Lake Manzala

Country/territory: Egypt

IBA criteria met: A1, A4i, A4iii (1999)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 77,000 ha

Nature Conservation Eqypt

Site description (2001 baseline)
Lake Manzala, the largest of Egypt’s Mediterranean wetlands and the most productive for fisheries, is located in the north-eastern corner of the Nile delta. Manzala is generally rectangular in shape, about 60 km long and 40 km wide, and has an average depth of 1.3 m. It is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by a sandbar, through which it is connected to the sea by three channels (bughaz). The salinity in the lake varies greatly; while it is low near drain and canal outflows in the south and west, it is high in the extreme north-west. Brackish conditions predominate over much of the remainder of the lake. Over 1,000 islands of varying sizes are scattered throughout the lake.

The three main habitats are reed-swamps, saltmarshes and sandy areas. The reed-swamps of Phragmites and Typha, with associated submerged water-plants (e.g. Potamogeton and Najas), are found extensively in the less saline portions of the lake in the south and west and fringing many islands. Saltmarshes of Juncus and Halocnemum occur on the northern (coastal) margins of the lakes and some islands. Sand formations are occupied by several plant communities, e.g. coastal dunes. Open water and mudflats are also important habitats for birds. Large areas in the north-west of the lake have been turned into fish-farms, while much of the southern part of the site (south of 31°10 N) has been divided into large plots and drained, in preparation for its conversion to agricultural use.

A total of 3.7 km³ of fresh water (mostly from agricultural drainage) flow annually into Lake Manzala from nine major drains and canals. The most important of these are Faraskur, Al Sarw, Baghous, Abu Garida and Bahr El Baqar. Of all the drains discharging into Lake Manzala, the Bahr El Baqar drain is the most polluted. It carries a mixture of treated and untreated waste-water originating from Cairo and contributing much to the deteriorating water quality of the lake. Bughaz El Gamil is the main connection between the lake and the Mediterranean. Several other less important sea connections have recently been enlarged.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. Manzala is by far the most important wetland for wintering waterbirds in Egypt, holding a total of 233,901 waterbirds in winter 1989/90. This represented c.40% of all waterfowl counted throughout Egypt’s wetlands that winter and included the world’s largest concentrations of wintering Larus minutus and Chlidonias hybridus. There were also up to 36,180 waders present in spring 1990, indicating the great importance of the wetland for populations of passage migrants, especially of Recurvirostra avosetta, Calidris minuta, Calidris alpina and Philomachus pugnax. No similar counts are available for autumn, but the lake is likely to be as important in that season. Manzala is also of importance for a number of breeding waterbirds and wetland species. About 35 species are known to breed, including Ixobrychus minutus, Egretta garzetta, Ardeola ralloides, Porphyrio porphyrio, Sterna albifrons, Charadrius alexandrinus, Vanellus spinosus, Glareola pratincola, Caprimulgus aegyptius, Ceryle rudis and Acrocephalus stentoreus. For some of these species, Manzala is one of the most important breeding areas in the entire western Palearctic region.

Non-bird biodiversity: Reptiles: The Mediterranean shore of the lake is a potential breeding site for endangered marine turtles. Caretta caretta (EN) is the species most likely to breed in the area. Mammals: Felis chaus is still known to occur in good numbers.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Lake Manzala. Downloaded from on 23/09/2023.