Gulf of Zula

Country/territory: Eritrea

IBA criteria met: A3 (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 150,000 ha

Site description (baseline)
The site is located c.50 km south-east of the town of Massawa, where the Gulf of Zula makes a large indent in the coastline, running north–south and bounded to the east by the Buri peninsula. It lies just south of the Massawa coast IBA (ER005). It is not possible, with current information, to define the exact boundaries of a site. Records from the coast area around Zula and Arafaile (at the southern end of the Gulf), from Engel on the northern end of the peninsula and from the island of Dissei in the Gulf have been combined in this site account and indicate that the area around the Gulf of Zula merits designation as an IBA. Records from the Ghedem mountain range just to the north are also included (with this location mentioned by name). The proposed area is centred on the town of Zula and includes the coastline around all three sides of the Gulf of Zula (but not the Buri peninsula east of Engel), the water and islands in the Gulf and Mount Ghedem to the north and west. The coordinates used are for the town of Zula, which lies about halfway down the western coast of the Gulf of Zula. Further survey work will be required to determine the exact location and boundaries of one or more IBAs within the area of the Gulf of Zula.

The coastline is similar to that described for Massawa coast (ER005), with sand-dunes backed by Acacia spp. thorn-bush and woodland and Hyphaene sp. palms and mangroves (Avicennia sp.) fringing many of the muddy bays and inlets, and tidal lagoons. However, the underlying geology is more complex, with large bays and headlands, rocky pools, long sand- and shingle-beaches and many offshore reefs and islands. The inshore waters are shallow and some of the coral reefs may be exposed by low spring tides. There are tidal sand- and mudflats and also areas of tidal saltmarsh in the Gulf of Zula. The cliffs of the Buri peninsula to the east of the Gulf of Zula reach a height of 50 m.

An isolated range of mountains, the Ghedem range, lies in the Plain just north-west of Zula town. The mountains run parallel to the coast for a length of 24 km and reach a height of 900 m. Above 300 m the slopes are covered with Combretum sp. woodland, together with Terminalia and Anogeissus spp. and underlying scrub, similar to the woodland found on the eastern slopes of the plateau escarpment. There are many wadis on the slopes, with Zizyphus and Acacia spp. along their banks, and dense undergrowth.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 2 for key species. Phoenicopterus minor is reported from the Gulf of Zula in the 1990s (no details of numbers) and ‘irregularly (perhaps one year in three) along the coast, following heavy winter rain which floods areas just inland to form shallow brackish pans’ (Hillman pers. comm.). Falco naumanni is recorded from Arafaile (more than 20 birds in 1998) and ‘small migrating parties’ of Emberiza cineracea were recorded from Ghedem in the 1950s. Seven species of the Somali–Masai (A08) biome are recorded around the Gulf of Zula (including Francolinus leucoscepus, recorded only from this site and one other IBA in the country) and an eighth, Zosterops abysinnicus, is recorded from the Combretum sp. forest on the slopes of Mount Ghedem. Also recorded from the site are five species of the Sahara–Sindian biome and three species of the Sahel biome (see Table 2). A fourth species of the Sahel biome, Streptopelia rosegrisea, may occur nearby (at Abdur on the eastern side of the Buri peninsula) although this record is uncertain due to possible confusion with S. capicola (see also ER002 and ER011). In addition, there are two species of the Sudan–Guinea Savanna biome (Petronia dentata and Plocepasser superciliosus), both from Mount Ghedem; and two Afrotropical Highlands biome species, Streptopelia lugens at Arafaile and Passer swainsonii from the foot of Mount Ghedem (see Table 2).

Phoenicopterus ruber also occurs, as does Pelecanus rufescens and a variety of ducks, waders, herons, egrets and breeding Ciconia abdimii (about 30 pairs in the walls of the ash crater above the village of Arafaile). There were ‘fairly good numbers’ of Struthio camelus along the coastal plain, including the Buri peninsula, in 1994, and one individual observed on the Buri peninsula in 1999.

Non-bird biodiversity: On the arid areas of the Buri peninsula itself, and south into the Danakil (see site ER014), there is a breeding population of around 100 Equus africanus somaliensis (CR), which is probably the last viable population of the subspecies (although they are said to be interbreeding with donkeys). There are also migratory Gazella dorcas (VU) and G. soemmeringi (VU) and a recent sighting was made near the Buri peninsula of a ‘beira’ dik-dik (Dorcatragus megalotis, VU), the status of which is unknown.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Gulf of Zula. Downloaded from on 09/06/2023.