Sarykamysh lake and surrounding Ustyurt Plateau

Country/territory: Uzbekistan

IBA Criteria met: A1, A4i (2011)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 95,974 ha

Protection status:

Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds
Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2011 high not assessed negligible
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
The proposed IBA includes Sarykamysh Lake, Ustyurt Plateau and the Eastern Cliffs (Chink) of Ustyurt. Sarykamysh Lake is a closed brackish lake located in the central part of the Sarykamysh depression about halfway between the Caspian and Aral Seas. It is a cross-border site and the Turkmen portion of the lake is already designated as an IBA (TM 022). The deep northern part of the lake (1000 km2) belongs to Uzbekistan and the remainder (about 3000 km2) to Turkmenistan. It is one of the largest water bodies in Central Asia (Nikitin, 1978). The lake formed in 1963 as a result of the release of drainage waters from the irrigated oases of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan located along the left bank of the lower Amu Darya in the Sarykamysh depression into the the ancient Daryalyk riverbed. The area is 400000 ha, the volume is more than 60 km3, and the maximum depth is 45 m.The Eastern Cliffs of Ustyurt are located along the west and north-east shores of the lake. Riparian vegetation at the northern end of the lake is poorly developed because of the recent rise in water levels. There are small areas of reed and reedmace in the shallow parts of the north and north-west shores. The east shore is completely devoid of vegetation due to being very deep. A wide (1 km) strip of shore separates the lake from the Ustyurt plateau (clayey soil in the east and sand in the north and west). It is densely covered with thickets of tamarisk and saxaul.In 2002 - 2007 mineralization in the Uzbek northwestern part of the lake was 12.6 - 14 g/l. Currently mineralization is increasing because of a reduction of the inflow of the Daryalyk collector.In 1980 the Sarykamysh Lake Zakaznik was established in Turkmenistan administered by the Gaplangyr Reserve. The total area is 551066 ha, including 203561 ha of open water. In 2008 this part of the lake was designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA). In 2010, on the Karakalpak part of the lake, there were 7 fishery enterprises operating.The Ustyurt Plateau is an elevated plain folded with Neogene limestones, Paleogene clays and gypsum. Steep escarpments (cliffs) form the edges of the plateau in the southwest. The height of the plateau is 100-300 m asl.The desert landscape of Ustyurt consists of a clay-soil sagebrush desert and sagebrush-saltwort desert. The southeast part of Ustyurt is a clay-gravel desert. The main vegetation consists of Salsola arbuscula, Artemisia, Anabasis salsa, and saxaul. The climate is dry and sharply continental. Precipitation is just over 100 mm per year. The main part of Ustyurt is used as spring-summer-autumn pasture. The proposed IBA also includes the Sarzha depression located in the northeast of the IBA where there is the Sarzha well with brackish water. According to Matekova G., Caspian Plover and Houbara Bustard were recorded in the area of the depression during the breeding season in May 2007.

Key biodiversity
The avifauna of Ustyurt is poor due to the extreme aridity and homogeneity of the landscape. However, among the nesting birds there are Houbara Bustard (globally endangered species ) and Pterocles alchata (nationally endangered and declining in Central Asia). The East Cliffs of Ustyurt has special importance for breeding birds of prey such as Egyptian Vulture and Saker Falcon (both globally threatened). Also, it is the second known nesting place of Alpine Swift in the plains of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, there is not much information on this region due to its remoteness. However, since 2007 three short surveys (spring 2007, summer and autumn 2010) have been undertaken. During these surveys 108 species of bird were recorded. Seventeen species are rare - 15 species are included in the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan (2006) and 8 species in the IUCN Red List (see table below). The populations of key species still requires further study and refinement but the importance of this area for bird conservation is unquestionable.Lake Sarykamysh, like any other wetland in an arid zone, plays an important role in the life of desert animals and is characterized by a diversity of fauna. Research confirms that the Ustyurt landscape supports a complex of linked elements. For instance, Greater Sand Plover and Caspian Plover nest in dry areas of the plateau and takyrs. After the breeding season they move en masse to the shores of Sarykamysh Lake where they gather in flocks before migration. Swifts breed on the cliffs and feed on insects over the lake. Similarly, owls search for food along the shore and on the plateau and use the cliffs of the sor as shelter and nesting sites. Gazelles spend much of thei r time in the safe open spaces of the plateau but regularly visit the lake to drink.

Non-bird biodiversity: The following mammals have been recorded - Hemiechinus auritus, Hemiechinus hypomelas, Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Meles meles, Mustela eversmanni, Sus scrofa, Gazella subgutturosus, Lepus tolai and Rhombomys opimus. Among 15 fish species recorded in Lake Sarykamysh in the last two years were found two species included in the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan (2010): Pungitius platygaster aralensis (8 individuals were found in the stomach of a pikeperch) and Barbus capito conocephalus (Zholdasova et al, 2009).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sarykamysh lake and surrounding Ustyurt Plateau. Downloaded from on 17/04/2021.