Lake Qarun Protected Area

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Lake Qarun occupies the deepest part of the Fayoum Depression, located some 220 km south of the Mediterranean. In 1992, the elevation of the lake surface was 43.5 m below sea-level and mean water depth was 4.2 m. The lake is bordered by agricultural land to the south and desert to the north. There are several lagoons and bays along the southern and northern shores of the lake, some of which hold mud- or saltflats of various sizes. El Qarn, the only sizeable island in the lake, covers almost 2 km². Formerly, Qarun was a much larger freshwater lake, with dense marsh vegetation along its shores. The main source of water for the lake is drainage from irrigated land, which it receives through two major drains: El Batts and El Wadi. With the intensification of cultivation and irrigation since the early part of this century, the salt load of the water reaching Qarun has increased significantly. As the only outflow for the water is evaporation, salinity is continually increasing. Today, Lake Qarun is slightly more saline than seawater (about 40 g/l) and salinity increases at the rate of 0.5 g/l annually (Euroconsult 1992b). The highest salinity is recorded in the west and north of the lake, while swamp and marsh vegetation is now restricted to the vicinity of drain outlets, on the eastern and southern shores of the lake. Nilotic aquatic fauna has mostly disappeared, being replaced by many marine species that have been introduced from the Mediterranean to restock the ecologically modified lake. Between 1980 and 1990, Lake Qarun produced an average of 956 tonnes of fish and shrimps annually, of which 40% was Tilapia sp. and 36% shrimps.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. Lake Qarun holds large numbers of waterfowl in winter, e.g. 32,665 were present in the winter of 1989/90. Grebes are particularly abundant, and there are also large numbers of Anas crecca, Aythya fuligula and Fulica atra. At least 10 species of waterbird are known to breed, the most prominent of which are Bubulcus ibis, Vanellus spinosus, Charadrius alexandrinus, Sterna albifrons and Larus genei. The last species started breeding at Lake Qarun in the early 1990s, and in summer 1998 an estimated 1,000 pairs nested on El Qarn island.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Lake Qarun was declared a Protected Area by Prime Ministerial Decree 943/1989. The increasing salinity of the lake is constantly changing its ecology, and is likely to become too high for many life forms to continue to exist. This will ultimately reduce its importance as a habitat for most waterbird species. Currently there are plans under consideration which entail the division of the lake into several segments, where salinity in at least some parts of the lake (near sources of fresh water), could be maintained at favourable levels, while other parts would be sacrificed.

Unregulated tourist developments, particularly along the southern shores of the lake, are destroying the best waterbird habitats, particularly mudflats and saltmarshes, and will lead to increased disturbance to birds. El Fayoum has traditionally been a popular site for European hunting parties visiting Egypt in winter. Although there have been recent attempts to control and regulate hunting, evidence indicates that there are many violations, both by foreign hunting parties and by natives who kill many protected species and cause much disturbance to both wintering and breeding birds.

In the summer of 1998, some 3,000 fledgling Larus genei were found dead on El Qarn island. Despite statements by Ministry of Agriculture experts that starvation and parasites caused the mass death, it is almost certain, because of the scale and suddenness of the incident, that the birds were poisoned, probably by local fish-farmers. This illustrates the type and scale of the conflicts that arise between man and wildlife in many of Egypt’s wetlands.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Qarun Protected Area. Downloaded from on 19/09/2020.