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Location Tunisia, Sousse
Central coordinates 10o 20.00' East  35o 50.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4iii
Area 13,000 ha
Altitude 3 - 65m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Association "Les Amis des Oiseaux"



Site description Like Ichkeul, Kelbia in central Tunisia, some 20 km north-east of Kairouan and 30 km west of Sousse, is one of the great flood-plain wetlands of Tunisia. It receives the waters of three major rivers that rise in the mountains of the Dorsale, the Nebhana, the Merguellil and the Zeroud. Since rainfall over these mountains of central Tunisia varies considerably from one year to another, the amount of water received varies enormously; even in natural conditions there were years when the lake dried out completely. But there were also times when the water remained largely fresh for several years, and when the lake overflowed beyond the natural sill in the north-east corner and reached the sea via Oued Sed (site TN018) and Sebkhet Halk el Menzel (TN017). Though the site is called ‘sebkha’ in Arabic, it never has the salt-crust typical of other such salt-lakes, as the water seems to drain away rapidly and efficiently, flushing salts out of the system. Fringing vegetation includes Tamarix africana, Phragmites communis, Typha angustifolia and, in the brackish waters, Zannichellia palustris. Since the building of major dams on the three inflow rivers in the last 20 years, the ecology of the site has changed considerably, with long periods when it remains dry, though there have been occasional releases from the dams, and some inflow from smaller tributaries.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. Historically, Kelbia was one of the most important sites for waterbirds in Tunisia, rivalling Ichkeul in numbers of birds in wet winters, providing breeding habitat for a great variety of birds in wet springs, and also for many steppe and desert-edge species which are not normally found further north. A vast and impressive array of Palearctic waterbirds wintered, including Podiceps nigricollis (400), Ardea cinerea, Egretta garzetta, Plegadis falcinellus, Anser anser, Tadorna ferruginea, Oxyura leucocephala (5–40) and Anas crecca (500–1,000). In wet winters it is the main roosting site for the population of Grus grus which winters on the plains of Kairouan. Breeding species included Tadorna tadorna, Ardeola ralloides, Marmaronetta angustirostris, Sterna nilotica and Chlidonias hybridus. Kelbia was also the centre of the relict resident Tunisian population of Anthropoides virgo, now apparently extinct.

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
Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Northern Pintail Anas acuta winter  14,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna winter  1,000-6,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Gadwall Mareca strepera winter  50-2,200 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope winter  8,000-20,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata winter  10,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris breeding  20-100 breeding pairs  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Common Pochard Aythya ferina winter  10,000-15,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala winter  5-40 individuals  A1  Endangered 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus winter  1,000-15,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Common Crane Grus grus winter  2,500-4,300 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Himantopus himantopus winter  1,000 individuals  A4i  Not Recognised 
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta winter  1,600 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Charadrius alexandrinus winter  2,000 individuals  A4i  Not Recognised 
Little Stint Calidris minuta winter  2,000-3,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Sterna nilotica winter  200-500 individuals  A4i  Not Recognised 
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans breeding  1999  unknown  A3  Least Concern 
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica breeding  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  20,000-49,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2009 very high very unfavourable medium
  Population
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agricultural expansion and intensification annual & perennial non-timber crops - agro-industry farming happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Climate change and severe weather drought likely in long term (beyond 4 years) majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - abstraction of ground water (agricultural use) happening now whole area/population (>90%) moderate to rapid deterioration very high
Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Species group - waterbirds A4iii 20000 0 individuals 0 very unfavourable

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A management plan exists but it is out of date or not comprehensive  Some limited conservation initiatives are in place  medium 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Sebkhat Kelbia Natural Reserve 8,000 protected area contained by site 8,000  

Local conservation groups The local conservation group below is working to support conservation at this IBA.

Name Year formed
AAO/ Kairouan Regional Branch 2000

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
other -
Notes: Reed-cutting.

References Dalensi (1998), Gaultier (1986, 1988a, 1989), Hamrouni (1999), Hughes et al. (1997), Karem et al. (1997), Ministère de l’Agriculture, Direction Générale des Forêts (2000), Nabli (1989), Pottier-Alapetite (1979, 1981), Smart (1975).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sebkhet Kelbia. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/12/2014

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