The IBA is situated in the Turkmenbashy district of the Balkan region and extends from 70 km to the south of Turkmenbashy city to 10 km to the south of Hazar city. The site is a coastal strip (up to 5 km wide) in the western and northern parts of the Southern Cheleken Bay, and covers Garakel, Heles and Ordekli Bays.
Garakel Bay includes a settlement where there are two small landing stages for bulk-oil tankers. The population of Garakyol is engaged in fishery and hunting. There is also a tourist base “Heles”.
The avifauna includes not less than 280 species, of which 240 (86%) are passage-wintering birds, including 120 (43%) which are waterbirds, representing 46 and 23% respectively of the avifauna of Central Asia.
Passeriformes are the most numerous (96 species), followed by Haematopodidae (45), Anseriformes (28), Falconiformes (27) and Laridae (16). Most typical on migration are coots and ducks (Netta rufina, Aythya ferina, Anas platyrhynchos, Aythya fuligula, Aythya marila, Anas penelope, etc.), plus waders, gulls and terns.
The IBA is located on a major flyway along the east coast of the Caspian Sea. In spring there is a high turnover rate of birds. Migration begins in the middle of March and ends at the end of April. The autumn migration shows several peaks and lasts from the end of August to the beginning and middle of November.
The following species listed in the Red Data Book of Turkmenistan (1999) have been recorded: Platalea leucorodia, Phoenicopterus roseus, Anthropoides virgo, Buteo buteo, Pandion haliaetus, Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Falco peregrinus, Circaetus gallicus, Burhinus oedicnemus, and also the non-migratory - Aquila chrysaetos, Falco cherrug and Bubo bubo. There are also records of the globally threatened Vanellus gregarius and Aquila heliaca.
Criterion А1 is applicable for Oxyura leucocephala, Anser erythropus, Aythya nyroca and Marmaronetta angustrostris. Other A1 species recorded but where data is not currently available to justify their designation are Falco naumanni, Aquila heliaca, Branta ruficollis, Grus leucogeranus and Numenius tenuirostris.
The site also supports wintering and migrating Phoenicopterus roseus, Falco cherrug, Falco peregrinus, Haliaeetus albicilla, Haliaeetus leucoryphus and Larus ichthyaetus.
Criterion A4iii applies as the IBA holds concentrations of more than 20,000 passage-wintering waterfowl and waterbirds of 10 to 20 species.
Non-bird biodiversity: The fauna includes 40 species of mammals, half of which are rodents (21 species), the others are predators (8), chiropterans (5), insectivores (4), ungulates (2). Reptiles are represented by 30 species, the most significant are water (Natrix natrix) and grass (Natrix tessellata) snakes and the Central Asian agama (Agama sanguinolenta).
The flora includes more than 370 species of higher plants. The vegetation of the coast is represented by halophytic and salsolas communities. Sandy areas are fixed by sparse vegetation: ephedra, a few species of Calligonum, Salsola richteri and saxaul (Haloxylon persicum) which is very rare. Carex physodes also occurs sparsely together with scattered ephemerals.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
At present, the ecosystem of the IBA is considered to be in a safe condition. The greatest threats are pollution of the coast with household rubbish, illegal hunting and illegal fishing.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In second half of the last century intensive ornithological works were carried out by employees of the Khazar reserve but in spite of this the IBA has not be designatedand is not listed in the protected areas of Turkmenistan. Counts of passage-wintering waterfowl have been carried out almost annually from 1971-2005 under the direction of Vasilev V.I. On adjoining desert areas employees of the Turkmenbashy antiplague stations have carried out regular studies, especially from 1960-1990, of the distribution and number of mammals of the region, particularly rodents and predators.