. Natural Habitat & Biodiversity
. Community & Human Activity
Natural Habitat & Biodiversity:
The principal feature in the Protected Area is the Zaranik lagoon, an eastern extension of Lake Bardawil. The lagoon is separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow sand barrier. Water is exchanged with the sea, through several branches in the sand barrier which form the only natural connection between Lake Bardawil and the sea. Numerous islets are scattered throughout the lagoon, while extensive muddy intertidal flats fringe its shores. Altitude ranges between sea level and about 30 m at the high sand dunes which dominate the landscape in the southern part of the Protected Area.
Zaranik includes many types of habitat; sea inlet, benthic sea grasses, saltmarshes, sand sheets, mud flats, sand dunes, lake islands, coastal plain. From a biodiversity point of view, the most important ones are:
Islands of the lagoon, especially El-Flusiate islands, which house about 76 plant species, many insects, herpetofauna and mammals.
The coastal plain between the lagoon and the Mediterranean, includes the most sensitive threatened habitats: sand dunes and saltmarshes. The dunes are habitat to 13 mammalian species, 12 herpetofauna 61 insect species and many birds. The salt marshes are habitat to 11 mammalian species, many halophytes, insects and herpetofauna.
The halophytic vegetation zone, mud flats and salt pans are a bottle-neck to migrant birds. Many endangered species of birds, such as: corncarke, the lesser kestrel and the imperial eagle are recorded in this area.
Falling in the flyway of passerine and near passerine birds, more than 260 species of birds migrate through Zaranik, most of which are water birds. In addition, 8 species of birds are resident in the reserve. Moreover, many globally threatened species of birds are recorded, such as (Pelecanus crispus, Crex crex, Glareola nordmanni, Marmaronetta angustirostris, Aytha nyroca, Circus macrourus, Falco naumanni and Aquila heliaca).
More than 150 plant species are recorded in Zaranik, some of which are rare or endangered, such as (Argyrolobium uniflorum, Allium papillare and Iris maria). Two are endemic; namely (Zygophyllum aegyptium and Bellevalia salah-eidii).
Many other endangered species are recorded in the sand dunes of Zaranik, such as the fennec fox and the sandcat (mammals), and the Egyptian tortoise, desert monitor and the logerhead turtle (reptiles).
Collectively, the reserve is habitat to more than 770 species, 54 of which are threatened and 2 of which are endemic.
There is considerable faunal diversity at Zaranik Protected Area. Our knowledge of the invertebrates of the area is still far from complete, however. Vertebrates are fairly well documented.
Mammals: To-date eleven terrestrial mammal species and at least two bats have been recorded from the Protected Area. The most common of these are the Lesser Gerbil (Gerbillus gerbillus), the Lesser Jerboua (Jaculus jaculus) and the Long-eard Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus), which live in sandy habitats. The Fat Sand Rat (Psammomys obesus) is a common inhabitant of salt marches, and is unique amongst the mammals of the area in being diurnal. The Fennec Fox (Fennecus zerda) has been occasionally recorded in the sand dunes, which it shares with another rare and exquisite predator: the Sand Cat (Felis margarita). Bottle-nosed Dolphins (Tursipso truncates) are the commonest marine mammals observed off shore Zaranik. It is often seen very close in shore and some times even enters the Zaranik Boughaz(inlet).
Birds: Avifauna is prominent and diverse. About 270 bird species have been recorded in the Protected Area. Most of these are migratory or wintering species. Only eight species are known to breed regularly. Zaranik is most famous for the spectacular autumn migration of waterbirds which pass through and rest in the area in vast numbers (peak August and September). Most numerous of all is the Garganey (Anas querquedula). Up to 200,000 of this species has been counted on passage during autumn at Zaranik. Other prominent waterfowl species that pass through the area include herons, gulls, terns, waders and White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus.
The passage consists of endless waves of large flocks of migrants moving east to west along or close to the shore. Many of these birds rest and feed in the extensive salt marsh and mud flats of Zaranik. Moreover, thousands of passerines and a variety of other species arrive from the north after crossing the Mediterranean. These rest in the sparse desert vegetation along the coast during the day, providing excellent opportunities to observe a wide variety of species.
