Fringing the Atlantic coast, the park comprises sand-dunes, coastal swamps, small islands and shallow coastal waters. The contrast between the harsh desert environment and the biodiversity of the marine zone has resulted in a land- and seascape of outstanding natural significance. A wide variety of migrating birds spend the winter there. Several species of sea turtle and dolphin, used by the fishermen to attract shoals of fish, can also be found.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Banc d'Arguin is one of the most important zones in the world for nesting birds and Palearctic migratory waders. Located along the Atlantic coast, this Park is formed of sand dunes, areas of coastal swamps, small islands and shallow coastal waters. The austerity of the desert and the biodiversity of the marine area results in a land and seascape of exceptional contrasting natural value.
Criterion (ix): Banc d'Arguin National Park is an ecosystem rich in biodiversity of nutrients and organic matter due to the vast expanse of marshes covered with seagrass beds, and an important windblown sediment addition from the continent and the result of the permanent upwelling of the Cap Blanc. This wealth ensures the maintenance of a marine and coastal environment sufficiently rich and diverse to support important communities of fish, birds and marine mammals.
Criterion (x): Banc d'Arguin National Park comprises the most important habitat of the Western Atlantic for nesting birds of west Africa and the Palearctic migratory waders. The vast expanses of marshes provide shelter to more than two million limicolous migrant birds from northern Europe, Siberia and Greenland. The nesting bird population is also remarkable in terms of diversity and number: between 25,000 and 40,000 pairs belonging to 15 bird species. The shallows and island area is also the centre of intense biological activity: there are 45 fish species, 11 species of shellfish and several species of mollusks. The property also contains several species of marine turtles, notably the green seaturtle (Chelonia mydas) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Among the mammals, there are still some remnant populations of Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas). The bottlenose dolphin and the Atlantic hump-backed dolphin are frequently sighted in the property.
The rectilinear boundaries of the property suggest that they were not based on ecological parameters, but more likely correspond to administrative requirements. The eastern limit extends inwards to a desert zone, in places up to 50 metres, and constitutes a wide band where activities incompatible with the conservation of the property may be conducted. Certain revisions to the southern limit, to exclude the village of Cape Timiris and the military base, would not detract from the value of the property and could eventually be envisaged. The marine boundary forms, also, a straight line and crosses the shallows of the property through the centre. It would be particularly justifiable that the whole shallows zone be included in the property. The satellite reserve of 200ha located at Cap Blanc constitutes the habitat for a monk seal colony and presents issues as regards its integrity. First, the reserve boundaries encompass the habitat of the 100 monk seals found in the region, the remainder using the area to the north known as the Côte des Phoques. This means that the condition of integrity that requires sufficient area to ensure continuity for the species is not satisfied. Second, the extension of the Cap Blanc Reserve to encompass the key breeding and nursery area at Côte des Phoques, is not possible as the international boundary in this area of the Western Sahara remains to be determined. For this reason, the World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe the property and exclude the Cap Blanc Reserve, the inscription of which can only be envisaged after the resolution of the issue of boundary limits and when the part of the Côte des Phoques could be included. The main threat to the property are projects likely to alter the traditional activities of local fishing. The introduction of new technologies and an increased catch could affect and seriously disturb the fish life of the region.
Protection and management requirements
Protection of the property is regulated by the statute for protected reserves. The property has a management plan. The main threats to the property are most linked to unregulated development of maritime activities and coastal infrastructures. Fishing activities have considerably increased and the material and methods of fishing have changed as have the species targeted. Consequently, protection of the marine resources against over-exploitation is essential. To mitigate the problem, the implementation of a surveillance programme on the risks to marine resources, including illegal commercial fishing. The risk of pollution by hydrocarbons on the international maritime route of western Africa and from the petroleum industries is also considerable. Urgent planning to cope with the eventuality of an oil spill, is required for the property and its surrounds. Another important issue in the management of the property is the prevention of poaching and logging causing the degradation of the terrestrial part of the property. As for the maritime part of the property, a full terrestrial surveillance programme is required. The possible impacts of climate change must also be studied.
Banc d'Arguin is located on the Atlantic desert-coast of Mauritania, midway between Nouakchott in the south and Nouadhibou in the north. The park extends from Cap Timiris in the south, includes the Ile de Tidra, Ile d'Arguin and Cap d'Arguin to Pointe Minou in the north. The boundary extends a maximum of 60 km into the shallow sea and 35 km inland into the Sahara.
The park provides a unique example of a transition zone between the Sahara and the Atlantic. It is a vast area of islands and coastline, largely composed of windblown sand of Saharan origin, together with a large expanse of mudflats, with particularly well developed tidal flats in the vicinity of Tidra Island. Of the 15 named islands there are several up to 1 km wide and 5 km long, the largest; Isle of Tidra is 8 km by 35 km. The coastal waters between Cap Blanc and Cap Timiris are very shallow, and only reach a depth of 5 m at low tide even up to 60 km offshore. The arid inland component mainly comprises areas of sand hills and cliffs rising to 15 m. The mangrove swamp in the park is a relict of a previous humid geological period when Banc d'Arguin was a vast estuary mouth for rivers flowing from the Sahara.
The park lies at the junction between the Afrotropical and Palaearctic biogeographic realms. The vegetation of the sandy coastline, mudflats and islands is represented by halophytic species. The terrestrial component of the park is represented by Saharan vegetation with a limited Mediterranean influence. Shallow water vegetation comprises extensive seagrass beds and various seaweeds, and favourable habitat for the reproduction and development of fish.
Of the estimated 7 million wading birds that use the Atlantic flyway, approximately 30% spends the winter at Banc d'Arguin, which hosts the largest concentration of wintering waders in the world and one of the most diversified communities of nesting piscivorous birds in the world. At least 108 bird species have been recorded, representing both Palaearctic and Afrotropical realms. Wintering shorebirds number over 3 million and include hundreds of thousands of black tern and flamingo, ringed plover, grey plover, knot, redshank and bar-tailed godwit. The area is one of the most important wintering grounds for European spoonbill. Breeding birds include white pelican, reed cormorant, gull-billed tern, Caspian tern, royal tern and common tern, together with several species or subspecies with an African distribution, such as endemic heron and spoonbill and western reef heron.
Mammals include Dorcas gazelle, jackal, fennec fox, sand fox, sand cat, ratel and striped hyena. Marine mammals regularly recorded include killer whale, Atlantic humpbacked dolphin, common dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and Risso's dolphin. Fin whale or common rorqual and common porpoise have also been sighted. A small population of about 150 monk seal is found at Cap Blanc, near Nouadhibou. Four species of turtle frequent the area: green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback. Fish are one of the most important components of the fauna. The shallow tidal flats act as important breeding and nursery areas.
Neolithic archaeological sites and vestiges of the Almoravide civilization are found on a number of the islands. The local people, the Imraguen or Amrig, relate many of their customs to the natural environment. Even their name literally means 'the ones who gather life'. Imraguen tribesmen still maintain their age-old lifestyles, based almost exclusively on harvesting the migratory fish populations using traditional sailing boats. Fishing techniques, unchanged since first recorded by 15th-century Portuguese explorers; include the unique symbiotic collaboration with wild dolphins to catch schools of grey mullet.
The 500 or so Imraguen people live in seven villages within the park, but are dependent on water supplies collected outside the boundary. They base their economy on subsistence fishing using traditional methods. Use of the area by nomads is decreasing due to the area becoming more desertified. The Baie du Levrier and the harbour of Nouadhibou have become important bases for international fishing fleets. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC