The site lies about 30 km south-west of the coastal town of Mostaganem (just to the east of Oran) and c.60 km north-west of Dayette Morsli–Plaine de Remila (site DZ016). It consists of the flood-plain and marshland system of several oueds that spread across the Plain of Habra before discharging into the Mediterranean Sea to the north (via the River La Macta). Three major oueds flow into the flood-plain from the south and two of these, the Oued Sig and the Oued l’Habra, flow all year-round. The site is roughly triangular in shape and is bounded to the south, west and east by hills. It consists of open water, marsh, humid steppe and ‘sansouires’ (saltmarsh) very similar to those of southern France, but rare in North Africa.To the north, the flood-plain is separated from the sea by a dune system, through which flows the River La Macta; there is also an old river channel which runs west behind the dunes and permanently contains water and beds of Phragmites sp. The site consists of large areas of shallow, open water and permanent marsh, with other areas of temporary inundation following rainfall. The salinity is extremely variable, but can be very high, especially at the seaward end. Large parts of the site can be dry from July to October, while the permanent marsh and other areas of open water are replenished year-round by the inflowing oueds. Scirpus maritimus and Juncus subulatus dominate the northern part of the marshland and other emergents throughout the marsh include S. lacustris, S. littoralis, Juncus acutus and Phragmites communis. There is heavy grazing by goats, cattle and sheep, which restricts P. communis to the edges of open water areas and drainage channels. Flooded areas show scattered growth of Potamogeton pectinatus, Ruppia maritima, Zannichellia palustris, Enteromorpha sp. and filamentous algae. The southern end consists of Salicornia sp. steppe, with clumps of Tamarix sp. in the south and east. On the northern, dune area there is Sarcocornia fruticosa and Juncus acutus, with bushes of Arthrocnemum glaucum and Tamarix gallica. The site is surrounded by irrigated agriculture and there is heavy grazing pressure and some hunting.
See Box for key species. Up to 220 Marmaronetta angustirostris winter on the site and this species has also been recorded breeding, but with no information on numbers. Tetrax tetrax occurs all year-round (more than 75 birds in 1975). The site is especially important for wintering waterbirds, including large numbers (approaching IBA thresholds) of several duck species, Tadorna tadorna (3,500), Anas penelope (15,100), A. crecca (9,500), A. acuta (2,500), A. clypeata (4,000) and Netta rufina and significant numbers of wintering and passage waders. There is a single record of 800 Tringa erythropus in 1975, which exceeds the IBA threshold for this species. Other numerous waders include Recurvirostra avosetta, Calidris alpina, C. minuta and Limosa limosa. There are unpublished reports (by Metzmacher) of ‘hundreds’ of Grus grus overwintering on the plain of La Macta. More than 20,000 waterbirds have been recorded wintering (27,866 in 1978).The full value of the area for breeding birds has not been evaluated, but large numbers of Himantopus himantopus nest, together with Tachybaptus ruficollis, Podiceps cristatus, Circus aeruginosus, Fulica atra and Recurvirostra avosetta. Many other potential breeding species are observed in spring and summer, including unpublished earlier records by Metzmacher of ‘large numbers’ of heron species and Ciconia ciconia nesting around La Macta, which serves as their principal feeding area. There are irregular records of Tadorna ferruginea in spring and summer, suspected to be birds dispersing following early breeding attempts elsewhere.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The wetland is important for local residents grazing cattle and nomads grazing sheep, especially during dry periods. Attempts to drain the site in the 1960s were partially successful, but the rupture of a dyke in 1969 reversed the situation and the wetland has apparently returned to its former extent. However, agricultural pollution is increasing and grazing is intensive, both of which may affect vegetation and the value of the site for waterfowl. There are reports of proposals for other industrial developments (a steel mill and port at the northern end), that could also have serious detrimental impacts on the site. The main road from Oran to Mostaganem has been constructed across the northern end of the site since the most recently published information (1982). There appear to have been no surveys of the site since this date and thus the current status of the site and its importance for waterbirds are unknown. The location of the site, close to Oran, and its biological richness would make it ideal for educational purposes. Most of the marsh (10,000 ha) has been declared a Natural Reserve, but it is not clear how much protection this designation will afford. There is a need for an integrated management plan to reconcile the needs of agriculture and conservation in the area and to prevent inappropriate or damaging industrial development. The site was designated as a Ramsar Site in 2001.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Marais de la Macta. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 13/11/2019.