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Location Morocco, Laayoune
Central coordinates 12o 16.00' West  28o 2.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 20,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 50m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Groupe de Recherche pour la Protection des Oiseaux au Maroc (Affiliate)

Site description The Lagune de Khnifiss is located on the Atlantic coast between Tarfaya and Tan Tan Plage in the south of the country. It is a long, narrow inlet, several hundred metres wide and extending for 20 km, lying roughly parallel to the coast, but separated from it to the west by a line of dunes. To the east it is bounded by a row of sandstone cliffs c.50 m high, formed from ancient consolidated dunes. The lagoon is open to the sea at its mouth, known as Foum Agouitir, and is therefore tidal. At its furthest extent inland it opens out into a large saltpan, Sebkha Tazra, which is only flooded during the highest tides. The lagoon vegetation consists of saltmarsh and seagrasses while the bordering cliffs support low shrubs of semi-desert. The most important habitats for birds are the mudflats and sandbanks exposed at low tide.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. The Lagune de Khnifiss is a vital stop-over site on the Atlantic coastal flyway for migrating Palearctic waders, waterfowl and seabirds, and is considered to be the third most important wintering site for waders in Morocco, after Merja Zerga (site MA010) and the Baie d’Ad-Dakhla (site MA045). It regularly holds more than 20,000 waders, including up to 14,000 Calidris alpina. Seven species are known to exceed IBA threshold levels, including (probably) Larus audouinii (CD). In total more than 170 species have been recorded, of which almost one third breed. The most notable breeding species are Tadorna ferruginea, Phalacrocorax aristotelis, P. carbo, Larus genei and Sterna hirundo; the lagoon is the only known Moroccan breeding site for the last two species.

Non-bird biodiversity: The site holds two of Morocco’s six endemic mammals, Gerbillus occiduus and Crocidura tarfayaensis, as well as one endemic amphibian Bufo brongersmai and one endemic lizard Tarentola boehmi.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea winter  300 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus winter  1,083 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia winter  160 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola winter  2,092 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica winter  3,987 individuals  A4i  Near Threatened 
Sanderling Calidris alba winter  3,800 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Little Stint Calidris minuta winter  3,760 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii winter  present  A1  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  20,000 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2001 medium not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Energy production and mining oil and gas drilling likely in short term (within 4 years) some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Baie de Khnifiss Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 20,000 is identical to site 20,000  
Khnifiss/Puerto Cansado Biological Reserve 6,500 protected area contained by site 6,500  

Land use

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

References BCEOM-SECA (1995c), Auteurs multiples (1988), Dakki and de Ligny (1988).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Lagune de Khnifiss. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

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