Great Knots (Endangered) and Bar-tailed Godwits (Near Threatened) feed here © Jens Eriksen

Barr Al Hikman is a wetland paradise of preeminent importance for migratory birds along the West Asian-East African flyway. It is known for its biodiversity, with enormous numbers of invertebrates hidden in the sediments, providing good food resources for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl that depend on this coastal oasis on their journeys across the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, a team from Wetlands International found over half a million birds wintering at Barr Al-Hikman in 2017, and recorded a total of 63 waterfowl species at the site in 2017-2019. Overall, the density of waders in the Barr Al Hikman tidal flats is one of the highest in the world, making it one of the most important wetlands on the coast of the world.

One of the species that relies on this wetland is the curlew sandpiper Calidris ferruginea (Near Threatened), which migrates a proud 6000 kilometers from its breeding grounds in the Siberian tundra to Bar Al Hikman every winter to take advantage of the exceptional food availability of the habitat . After this intrepid wader has replenished its energy, it continues its journey for another 6,000 kilometers to South Africa.

Barr Al Hikman is a rocky limestone peninsula covering an area of ​​900 square kilometers and the longest natural sandbar in the Middle East. The most important habitats are extensive gravel areas, sabkha on the coast and inland (a mixture of sand, mud and salt), tidal flats and shallow lagoons that are connected to sea bays and straits. Numerous fish populations in the bay and in the straits attract whales and dolphins, while no fewer than four threatened species of sea turtles nest on its shores. It is also home to eccentric invertebrates like the red-eyed rock crab Eriphia sebana, which lives in massive tangles of interwoven chalk tubes made by colonial tube worms. It feeds on smaller crabs and snails. For this purpose, it has developed massive claws with molar “teeth” that can crack thick shells.

The wetland has been designated by BirdLife as an important bird and biodiversity area and is also an important biodiversity area. In addition, according to the criteria of the Ramsar Convention, the area is considered to be an internationally important wetland, as it regularly supports more than 20,000 water birds or at least 1% of the population of a water bird species. Recent surveys show that Barr Al Hikman meets these criteria for no fewer than 21 species.

An estimated 35% of all wetlands worldwide have been lost since the 1970s, increasing the risk of extinction for many species. Coastal wetlands in many parts of the Arabian Peninsula are under pressure. Studies show that human activities increasingly lead to the deterioration and loss of important locations in the region. Species like the great knot Calidris tenuirostris are already threatened by the reclamation of other wetlands on their journey. Formal protection of this area would therefore ensure a crucial, truly irreplaceable hub for migratory birds in the center of the West Asian-East African flyway.

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Barr Al Hikman contains the longest natural sandbar in the Middle East © Tariq Barwani