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Farasan Islands Protected Area

Date of Submission: 03/01/2019
Criteria: (x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Jazan Region (Imarah)
Coordinates: N16 45 E41 55
Ref.: 6370

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The Farasan Islands are a large archipelago of over 170 islands and islets of uplifted coral reef lying 40-90 km offshore from the city of Jazan on the south-eastern coast of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The protected area covers 5,408 sq. km, the majority of which is state owned with recognized municipal lands and private ownerships allocated within the boundaries of organized municipal area in and around the town of Farasan.

The protected area is fully within the Farasan District which lies within the Imarah (region) of Jazan some 1,100 km to the south of the capital Riyadh.

The Farasan archipelago is formed from uplifted fossil coral reef. The islands lie on the Arabian continental shelf, which off Jazan is less than 200 m deep and about 120 km wide. The climate is arid and sub-tropical, characterized by high mean annual temperatures and low annual rainfall. Most rain falls in October and in January and May (ranging from 50-100ml/annum), due to the Indian Ocean monsoon. Average daily minimum and maximum summer temperatures: 28–29°C; 39–40°C in Summer and 2-21°C; 30–31°C in winter.

The terrestrial part of the protected area cover around 710 sq. km, of which the ten largest islands comprise some 660 sq. km, as follows:

Farasan al-Kabir 381 sq km

As-Saqid (Sajid) 149 sq km

Ad-Dissan (Dusan) 35.7 sq km

Zufaf (Zifaf) 33.2 sq km

Sasawah (Sasu) 19.7 sq km

Qummah 15.2 sq km

Dumsuk (Dumsuq) 12.0 sq km

Manzar Abu ash-Shawk (West Manzar) 6.0 sq km

Kayyirah 5.4 sq km

Jabal Muhammad 4.0 sq km

There are 23 smaller islands within the protected area, and more than a hundred islets smaller than 0.2 sq. km. The altitude on the islands varies between 0 and around 70m above sea level.

A human population of around 12,000 inhabitants live exclusively on the main island of Farasan, and mostly concentrated in the main town of Farasan living mainly of government employment, marine fisheries and domestic tourism.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (x) : Contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of the biological diversity of the Red Sea region as a global hotspot and a conservation priority, including threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The islands support the largest population of idmi gazelle in Saudi Arabia, and high concentrations of greater flamingo, pink-backed pelican, Eurasian spoonbill, and osprey, and the snake Sarso island racer Coluber insulanus, which is endemic to the islands.

In addition, sooty falcon, crab-plover, white-eyed gull, lesser crested tern, white-cheeked tern, and Red Sea (brown) noddy are found.

They are the only places in Saudi Arabia in which the plants Nothosaerva brachiata, Commiphora erythraea, Euphorbia sp. aff. fractiflexa, and Ficus populifolia are recorded.

Other key taxa include dugong, whales and dolphins, Patrizi’s trident leaf-nosed bat, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, and manta ray.

The surrounding seas contain a wide diversity of corals, mollusks, crustaceans, and reef fishes.

The landscape of the islands is one of low brown platforms in the sea, rising to low inland cliffs. This desert bareness against the brilliant blue-greens of the water, under immense skies, give it a sense of remoteness. The long white beaches, low undercut cliffs and rocks of fossilized coral become notable visual features.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The islands are of sufficient size to contain the whole of the population of idmi gazelle endemic to the islands and Saudi Arabia, high concentrations of nesting pink-backed pelican, osprey, sooty falcon, crab-plover, white-eyed gull, lesser crested tern, white-cheeked tern, and Red Sea (brown) noddy, and other seabirds, as well as charismatic species such as dolphins, whales, dugong, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, and manta ray. Further, they contain coral reefs of high quality and a range of valuable and well-protected coastal wetlands such as red and black mangroves, seagrass beds, saltmarshes, and macroalgal reefs of high conservation importance. The islands are also surrounded by seas rich in a wide diversity of reef fishes and marine invertebrates such as corals, mollusks, and crustaceans.

The protected area management classification follows the global standard of IUCN, thus includes Special Nature Reserves (IUCN’s 1a Strict Nature Reserve, II National Park: ecosystem conservation and recreation), Natural Reserves (IUCN’s 1b Wilderness Area), Resource Use Reserves (IUCN’s VI Managed Resource Protected Area: sustainable use of natural ecosystems), Biological Reserves (IUCN’s 1a Strict Nature Reserve, IV Habitat / Species Management Area), Controlled Hunting Reserves (IUCN’s V Protected Landscape / Seascape: landscape / seascape conservation and recreation).

The boundaries of the protected area include all main land and sea forms, terrestrial and marine habitats necessary for the long-term conservation and sustainability of key terrestrial and marine taxa, physical attributes and associated aesthetic and cultural values and attributes.

The protected area enjoys a high level legal protection and was established in 1989 by the Board of Governors of the Saudi Wildlife Authority, the national agency mandated with the establishment and management of protected areas in the Kingdom.

The protected area is managed by a site team comprising more than 50 full-time and part-time staff including managers, technicians, law enforcement rangers, and support personnel. The team is equipped with several managements stations, communication systems and land and sea based transport means. The team works in collaboration with the various technical and research centers and departments of the SWA especially in regard to environmental research and ecological monitoring, and maintains close coordination local government entities and stakeholders including the district management, the local municipalities, and the military.

Comparison with other similar properties

The main comparison approach for the Farasan Islands Protected Area is associated with its location within the Red Sea region with particular focus on the southern parts of the basin, which represents a unique global hotspot for marine and terrestrial biodiversity and a global priority for in-situ conservation and still not well-represented on the World Heritage List.

The Farasan Islands Archipelago is the largest group of islands in the red sea with the largest number of islands and islets. The protected area has the greatest combined marine and terrestrial biological diversity of any site in the Red Sea region.

In terms of terrestrial diversity, the protected area standouts very clearly when compared to other archipelagos and islands in the red sea including the archelogy of Dahlak in Eretria, Gharghada in Egypt and the island of Mukkawar associated with the Sudanese World Heritage Site of Sanganeb, Dungonab and Mukkawar Island. This includes the endemic species of the idmi gazelle Gazella gazella farasani, and the snake Sarso island racer Coluber insulanus.

As for the marine biodiversity, the Farasan Islands ranks high in terms sea forms diversity, number species from various taxa, number of species of conservation significance, as well as their protection status and management effectiveness. This includes more than 230 fish species, 50 species of coral, and a significant number of species form other taxa including sea birds and sea mammals.

In addition to the above, the Farasan Islands are listed as an Important Bird Area with a significant number of a globally threatened species: white-eyed gull Larus leucophthalmus; regularly holds 1% or more of a species’ biogeographical or flyway or Middle Eastern population: brown booby Sula leucogaster, goliath heron Ardea goliath, Eurasian spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, sooty gull Larus hemprichii, white-cheeked tern Sterna repressa, bridled tern S. (Onychoprion) anaethetus, Saunders’s tern S. saundersi, and Red Sea noddy Anous stolidus plumbeigularis (this subspecies is endemic to the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean.); holds a significant number of a species that is threatened or declining in the Middle East: goliath heron Ardea goliath, Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus (one of the highest concentrations in Arabia), and sooty falcon Falco concolor; and is a representative example of a habitat associated with a characteristic assemblage of bird species; and a site important for bird conservation through education, research, and tourism.