Khorezm Fish Farm and adjacent lakes

Site description (2008 baseline):

Site location and context
The IBA is situated on the left bank of the Khorezm oasis in the lower reaches of the Amudarya river on the border of the developed zone and the north-eastern parts of the Karakum desert. This site relates to the Turanskaya lowland and is located within the ancient Amudarya delta. The climate is arid and sharply continental with a hot summer and cold winter. The temperature reaches 37C in summer and drops to -20C in winter. In winter, the waterbodies are usually frozen. The waterbodies are situated in natural depressions and surrounded by loose hilly sands and alkaline land. The largest waterbody is Ulli-Shurkul lake. Its southern part is in Turkmenistan. All lakes and ponds are man-made or natural-anthropogenic and get water from canals and collectors. In the past, there were natural lakes with differ salinities which got water from flooding of the Amudarya river and surface flows. But from the middle of the 20 Century the natural hydrological conditions changed as a result of extensive irrigation works and development. Waterbodies such as Tozakul, Akkul, Tokkuzchukur, Daryalan, Yangishak and others were formed along the border of the oasis. Collector water reached Ulli-Shurkul lake also. Initially all of these waterbodies were isolated and with different mineralization but from the 1980s they were connected to each other by equalizing collectors which has led to a standard salinity throughout. The littoral vegetation is poorly developed. Ulli-Shurkul and Abulkul lakes have fishing value. Khorezmsky fish farm was created at the end of the 1970s and now its fishponds are an important habitat for waterbirds. The total area of the fish farm is 1,500 hectares. Khorezmskiy fish farm is second in importance for Uzbekistan and plays an essential role in the regional economy. The IBA is located not far from one of the ancient cities of Central Asia – Khiva - which is well known because of its historical and architectural monuments and attracts large numbers of tourists.

Key biodiversity
Khorezmskiy fish farm and surrounding lakes are located on a waterbird flyway, particularly Ciconiiformes, Anseriformes and Laridae, migrating between their breeding areas in Russia and Northern Kazakhstan and wintering places in Central and Southern Asia. The role of artificial waterbodies in the lower reaches of the Amudarya river has significantly increased recently as a result of the drying of the Aral Sea and Amudarya delta and birds moved from these lost habitats to water reservoirs, ponds and discharge lakes. 140 species have been recorded since 1994 and 93 of them are hydrophilic. More than 30 species of waterbirds breed. Dense thickets of reed on the small lakes (Hujakulgan, Tokuzchukur, Yaldirauk) and ponds attract Phalocrocorax carbo, Nycticorax nycticorax, herons and other species for nesting. Charadrius dubius, C. alexandrinus, Vanellus leucurus, Himantopus himantopus, Glareoloa pratincola, Recurvirostra avosetta, Larus genei, Sterna hirundo and others can be found on islets and the open banks of desert waterbodies and salines. Panurus biarmicus, Hippolais languida, Acrocephalus dumetorum, A. agricola and Emberiza schoeniculus also breed. The IBA's waterbodies serve as regular stopovers during migration and in winter if the latter are relatively warm. Up to 20,000 birds (Fulica atra, Netta rufina and Aythya ferina) were recorded in the 1990s on Ulli-Shurkul lake (Turaev, 1994, 1995). There were no large aggregations of waterbirds on Ulli-Shurkul lake in autumn 2007 probably because of heavy disturbance by fishermen and hunters. The fish farm ponds attract concentrations of fish-eating species - cormorants, herons, gulls and terns. Protectd species include Pandion haliaetus, Oxyura leucocephala, Marmaronetta angustirostris, Phoenicopterus roseus, Pelecanus onocrotalus, P. crispus and Haliaeetus albicilla. The sandy desert surrounding the waterbodies has become degraded because of overgrazing. Typical species in these areas are Corvus corone, Corvus monedula, Coracias garrulus, Pterocles orientalis, Caprimulgus aegyptius, Galerida cristata, Merops persicus, M. apiaster, Oenanthe deserti, Sylvia nana, Hippolais rama and Rhodospiza obsoletus. It would be interesting to study species composition and number of terrestrial birds during migration.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals are represented by 17 species of 6 orders. Gazella subgutturosa is included in the National Red Book (2003). Lynx caracal and Gazella subgutturosa are included on the IUCN Red List. Ondatra zibethicus, Sus scrofa and Lepus tolai are the most interesting game animals. There are 2 species of amphibian. Reptilia are represented by 17 species, one of them is included in the NRDB (Varanus griseus) and two are on the IUCN RL (Varanus griseus, Testudo horsfieldi). There are 36 species and subspecies of fish from 9 families. 24 species of fish Cyprinidae. Water vegetation and macro-zoobenthos. There are more than 40 species of plant in waterbodies studied (Hakberdiev, 1983). There are 47 species of macro-zoobenthos.

Habitat and land use
All habitats are used intensively. The equalizing collector, which is a part of the regional Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan "Drujba" collector system, passes through the site. Water is extracted year-round but varies by season. Use of the site is under government control. Commercial fish farming at Khorezmskiy fish farm is an important use of the site. There is intensive year-round fishing with gill nets but this is not organized and, according to locals, fish resources are exhausted. Livestock grazing, especially of goats and sheeps, is everywhere. There are large numbers of livestock in spring on the southern part of Ulli-Shurkul lake. There is hunting of waterfowl and hares in autumn-winter and hunting is uncontrolled. Access to some parts of the site (Kaladjikskie lakes) is limited or banned because of its proximity to the border.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Intensive fishing, with 30-80 boats on Ulli-Shurkul lake, causes considerable disturbance to waterfowl. In addition local people shoot birds from motor boats which is a gross breach of hunting regulations. As result much of the lake cannot be used by waterfowl and just small numbers occur near the shore. There is no control, so there are poachers on both the Uzbek and Turkmen parts of the lake. Livestock overgrazing has a strong influence on the sandy desert biotopes. As a result the desert vegetation is degraded and provide poor habitats for birds. A potential threat is persecution of fish-eating birds - cormorants, herons and gulls - on the fish farm ponds.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Khorezm Fish Farm and adjacent lakes. Downloaded from on 25/09/2023.