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Location Iran, Islamic Republic of, Gilan,Golestan,Mazandaran
Central coordinates 52o 0.00' East  36o 35.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2
Area 65,000 ha
Year of IBA assessment 1994

Site description The entire 650-km length of shore and inshore waters of the Caspian Sea in Iran, from Astara on the border with Azerbaijan in the west (38°25'N 48°52'E) to the border with Turkmenistan, c.35 km north-north-west of Gomishan, in the east (37°21'N 53°57'E). The shore is almost entirely a narrow, hard, sand beach backed by low sand-dunes, except in the extreme west where there are stretches of shingle, and at one point to the west of Alamdeh (central coast) where there is a small area of rocky shore. The salinity of the Caspian is c.12-13 p.p.t. and the inshore waters are shallow. Between 1866 and 1933 the water level fluctuated between 25.2 and 26.0 m below sea-level. In the early 1930s, however, following the construction of several major dams on the River Volga in the former U.S.S.R., the level started to fall and this continued almost without break (other than seasonal fluctuations) until 1977-1978, when the level had reached 28 m below sea-level. Then began a sudden and rapid rise, averaging over 10 cm per year. By the end of 1991, the water had risen by c.1.8 m, bringing the level back almost to that of the 1930s. In the mid-1970s, when the sea was at its lowest, the beach was generally 30-50(-100) m wide, but by 1992 most of the beach had been submerged and the sea was invading the adjacent vegetated dunes. There remains considerable uncertainty about the cause of this sudden rise in level. It has been argued that it was deliberately engineered by the Government of the former U.S.S.R. in an effort to restore the sea to its original level. Two major engineering works could have contributed: the closing of Karabogaz Bay in the east Caspian in 1978 (thereby reducing the loss of water through evaporation), and the diversion of two Siberian rivers into the Ural river (thereby increasing the inflow of fresh water). According to some calculations the closing of Karabogaz Bay could alone have been responsible for a rise in sea-level of 40-45 cm, but there is also a strong body of opinion that the rise in sea-level is a natural phenomenon and merely part of a long-term cycle. The Caspian supports a major fishery. Land ownership is public.

Key Biodiversity See box for key species. The area is important for a wide variety of migratory waterfowl, notably grebes, cormorants, diving ducks and gulls in winter, and terns on passage. The sea is used extensively as a day roost for wintering surface-feeding ducks which feed at night on freshwater marshes and rice fields on the coastal plain. Large numbers of shorebirds stop over briefly along the beach in spring and autumn, but rather few winter. The most important stretches of shoreline for waterfowl are the Miankaleh Peninsula (see site 023) and the coast north of Gomishan (see site 024). Haliaeetus albicilla remains fairly common throughout the South Caspian region, especially in winter, and frequently scavenges along the shore or fishes in inshore waters. Small numbers of Plegadis falcinellus occur on passage. Land ownership is public.

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
Gadwall Mareca strepera winter  1970-1977  3,250 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope winter  1970-1977  12,900 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos winter  1970-1977  170,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata winter  1970-1977  4,350 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Teal Anas crecca winter  1970-1977  171,000 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina winter  1970-1977  2,385 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula winter  1970-1977  39,900 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula winter  1970-1977  813 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata winter  1977  2 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus winter  1970-1977  8,875 individuals  medium  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis winter  1970-1977  760 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus winter  1970-1977  83 individuals  good  A1, A4i, B1i  Vulnerable 
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo winter  1970-1977  3,500 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
White-tailed Sea-eagle Haliaeetus albicilla resident  1977  common  A1, B2  Least Concern 
Charadrius alexandrinus passage  1977  340 individuals  good  B1i  Not Recognised 
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus passage  1977  310 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres passage  1977  275 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Sanderling Calidris alba passage  1977  2,070 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Mew Gull Larus canus winter  1970-1977  960 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus winter  1970-1977  7,600 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus winter  1970-1977  700 individuals  good  B1i  Least Concern 
Little Tern Sternula albifrons passage  1977  1,100 individuals  good  A4i, B1i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1970-1977  100,000-499,999 individuals  good  A4iii   


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Sea   major
Coastline   major

Land use

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

Acknowledgements Data-sheet compiled by Dr D. A. Scott, reviewed by Dept of Environment.

References Ferguson (1972), Scott (1976a,c).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: South Caspian shore, from Astara to Gomishan. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

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