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Location Eritrea, Northern Red Sea Zone,Southern Red Sea Zone
Central coordinates 40o 3.00' East  15o 40.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i
Area 300,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 200m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Site description The Dehalak Archipelago consists of a group of about 220 islands, ranging from minute to very large, lying in the Red Sea east of Massawa, from about 20 km to more than 100 km offshore. The islands vary from sandbars to complex ecosystems comparable to those on the nearby mainland, with complexity increasing with size and proximity to the shore. Most of the islands are composed of salt diapir, which consists of salt deposits 3 km deep, formed when the Red Sea almost totally dried out many aeons ago. These are now expanding as they get wet, and rising upwards; where they reach the photic zone (50 m below the sea surface) corals start to develop. As the deposits continue to rise into shallower waters, the corals die off and islands are formed as the deposits rise into the air or are forced up by periodic tectonic movements. The largest island, Dehalak Kebir, covers 64,500 ha and is the most complex ecologically, with three different levels of uplifted corals. Other islands are composed of Pleistocene limestones and marine sand deposits.

To the south there are other smaller groups of islands that are also included within the proposed IBA, although there are few specific bird records from these other groups. These are the continental islands just offshore and south of the Buri peninsula in Mersa Fatmah Bay, and a few offshore at Asseb, one of which, Senahor, is volcanic in origin. The areas of sea between the islands within these groups and between the main groups and the mainland (particularly the Massawa channel between the Dehalak Archipelago and Massawa) should probably also be included, although there are few specific bird records from these inter-island areas. Records from the immediate offshore islands, including Batsii (Massawa), Taulud and Sheik Said (Green) Islands are included in the Massawa Coast account (see ER005). More survey work will be required to determine the boundaries of one or more IBAs covering the areas of most importance to bird populations using the various groups of islands and the surrounding seas.

The majority of the islands consist of bare sand, some with exposed uplifted coral and very sparse scrub and grassland vegetation similar to that on the adjacent mainland (e.g. Acacia, Panicum, Sargassum and Euphorbia spp., with Suaeda, Statice, Atriplex and Zygophyllum spp. on low areas of saline sand). Some of the islands have areas of rocky cliffs, some have sand, pebble or mudflats and there are also large mangrove swamps (principally Avicennia marina, with some Rhizophora and Ceriops spp.) on some islands in the Dehalak and Asseb Bay groups. There is a tidal range of between 50–120 cm. Both day and night-time temperatures are high (40–50°C) and there is very high humidity, but only about six islands, all in the Dehalak archipelago, have surface fresh water. Almost all the 180–250 mm of rainfall falls between October and May.

Dehalak Kebir island was used as an Ethiopian military base against Eritrean rebels during the war. Apart from this, fishermen and people keeping goats inhabit a few islands. There is also some very low-key tourism (administered by the Ministries of Tourism and Fisheries) on Dehalak Kebir, based largely on the attractions of diving in the Red Sea and around the coral reefs.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Sooty Falcon Falco concolor breeding  2000  present  A3  Near Threatened 
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni passage  present  A1  Least Concern 
White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalmus breeding  1962  500 breeding pairs  medium  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis breeding  2000  500 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus resident  2000  present  A3  Least Concern 
Greater Hoopoe-lark Alaemon alaudipes resident  2000  present  A3  Least Concern 
Blackstart Cercomela melanura resident  2000  present  A3  Least Concern 
Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea passage  present  A1  Near Threatened 

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
fisheries/aquaculture -
tourism/recreation -

Other biodiversity The waters off the Eritrean coastline and around the Dehalak archipelago support several hundred (and probably thousands) of fish species, many of which breed in and around the coral reefs. Some such as anchovies, sardines and tuna were, in the past, fished commercially and these and other species also form the food-supply for breeding seabirds, ospreys, etc. Five species of sea-turtle are recorded from Eritrean waters, including breeding Chelonia mydas (EN) and Eretmochelys imbricata (CR) in the Dehalak archipelago. Also reported from ‘the Eritrean coast’ (and hence probably within the proposed IBA), but with no information on location or numbers are Dugong dugon (VU) and ‘dolphins, porpoises and whales’. Smith reports small schools of Physeter macrocephalus roaming around the Dahlak Archipelago, ‘accompanied by vast flocks of seabirds’ and ‘disturbing the marine life’ (Smith 1953). Yalden et al. (1996) list Globicephala macrorhynchus (LR/cd), Delphinus delphis and Physeter catodon (VU) from Eritrean waters. Gazelles are reported from Dehalak Kebir and Nocra—dwarf Gazella soemmerringii (VU) of uncertain taxonomic status, probably hybrids of species introduced in earlier years. Reports in the literature of the presence of Oryx beisa on the Dehalak islands appear to have no foundation.

References Berhanu (1976), Butynski (1995), Clapham (1964), DOE (1999), FAO (1997), IUCN (1987), Smith (1951a, b, 1953, 1957), Urban and Boswall (1969).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Dehalak Archipelago and offshore islands. Downloaded from on 16/09/2014

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