Vulnerable Marine Zones of Iran

Moheet-e Zeest [The Environment]; Scientific Quarterly
Fall 1998, No. 24
By: Afhsin Daanehkaar
Pages: 28-38
Word Count: 4474

Summary: The study of the vulnerable marine zones of Iran started in 1994 with the project titled "A Survey of the Vulnerable Marine Zones of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea." It focused on the study of the mangrove thickets, the marshes, the coral reefs, the sea turtles and marine mammals, the waterfowl, the mud flats, the sandy beaches, the rocky shores, the estuaries, and the bays and creeks in this area. This study consisted of the identification of the vulnerable marine zones and the identification of different pollutants. At present, the original identification phase has been completed and the study of the pollutants in this area as well as those in other areas in other provinces, is still going on.

Text: Vulnerable marine zones may be located on the banks of inland water reservoirs, continental waters, exclusive economic zones, or international waters. These are areas containing coastal marine or sea-dependent resources which are vulnerable because of the threat of losing their biological diversity or because of the existence of endangered, rare species or because the vital populations are reaching the limits of their ecological resistance and are affected by pollutants, or because of a slow rate of recovery from inflicted environmental damages and the difficulties associated with cleanup efforts.

In 1984, White classified areas such as creeks, bays, sandy beaches, mangroves, coral reefs, and areas populated with sea turtles, dolphins, whales, alligators, and various groups of water fowl, as areas containing vulnerable resources and under threat from the pollution resulting from human activity.


The study of vulnerable marine zones of Iran, being concerned mostly with the coastal zones and their biophysical resources, started in 1994 at the Marine Environmental Bureau under the title of "The Project for the Survey of the Vulnerable Marine Zones of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea." An independent study had been carried out in 1993 within the framework of a master's thesis (A. Safaayian, 1993), but the study lacked a precise definition of vulnerable marine zones and a student project could not encompass the breadth required for such a study, so this study did not succeed in giving an adequate account of the vulnerable marine zones of Iran. Yet, the information presented in that thesis were given consideration and were of some assistance to the Marine Environmental Office in its survey.

The survey progressed slowly in the Marine Environmental Bureau because there was no record of definitions, methodologies, and environmental issues relevant to the management of coastal areas, and such studies were also new in other countries so that no comparable studies existed for reference purposes. Therefore the survey started with bibliographical searches and field observations in the southern coasts of the country. The position of vulnerable marine zones within a scheme for the environmental management of coastal zones was then determined. The results from these studies were presented to other researchers through scientific conferences and specialist journals. With this consolidation of a perspective, the vulnerable marine zones of the Iranian coastline were gradually identified. On this basis the vulnerable marine zones were first divided into two distinct groups. One group contains vulnerable biological resources and is focused on mangroves, coral reefs, sea turtles, water fowl, marine plants, and marine mammals. The other group contains vulnerable physical resources and is focused on the physical structure of the coastline as concerns mud flats, sandy beaches, rocky shores, and the hydrological forms of banks in estuaries, creeks, and bays. The initial results from these studies led to the identification of the geographical location of each of these resources. A brief discussion of the environmental significance of each resource will follow.


Mangrove thickets occupy an total area of 9200 hectares along the southern coasts of Iran spread over several locations between the 2511' and 2752' minute parallels. Table 1 shows the area and the geographical location of the mangrove growths in Iran. The mangrove growths in Iran consist of only two species of trees with the names 'Harraa' (Avicennia marina) and 'Chandal' (Sandalwood: Rhizophora mucronata). The growths of the latter are of a limited extent and are found only in the creeks of the Syric region. Other growths are mainly made up of Harraa trees. Therefore it is sometimes seen that due to the predominance of the Harraa trees, the mangrove growths in Iran are called Harraa woods, but the word 'Harraa' is not synonymous with 'mangrove' and each has its own meaning. In the past the wood from Harraa trees was used for heating, but nowadays only the leaves are used for cattle feed and the flowers for bee-keeping (in the Naayband region). Also, because of the rich nutrient content of this marine environment, there is a strong tendency towards using it for farming marine animals especially for shrimp farming pools. At present, the mangroves in Khamir and Qeshm are protected regions and under environmental management. This same region has been chosen as the only coastal biospheric reservoir of Iran's southern seas. Also, the Harraa woods in the Malehgunzeh and Chaabahaar regions are parts of the Mund and Baahookalaat protected regions, respectively. Three of the mangrove growths in the Tiyaab and Kulahi areas of the Khamir and Qeshm region, and the creeks of the Syrik region, have been included in the Raamsar convention's list of international lagoons. The mangrove thickets in Iran are under threat from overuse of the top branches, the expansion of coastal roads, inappropriate touristic activities, oil pollution resulting from oil tanker traffic or accidents, the growth of marine farming in adjacent areas, and the disturbance of the ecological balance as a result of the expansion of economic activities. Most important of all, no methodological management program relying on a zoning scheme for the Haraa woods exists. Intensive studies have started in the Marine Environmental Bureau with this goal in mind, which hope to arrive at management strategies corresponding to the ecological conditions of the mangrove growths in Iran. So far within the framework of "The Study of the Vulnerable Marine Zones in Iran", the structure of the mangroves in the Syric region, and the characterization of the conditions of the mangroves of the Khamir region have been completed.


Next to the tropical jungles, the coral reefs constitute the second richest biome of the world, covering an area about 600,000 square kilometers which constitutes 17% of all the sea surface area. In the coastal waters of Iran, so far 28 species of coral reef have been identified on the margins of 16 islands in the Persian Gulf and two coastal regions (Bushehr's Taaheri Harbor and Chabahaar Bay). They belong to the marginal (flat or scattered) species. Table 2 shows the position and the scatter of the coral reefs of the Iranian islands.

The low temperature of the water in winter, its high temperature in summer, its high salinity and turbidity, and the competition with algae has put the corals of the Iranian coasts under a lot of pressure and it can be said that they are on the verge of succumbing to these pressures. Other factors leading to the destruction of the coral reefs and disturbing their environment include oil pollution, expanding tourism, fishing of decorative marine life, direct exploitation of the corals, construction activities on the beaches, and sand being carrying away from the beaches, each instance of which threatens the survival of the corals in the northern parts of the Persian Gulf. Today many instances of the death of the corals i.e. their bleaching, has been observed in their habitats. Last year in the Marine Environmental Bureau, a study on the residual oil pollution in the coral habitats of the Persian Gulf was supported, and, the results showed that the signs of oil pollution on the bodies of the corals can serve as a measure of this kind of pollution.


From the 8 species of sea turtle identified around the world, 5 species frequent the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea. Two species: the Green Turtle (Chlonia mydas) and the Eagle-beaked Turtle (Eretmuchelys imbricata), lay their eggs on scattered patches alongside the southern shores of Iran including the Daraa and Booneh islands, the Hendijaan shores in Khuzestan, the Tahmaadoon, Nakhiloo, Ommal-Gorm, Khaarg, Khaarkoo, Sheef islands, and the Mund, Naayband, and Ganaaveh shores in Bushehr, the Sheidur, Laavaan, Hendurabi, Farvar, Bani-Farvar, Laarak, Kish, Qeshm, Abu-Moosa, Hurmuz islands and the shores of the Bustaaneh, Maghaam, Lengeh, Khamir harbors and the Nakhl-e Naakhoda shores in Bandar-Abbaas, Jaask, Soorgalam, Gaabrik in Hurmuzgaan, and the shores of Chabahar, Passaabandar and Bris in Baluchistan. These patches are soft sandy shores with gentle slopes, and the turtles feed inside the coves and mangrove growths and regions where sea weeds grow. The sea turtles of Iran are all mentioned in the CITES list, and their hunting and sale is legally forbidden. The Environmental Protection Organization is responsible for protecting the regions where they lay their eggs, all of which are among the vulnerable coastal zones of Iran. Fortunately, the studies related to the egg-laying zones and the identification of the species, have been completed in recent years, and the studies related to the behavioral and biological aspects will start in near future, with the cooperation of the Marine Environmental Bureau and the General Environmental Protection Office of Hurmuzgan.


Across the oceans of the world, 118 species of sea mammals have been identified. 11 species including 3 species of dolphins, 6 species of whales, one species of sea hogs, and one species of sea bulls have been identified in the waters of the Persian Gulf. Among these the sea bull (Dugong dugong) is among the animals threatened by extinction and is mentioned in the CITES list, and, the pseudo-killer whale (Pseudorac crassidens), the humpback whale (Megapetra novaenglia), and the finless sea hog (Neophocaena phocaenoides) are among taxonomically rare species. The marine mammals of southern waters of Iran are seen both in nearshore and offshore waters. The dolphins are usually observed in groups of a few around the buoys, and the whales are observed in deep waters. Only around the Naayband Bay and Bandar-e Langeh harbor, where because of the proximity of mountains to the shore the waters are deeper, can the whales be observed near the shore. Sea hogs which rarely can be seen on the Iranian coasts of the Persian Gulf, prefer more clear and less crowded waters. Some dolphins can also be seen in deeper and larger creeks and coves and coastal bays (such as the Moosa Creek).

All marine mammals of the southern coast of Iran are considered to be endangered species, and the above-mentioned species are particularly vulnerable. The marine mammals in the Iranian waters are not hunted for human consumption, but they are threatened by pollutants produced by human activities, particularly from oil pollution and the pollution due to military activities.

Unfortunately, no studies have been carried out so far on the marine mammals of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea, by the Environmental Protection Organization, the Fisheries Organization, or the Academic Centers of Iran, and there exist little information about the ecological needs, the life cycle, and the behavioral habits of these animals.


On the shores and the islands of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea, 110 species of Iranian birds, both sedentary and migratory, have been identified. Among the rare birds of the world, so far the gray-foot Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and Spotted GilaanShah (Numeulus tenurestris) have been observed either in passage through or migrating to the southern coastal areas of Iran. The Indian heron (Ardea gragli) is a species specific to the shores of Iran. The most suitable habitat for waterfowl on the southern shores comprises all kinds of coastal swampland including creeks, estuaries, marshlands, mangrove growths, and mud flats. These swamplands contain many nutrients, and they offer safety and quiet to the waterfowl. The Shaadgan marshland, the mud flats around Khur-e Moosa (the Moosa creek), and the Lab-e Shoor marshes at the mouth of Arvand River, in Khuzestaan, the Mand and Hulleh deltas and the Naay-band bay in Booshehr, Mehraan River's delta, mangrove growths in the Khamir basin and Qeshm, the creeks in the Tiab and Kulahi, Syric, and Jaask basins in Hurmuzgaan, and also the Guatre bay in Baluchistan, are the main centers attracting the waterfowl. The factors affecting these habitats and threatening the survival of waterfowl in the southern coastal areas of Iran include hunting, oil pollution, the expansion of marine farming, tourism and the transformation of environmental conditions or uneven economical development of coastal areas. All the southern coastal marshes that attract and provide habitats for the waterfowl, should be included among the vulnerable coastal zones of Iran.


The gentle slopes of southern shores which are affected on a daily basis by the hydrological system of ebbs and tides (high tide reaching 4 meters), appear as mud flats they mainly consist of eroded small grains (with diameters less than 0.1 millimeters). These kinds of shores which also exist at the deltas of some southern rivers (such as Jarraahi river, Mehraan river, and Hulleh), are affected by the sediments carried by the rivers and therefore are rich in nutrients and usually have appropriate plant cover and a high population of bottom-dwellers, which not only supports the marine food chain, but also attracts the waterfowl. On the other hand, these lands are particularly sensitive to oil pollutants and because of the problems due to the placement of machinery, are difficult and sometimes impossible to clean up.

According to the studies that have been carried out, the mud flats on the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, amount to 7344.75 square kilometers, 76 percent of which are located in the Khuzestan province, 9.7 percent in the coasts of Bushehr, and the rest in the Hurmuzgan province. Further studies will reveal the extent of mud flats on the coasts of the Oman Sea, in future. Parts of the mud flats on the southern coasts of Iran are included in the protected areas and wildlife reservations and therefore are under environmental management. Other areas are important because they are considered to be international marshlands and biospherical reserves. Those mud flats that contain vulnerable plant and animal resources, are important for the reproduction of marine life and should therefore be considered as vulnerable coastal zones.


These shores usually appear as 20 to 30 meter bands on some parts of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea coastline. Based on some estimates for the Persian Gulf, the length of these sandy beaches is about 576.85 kilometers, 66.8 percent of which are located in the Hurmuzgan province and the rest are in Bushehr province. This type of shore will be of interest to sea turtles for laying their eggs provided that they have a gentle slope and appropriate grain size, and that they are not affected by human activities.

All types of sea birds can usually be seen year around on sandy beaches. Coasts covered with white sand (such as parts of the Chaabahar bay, or the Koohestak shores north of Syric) usually are very attractive as beaches for tourism and can be exploited for this purpose with an appropriate planning. The carrying away of the sand and construction in the coastal areas are some of the factors that adversely affect this type of coastline.


