The tourist resort of Elat lies in the Rift Valley at the head of the Gulf of Elat (Gulf of Aqaba) flanked by mountains, with the Moon Valley and the plateau of the Negev to the west and the Arava valley running off to the north-north-west. The site comprises the region of the Arava valley from Elat to the area of Yotvata c.40 km to the north, and includes the western (Israeli) half of the valley floor and the ridge of the 'Elat Mountains'. The climate is arid (less than 50 mm rainfall per year), and rocky areas and gravel plains may be almost without vegetation, but sandy areas, especially wadis, support large bushes and, after rain, grasses and annual herbs. Large wadis and their alluvial fans support open woodland of Acacia tortilis and A. raddiana, notably just south of Yotvata, and here a few presumably native Phoenix dactylifera also grow where water is close to the surface. There is a tiny relict group of Hyphaene thebaica at En Evrona. Other habitats include beaches, agricultural fields, saltpans, sewage ponds and Phragmites; a saltmarsh with large Suaeda bushes has now almost disappeared.
Elat is a key site for migration through the Middle East, and very large numbers of all types of bird pass through the area in both spring and autumn. Over 420 species have been recorded. Of prime importance are raptors: 1.2 million have been counted in a single spring season and 26,000 in autumn, and the flyway is especially concentrated for Pernis apivorus (see box), Milvus migrans (max. seasonal total 31,774), Accipiter brevipes (see box), Buteo buteo vulpinus (max. seasonal total 465,827) and Aquila nipalensis (max. seasonal total 75,053). Migrant Chlidonias leucopterus also occur in especially high numbers. Numbers of migrating Pelecanus onocrotalus and Ciconia nigra are highest in spring, and seasonal totals from the Moon Valley are given (see box). Other breeding species include Aquila verreauxii (not proven: records of 1-2 birds), Falco pelegrinoides (1-2 pairs), Pterocles lichtensteinii and Eremalauda dunni (0-20 pairs, last bred 1989).
The Elat Mountains comprise an extensive Nature Reserve and further reserves exist in the valley south of Yotvata. In 1992 a 'Bird Park' plantation of native trees and shrubs was established at the site of a disused garbage tip 3 km north of Elat. The increase in the area's human population and its usage for recreation has made it more hazardous for some migrants. Considerable amounts of biocides used for agriculture may be a factor in the recent disappearance of some breeding species, e.g. Lanius excubitor. There is an outfall for semi-screened sewage on the Elat shore, which unless controlled (together with other runoff, etc.) may eventually affect the ecology of the Gulf through nutrient enrichment of seawater. Many Chlidonias leucopterus are killed by overhead cables, fast craft at sea can disturb loafing seabirds and ducks, and increasing numbers of all-terrain vehicles are penetrating many new areas inland and destroying the desert crust. Despite the efforts of the Nature Reserves Authority, the question of increased protection for established reserves needs to be addressed. Further tree-planting in the environs of Elat would be beneficial. There is a programme for the reintroduction of extinct fauna at Hai-Bar reserve: establishment of Equus hemionus has commenced, and Oryx leucoryx, Struthio camelus and, hopefully, Torgos tracheliotus will follow. The number of Ardea purpurea migrating through this site has dramatically declined over the last 25 years (hundreds passed through per season ten years ago, now only c.10 per season are recorded), indicating the site's value for monitoring bird populations.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Southern Arava valley and Elat mountains. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 15/08/2020.