Good numbers of palearctic waterbirds winter in the Protected Area, the most prominent of these is the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) and Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Migration in spring is much less pronounced than in the autumn. However, the area provides equally excellent opportunities to observe waterbirds and passerines, in addition to fairly good numbers of birds of prey during that time of the year.
The resident and breeding avifauna is limited. There are, however, internationally significant numbers of Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) breeding at Zaranik and Lake Bardawil. This is the only site where Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) breeds in Egypt. The Creasted Lark (Galerida cristata) is a common resident found in areas with good vegetation cover, while the Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes) is a prominent resident associated with sand dune habitat.
Several endangered and rare species are known to occur regularly at Zaranik, most prominent of these are Corncrake (Crex crex), Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii) and Pallied Harrier (Cricrus macrourus).
Reptiles: To-date, 22 species of reptiles have been recorded from Zaranik. The Saharan Fringe-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus longipes) is the most common species in the Protected Area. It inhabits sand dunes, where it shares its habitat with a number of sand dwelling species such as the Sand Fish (Scincus scincus) and the Diademed Sand Snake (Lytorhynchus diadema). Oliver's Lizard Mesalina oliviri and the Ocellatus Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) are species associated with vegetated microhabitats. Tracks often reveal the activity of nocturnal species, such as Audouin's Skink (Sphenops sepsoides), Petri's Gecko (Stenodatylus petrii) and the Sand Viper (Cerastes vipera) (the only venomous snake in the Protected Area). Savigni Agama (Trapelus savignyi) is a species whose world range is almost restricted to northern Sinai for which Zaranik Protected Area provides an important conservation opportunity. The Chamaeleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) is a unique arboreal lizard widespread amongst patches of desert vegetation throughout the Protected Area. The Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus) is a large forbidding carnivore, which roams widely in a variety of habitats and will prey on almost any living thing that can fit through its wide gape.
The highly endangered Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) used to occur within the limits of the Protected Area. It has become almost extinct from North Sinai due to severe collection pressure for the pet trade and due to habitat destruction. There are now pioneering conservation efforts in Zaranik to increase its number and reintroduce it once again into the wild. Two endangered marine turtles: The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), are known to nest on the sandy beaches of Zaranik. The Protected Area represents the most important site for marine turtle nesting on the entire Egyptian Mediterranean.
Vegetation is generally sparse, although reasonably diversified. It is dominated in the salt marches by a few species e.g. (Halocnemum strobilaceum, Salicornia fruticosam, Mesembryanthemum forsskalii, Frankevia revolutaI), which occur in the most saline areas adjacent to the lagoon, often in thick patches. The succulent (Zygophyllum album) shrubs found on higher and less saline ground are the most common throughout the Protected Area. The salt-tolerant bush (Nitaria retusa) has a patchy distribution and bears sweet red berries which are savored by some birds. The attractive (Cistanche Phelypaea) is widespread and parasitizes the roots of many plants.
On the sand dunes the flora diversity is greater. The prominent species here are the two grasses (Stipagrostis scoparia) and (Panicum turgidum). Other common species include (Artemisia monosperma, Calligonum comosum, Cornulaca monacantha, and Thymelaea hirsute). The sea grass (Ruppia maritime), with its filiform leaves is abundant in the lagoon.
Because of the high salinity of large parts of Zaranik Lagoon, the diversity of marine life is rather limited. However, the sheltered nature of the lagoon and the occurrence of an inlet connecting it with the Mediterranean makes it an important fish nursery. Fish and fisheries are an important economic resource for the region. Over a dozen fishing boats are active within the Protected Area. The Economically important species include, Githead Sea Bream (Sparus aurata), Grey Mullet (Mugil cephalus), Sea Bass (Dicenttarchus labrax) and Sole (Solea solea).
The Gastropods (Pirenella conica) is abundant, as well as, the Ghost (Crab Ocypode cursor), which patrols the beaches of Zanrnik in search of food.