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Location Mauritania, Trarza
Central coordinates 16o 8.00' West  17o 22.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4iii
Area 120,000 ha
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Site description Aftout es Saheli is a long, narrow coastal lagoon that extends from just south of Nouakchott for 165 km to finish some 60 km north of St Louis in Senegal. Aftout es Saheli was created during two sea-level changes, which gave rise to two lines of dunes parallel to the ocean, separated by a depression of sebkhas at 1–5 m below sea-level. Only 5–10 km wide, it is isolated from the sea by a line of dunes, but is connected by a tributary to the delta of the Senegal river, which lies to the south. However, the communication with the delta is not permanent and isolation from the sea is not absolute. When the Senegal river is in flood, fresh water flows from it into the lagoon, either along channels or via the flood-plains that lie between the river and the lagoon. Thus, the salinity of the lagoon varies through the year and also from year to year depending on the rains. In years when the lagoon receives no water either from the river or from the sea it dries out completely. Riverine floods and desiccation are the more frequent events, while inundation of seawater is relatively rare. As the lowest parts of the lagoon are 1.0–1.5 m below sea-level there is some seepage, which floods the lagoon with seawater. There is also a channel, which bisects the dunes at Chott Boul (site MR017), thereby connecting Aftout to the lower Senegal delta. Before the construction of the Diama dam, the flooding of the Senegal river influenced a varying proportion of Aftout es Saheli. The accidental return of large volumes of water to the area in February 1985, due to the rupture of the dunes at Choutt Boul, restored the situation that exsisted 20 years before. The dunes on the seaward side, which form a barrier of 3 km wide between the lagoon and the sea, are exposed to tides and strong winds. They are therefore highly mobile and the vegetation is restricted to Zygophyllum, Suaeda, Tamarix spp., Nitraria retusa and Ipomoea aquatica. In contrast, the dunes on the landward side are relatively stable and are mainly covered with the shrubs Euphorbia balsamifera, Nitraria retusa and Commiphora africana. The interdune areas support well-developed vegetation consisting of a variety of forbs, with Tamarix sp. on the slopes. Borassus aethiopum is also frequent. The edges of the lagoon are dominated by Arthrocnemum glaucum and Tamarix sp., while areas which have dried out are unvegetated as a result of the formation of saline mudflats (sebkhas). Rainfall varies from less than 100 mm per year in the north to 100–150 mm per year in the south.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 2 for key species. Phoenicopterus minor breeds in years with favourable water conditions. Up to 2,000 individuals are regularly recorded; a total of 2,040 was counted in December 2000, of which 350 were juveniles. There is considerable annual variation in the numbers and diversity of waterbirds, dependent largely upon the amounts of fresh water coming into the lagoon from the Senegal river and the amount of seawater coming into Chott Boul. In addition, one species of the Sahara–Sindian biome has been recorded (see Table 2).

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Garganey Spatula querquedula winter  1987  120,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus breeding  1987  8,000 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus winter  2000  19,400 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor winter  2000  2,040 individuals  A1  Near Threatened 
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor breeding  2000  2,000-2,040 individuals  unknown  A1  Near Threatened 
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia winter  1999  850 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus breeding  1987  2,100 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus winter  1987  1,945 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo breeding  1987  3,200 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Arabian Bustard Ardeotis arabs resident  2001  present  A3  Near Threatened 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta winter  2000  1,650 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Charadrius alexandrinus winter  1987  6,500 individuals  A4i  Not Recognised 
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa winter  1987  6,000 individuals  A4i  Near Threatened 
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus winter  1987  1,150 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Sterna nilotica breeding  1987  1,860 breeding pairs  A4i  Not Recognised 
Sterna nilotica winter  1987  2,500 individuals  A4i  Not Recognised 
Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus winter  1987  1,500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei winter  1999  1,880 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia winter  1999  640 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Little Tern Sternula albifrons winter  1987  1,500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Sahelian Woodpecker Dendropicos elachus resident  2001  present  A3  Least Concern 
Cricket Longtail Spiloptila clamans resident  2001  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black Scrub-robin Cercotrichas podobe resident  2001  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus resident  2001  present  A3  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  100,000-499,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   
A4iii Species group - waterbirds breeding  1987  20,000-49,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Rocky areas   25%
Grassland   23%
Desert   51%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
water management -

References Daha et al. (2000), De Naurois (1969), Hamerlynck et al. (1998), Kelleher et al. (1995), Lamarche (1988), Messaoud et al. 1998), Roux et al. (1977), van Wetten (1990).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Aftout es Sâheli. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife