers of migrant birds. Development in this region should be carried out with very careful consideration of migratory bird requirements.Falcon-catching is an illegal activity that has expanded in recent years in Egypt, especially along the coast of Gulf of Suez and the rest of the Red Sea. This activity is carried out in the autumn.