Hurghada archipelago

Country/territory: Egypt

IBA Criteria met: A1, A4i, A4ii (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 150,000 ha

Nature Conservation Eqypt

Site description
An archipelago of 22 uninhabited islands, plus a handful of very small islets, scattered from the Straits of Gubal (at the mouth of the Gulf of Suez) to Hurghada. Most are small or medium-sized and fairly flat coralline islands, such as Tawila and Ashrafi, but some are quite large and hilly. Shadwan is the largest of the Egyptian Red Sea islands, being c.56 km² in area and reaching some 300 m at its highest point. The area of the IBA includes adjacent marine waters.

Many of these islands have an igneous core ringed by fossil coral reefs that were raised and exposed by uplifting of the core. The igneous core is visible at the centre of many of the larger islands. Typically, the islands have elevated rocky shores on their north-eastern sides and gently sloping sandy shores on the south-western sides. This is most probably a result of erosion by prevailing north-easterly winds and currents. Extensive intertidal flats (coral table) fringe some of the islands, particularly on the southern and western shores, while deep waters surround others.

Vegetation is sparse and consists mainly of saltmarsh, including Halocnemum, Arthrocnemum and Nitraria. The islands of North Qeisum, Abu Mingar, Ashrafi and Shadwan have small- to medium-sized stands of mangrove Avicennia.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. The Hurghada Archipelago holds the largest known breeding population of Larus leucophthalmus in the world. A total of 6,500 adults was counted attending the sprawling Hurghada city rubbish-dump in May 1996. It is almost certain that all these birds breed on the Hurghada archipelago and, probably, represent only part of the local breeding population. The fact that all birds counted were adults in breeding plumage indicates that the total population of the area, if immatures and juveniles are accounted for, should be much larger than the previous estimate of 1,500–2,000 pairs. The current estimate made here for the Hurghada archipelago is of at least 3,000 breeding pairs, or a total population of some 10,000 birds. In addition, the Hurghada archipelago supports a considerable diversity of other breeding seabirds and waterbirds. At least 15 species are known to breed or to have bred: Sula leucogaster, Phaethon aethereus, Butorides striatus, Egretta gularis, Platalea leucorodia, Pandion haliaetus, Falco concolor, Charadrius alexandrinus, Larus hemprichii, Sterna caspia, Sterna bergii, Sterna bengalensis, Sterna anaethetus and Sterna repressa. A large colony of the last species (c.1,150 pairs) was discovered in July 1996 on an islet off Tawila island. These islands also appear to play an important role as a stepping-stone for some soaring migrants crossing the mouth of the Gulf of Suez, with some birds landing on the islands.

Non-bird biodiversity: Marine: The coral reefs found in this area are some of the richest in the world, supporting a diversity of life including endemic and endangered species. Flora: The mangroves found on the islands are among the most extensive in the northern Red Sea. Reptiles: Eretmochelys imbricata (CR) and Caretta caretta (EN) have been found breeding on several islands of the archipelago. Mammals: Dugong dugon (VU) is still reported to inhabit some shallow protected waters where there are sea-grass beds. This species has virtually vanished from the area, because of catching pressure and disturbance by fishermen and tourists and, undoubtedly, has suffered from the chronic oil pollution in the region.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hurghada archipelago. Downloaded from on 26/05/2022.