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Location Kenya, Eastern Province,Rift Valley Province
Central coordinates 36o 4.00' East  3o 27.00' North
IBA criteria A4i, A4iii
Area 756,000 ha
Altitude 355 m
Year of IBA assessment 2001


Site description A very large, isolated, chloro-carbonate alkaline lake, the northernmost and by far the largest of the chain of Rift Valley lakes in Kenya. The Omo river delta at the extreme northern end of the lake lies within Ethiopia (IBA ET069). Turkana’s water is brackish, but drinkable, and the lake holds freshwater fish. The c.600 km of lake shore vary greatly in substrate, from rock (most of the southern sector, the central eastern shore, and North, Central and South Islands) to pebble, sand (most of the north-western shore, and patches elsewhere) and mud (at Loiyengalani, El Molo and Allia Bays, the Omo delta and the inlets of the Turkwel and Kerio rivers). Beds of the submerged plant Potamogeton pectinatus occur in the most sheltered muddy bays. The country surrounding the lake is semi-desert with sparse vegetation: annual rainfall averages less than 250 mm (substantially less in some places), and it may not rain for several years at a stretch. South and Central Islands are National Parks and, in the north-east, c.13% of the shoreline is protected within Sibiloi National Park.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. Turkana is an extremely important waterbird site: 84 waterbird species, including 34 Palearctic migrants, have been recorded here. Over 100,000 Calidris minuta may winter, representing more than 10% of the entire East African/South East Asian wintering population (cf. Rose and Scott 1997). As well as supporting many wintering Palearctic migrants, the lake is a key stop-over site for birds on passage. Waterbirds are distributed all around the lake, but the highest densities are on mud and pebble shores; particular concentrations occur in sheltered muddy bays and the Omo delta. At least 23 species breed here, including Ardea goliath, and up to 50 pairs of the regionally threatened Rynchops flavirostris have bred on Central Island (but have now shifted to less disturbed localities). Other regionally threatened species include Casmerodius albus (occurs in small numbers, with 60 estimated in February 1992); Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis (nine estimated in February 1992) and Circaetus cinerascens.

Non-bird biodiversity: Lake Turkana is rich in fish, with 47 species, seven of which are endemic. The sheltered muddy bays with beds of waterweed Potamogeton are important for fish spawning. The fish in turn support a large population (estimated at some 14,000 in 1968) of Crocodylus niloticus.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus winter  1992  2,580 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens winter  1992  1,060 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus winter  1992  6,930 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula winter  1992  13,600 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius winter  1992  8,600 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Caspian Plover Charadrius asiaticus winter  1992  500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Little Stint Calidris minuta winter  1992  113,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1992  100,000-499,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2013 high unfavourable low

Energy production and mining renewable energy likely in short term (within 4 years) whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities likely in short term (within 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors utility & service lines likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Wetlands (inland)   0 0 moderate (70-90%) moderate (70-90%) unfavourable

Some of site covered (10-49%)  No management planning has taken place  Some limited conservation initiatives are in place  low 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Central Island National Park 500 protected area contained by site 500  
Lake Turkana National Parks World Heritage Site 161,485 protected area contained by site 161,485  
Sibiloi National Park 157,085 protected area overlaps with site 10,000  
South Island National Park 3,880 protected area contained by site 3,880  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Saline lakes  100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
fisheries/aquaculture -
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -

References Bennun and Fasola (1996), Davey (1982), Fasola et al. (1993a,b), Hopson (1982), Schekkerman and van Wetten (1987).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Lake Turkana. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016

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