A group of three flat, rocky islands of eroded limestone pavement (rising to 6 m), c.13 km offshore and north-west of Tripoli, together with their surrounding seas. Palm Island (Jazirat al-Nakhl or Ile du Palmier) is the largest (20 ha), and has a sand beach on its north and east sides, and a central depression where rainwater accumulates in winter. Parts of the islands are flooded with seawater during storms. There is some very stunted maquis-type vegetation in clefts in the limestone but the islands are otherwise relatively bare, except in spring when carpeted in wildflowers. On Palm Island there are also some small ponds, boggy areas and stands of reed Phragmites. The islands are commonly visited by picnicers, tourists, hunters, school parties and fishermen. There is a freshwater well on Palm Island, as well as some half-built concrete buildings and some ruins from antiquity. There is a lighthouse on Ramkin Island. The third island is called Sanani.
See box for key species. The islands were formerly an important seabird breeding site, known as the 'Bird Islands' in the last century. Larus audouinii (see below), L. cachinnans, Sterna bengalensis, S. hirundo and S. albifrons were all breeding on Palm Island at the end of the 19th century at least, but currently no species breed, apart from L. cachinnans possibly, due to high levels of disturbance. L. cachinnans has been declining for a long time (80–90 pairs in 1956, 50 birds in 1973, at least 15 pairs in 1975, no birds present in April 1993) and may be extinct. The site would make an excellent observatory for monitoring the large, visible migration of waterbirds along the coast (egrets, ducks, waders, gulls etc.) and for observation and ringing of passerine migrants; over 300 species of migrants had been recorded by 1974, including vagrants such as Haliaeetus albicilla, Falco eleonorae, F. pelegrinoides and Vanellus gregarius. The site was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: old records of Monachus monachus (E), perhaps up until the 1960s. Reptiles: old records of sea-turtles Chelonia mydas (E) and Caretta caretta (E) nesting on the sand beaches. Flora: some wildflower species are nationally endangered or extinct along the mainland coast, or otherwise unusual, e.g. Euphorbia pithyusa, Cressa cretica.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Although declared a Marine Reserve on 9 March 1992 (Law 121), the law is not enforced. The reserve was recently also designated as a Mediterranean Specially Protected Area. Critical problems presently are extreme disturbance of birds by all visitors, the large numbers of illegal hunters, deliberate persecution of birds, and over-collection of eggs and young of nesting seabirds in the past. Dynamite fishing has been frequent offshore in the last decade, and oil and garbage pollution from Tripoli are problems. Introduction of non-indigenous fauna/flora has occurred. Some half-built buildings occur on Palm Island; before 1975-1976 there were proposals to develop the islands for tourism, potentially a critical threat.