The IBA encompasses several bays of the Caspian Sea: Turkmenbashy, Balkan, North-Cheleken and Mikhailovsky which are separated from the open sea by Krasnovodskiy and North-Cheleken spits. The north of the territory is limited by ledges of the Krasnovodskiy plateau, in the south by the Cheleken peninsula, and in the northeast by the Dardzha peninsula.
The relief of the IBA can be divided into 3 basic components: a) shallow brackish bays having open access to each other and separated from the sea by sandy spits; b) sandy - shelly spits, islands and dunes, overgrown with halophytes; c) stony islands in Balkan Bay, including the largest - Dagada - with an area of 120 hectares.
The coastal shallow waters of the Southeast Caspian Sea are the largest flyway, and also the largest wintering area, of waterfowl and waterbirds nesting in Western Siberia, Kazakhstan and other regions of Northern Asia. Alongside favourable natural processes increasing the area of wetlands over the last 10 years, anthropogenic factors have also strongly increased: pollution by mineral oil, disturbance and illegal hunting of a significant proportion of the wintering and migrating waterfowl and waterbirds.
The avifauna includes almost 300 species, of which 130 are waterfowl and waterbirds. The majority occur during spring-autumn migration and in winter:
Podicipedidae - Podiceps griseigena and Podiceps ruficollis; Phalacrocoracidae - Phalocrocorax саrbo on migration; Ardeae - Botaurus stellaris, Ixobrychus minutus, Ardea cinerea, Ardea purpurea, Egretta alba, Egretta garzetta, Nycticorax nycticorax in small numbers in November. Anser anser stops during migration for feeding on the islands of the Balkan Bay; Anatidae - Tadorna ferruginea, Tadorna tadorna - on migration and wintering, and in summertime scattered pairs nest on Krasnovodskiy spit; Anas acuta, Anas clypeata, Aythya marina, Aythya nyroca and Mergus merganser; Rallidae - Gallinula chloropus, Rallus aquaticus and Porzana porzana in small numbers stop on migration in reed thickets on Krasnovodskiy spit and Bekovicha Bay; Laridae - Larus cachinnans, Larus ridibundus and Larus genei are usual in the bayss; Charadriiformes - Vanellus vanellus, Charadrius alexandrinus, Charadrius dubius, Tringa totanus, Actitis hypoleucos, Philomachus pugnax, Calidris alpina, Gallinago gallinago. Most numerous are Philomachus pugnax and Calidris alpina during autumn-spring migration.
The IBA is a typical wetland, providing optimum conditions for waterfowl and water birds. The main migratory birds consist of 44 species (47,8% of all species). Mainly, Netta - (32%) and Anas - (9.5%), Laridae -(15%), Rallidae - (Fulica atra) (17%), Limosa - (10.6%).
Non-bird biodiversity: Fish are represented by 10 valuable species: herring (Caspialosa sp.), mullet (Mugil sp.), Rutilus sp., Cyprinus sp., Artediellus sp., Atherina sp., Clupeonella sp., Aspius sp., Salma sp.. Bays provide spawning grounds for commercial fish.
Amphibians: lake frog (Rana ridibunda) and green toad (Bufo viridis).
Reptiles: directly related to the coast line are 4 species - Echis caruinatus, Agama sanquinolenta and Stellio caucasius (all are not numerous) - at the foot of Garadag mountain and the Ufra peninsula - Natrix tessellata is numerous everywhere where there are reed thickets, in particular on Krasnovodskiy spit.
Mammals - about 50 species of which 19 are rodents, 13 - predators, 7 - insectivores and Chiroptera, 2 - ungulates, 1 - Pinnipedia. The most interesting species is the Caspian Seal (Phoca caspica) which is endemic to the Caspian. In 1980 large congregations of seals occurred on Bolshoy Osushnoy island.
Vascular plants total more than 360 species. In the sea bays - 41 species of seaweed–macrophytes and 5 species of flowering plants occur. The main vegetation communities in the reserve are various types of desert, floodplains and dry subtropics, plus macrophytes in shallow bays and on the coast.
The vegetation of the bays is represented by groups of lower plants (seaweeds) and higher flowering plants (sea grasses). Green (28 species), red (11 species) and brown (1 species) seaweeds form thickets on the shores down to a depth of 6m. In addition to these macroscopicals, there are many hundreds of species of microscopic seaweed - in the plankton and benthos. Flowering plants are represented by a few species: Zostera sp, Ruppia sp, Potamogeton sp, Najas marina. They grow mainly on sandy soils and in water up to a depth of 4.5m.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Analysis of the anthropogenic factors which have affected ecological conditions for the last decade shows that disturbance has had the greatest negative influence on the condition of waterfowl and water birds. Pollution is also a problem. A developing oil and gas complex is now potentially influencing the site but is subject to a regulated Environmental Impact Assessment.
The condition of the wetlands and, accordingly, the fauna and number of water birds are affected by the natural processes connected with changes in the level of the Caspian.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The avifauna of the Caspian Sea has always interested researchers. After creation in 1968 of the Krasnovodskiy (now Khazar) reserve systematic ornithological researches began by its employees. For more than 30 years V.I. Vasilev researched the role of Khazar reserve in the protection of wintering waterfowl and water birds. Together with E.A. Rustamov and M.E. Gauzer for many years regular aerial counts of waterfowl and water birds on all of the east coast of Caspian Sea were carried out. V.I. Vasilev with M.E. Gauzer, A.A. Karavaev and A.A. Sherbinina researched migration (trapping and ringing birds). V.I. Vasilev has described the general characteristics of autumn and spring migrations and wintering of waterfowl and water birds in the East Caspian Sea. For many years M.E.Gauzer studied colonial breeding sites of gulls. Research of the phyto- and zoobenthos as food reserves for waterfowl were carried out by Zaberzhinskaja E.B. and V.B. Nazarenko. On the IBA sites employees of the Balkanabat antiplague stations carried out regular (especially 1960-1990) studies of the distribution and number of mammals of the region, particularly rodents and predators.
Since 2006 in the IBA parts of Khazar reserve, the CEP/GEF project directed towards the development of an action plan for sustainable development of ecosystems of the East Caspian Sea, particularly of the Khazar reserve, has been undertaken.
Khazar state ornithological reserve.
Khazar reserve (until 1994 called Krasnovodskiy) was established in 1932 on the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea at the juncture of the typically dry Transcaspian desert and the saltwater area of the Caspian and Astrabad subtropical province of Iran. The total area is 262,037 ha, including 192,047 ha of the Caspian Sea itself.
The condition of the wetlands, fauna and number of waterfowl and water birds is substantially influenced by changes in the level of the Caspian Sea.
Expansion of the Caspian Sea began in 1979 and by 1995 the level had risen almost 2.5m, as a result the area of all coastal shallow waters has extended. At the same time, rising sea levels led to the flooding of the Osushnye islands, where sites suitable for colonial nesting gulls have disappeared. In total almost 500 hectares of wetlands, suitable for wintering, migrant and nesting birds, have been lost.