This type of shore is seen where mountains or rocky elevations are located near the coastline. In the southern coasts of Iran a few can be seen in the Persian Gulf, between Naay-band and Gaav-bandi, and around Bandar-Lengeh, and in the Oman Sea, east of Chaabahar. On the Iranian coastline, rocky shores appear as cliffs surrounded by bands of sand which rise out of water at ebbs, or, as rocky areas of low elevation surrounded by water. Usually on those rocky shores which have been formed by elevations proximate to the sea, the water near the shore is deep and at times during the year, activities of large marine mammals can be observed. Furthermore rocky shores enjoy a multitude of lifeforms peculiar to coastal areas and large expanses of algae can be seen in their vicinity. The population of bottom-dwellers especially crabs, is highest near the rocky shores. However, it is difficult to clean up oil pollution from this type of shore, therefore those rocky shores which provide beautiful perspectives with a large variety of bottom-dwellers and immersed rocky structures and are at the same time under the threat of oil pollution, should be considered as vulnerable coastal zones. An independent project has been recently launched in the Marine Environmental Bureau, with the purpose of studying the structural forms of Iranian southern coastline and planning environmental support for the physically vulnerable zones on a regional basis.


On the northern shores of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea, most rivers appear on a seasonal basis as a result of floods, and there are few permanent rivers in this region. Therefore, the vulnerable estuaries on the southern coasts of Iran are those of Arvand, Bahmanshir, Zohreh in Khuzestan; Shoor, Hulleh, and Mand in Bushehr; Kal, Mehraan, Minaab, Gabric, Sadij, Jagin in Hurmuzgan; and Baahu-Kalaat in Sistaan and Baluchistan. Because of the prevalence of warm and dry conditions in the basins of many of the aforementioned rivers, and the scant plant cover and the floodlike nature of precipitation, the erosion rate of these rivers is very high, therefore sedimentary deposits at the estuaries of these rivers create more or less wide deltas. Due to the gentle slope of the southern shores of Iran these deltas are mostly affected by the ebbs and tides and turn into mud flats and salty marshes with mangrove growths. At present the human activities in the basins of those rivers which have estuaries, consist of industrial, urban, and agricultural development, and constitute a threat to the ecosystem of the estuaries especially in the Khuzestan province. In other areas, marine farming without due regard to ecological considerations is another factor adversely affecting the estuaries. Unfortunately few studies have been carried out on the estuaries of the southern rivers, only a few studies on the hydrology of the Bahmanshir estuary and the polluting sources of the Kaaroon river have been carried out in the General Environmental Protection Bureau of Khuzestan. Hence recently, within the framework of the Study of the Vulnerable Coastal Zones, the hydrology and the physiography of the rivers flowing into the sea are being studied in order to obviate the lack of information about the riverbed and to provide for a better management of the vulnerable coastal zones of Iran.


On the southern shores of Iran, precipitation is floodlike and some rivers appear on a seasonal basis due to the floods. The bed of these rivers are created by flood waters and during the rest of the season can be affected by tides and appear as inlets to the sea. There are more than 200 creeks on the southern coasts of Iran, a considerable number of which are located inside the Moosa Creek (Bay) or in between the sedimentary isles between the Qeshm Island and Bandar-e Khamir (Khamir Harbor). Due to the relatively stationary state of the water, its low depth, and the effect of nearby dry land which supply nutrients to the marine life or allow them to spend part of their life there, the creeks attract marine life. Some of the creeks are covered with mangrove growths and salty marshlands. The creeks also attract sea birds. Since the creeks are sheltered from the turbulence of the sea they are used by fishermen and hunters and local tradesmen for docking their boats or barges or other floating vessels. Since the creeks receive their water from the sea, they are easily affected by sea pollutants especially oil pollutants, and because the water does not cycle through the creeks, oil easily enters them and pollutes the shores. The cleanup is therefore very difficult. All these conditions turn the creeks into one of the vulnerable coastal zones. A recently started study in the Marine Environmental Bureau, should identify the location and the importance of the vulnerable creeks in southern Iran in the near future.


According to the international conventions, bays are masses of water with an opening that is less than 44.45 kilometers wide and has a surface area greater than or equal to that of a circle with a diameter equal to its opening. Thus it becomes clear that Khur-e Moosa (Moosa's Creek) is not a creek, and even though some researchers expect it to possess the ecological characteristics of a creek, it is actually a small bay with some thirty creeks in its midst. On the southern coasts of Iran, in addition to the Moosa Bay, the Bushehr Bay (which surrounds the Sheef Island) and the Naayband Bay in the Bushehr province; the Pozm Bay, Chabahaar Bay, and Guatre Bay in the Sistan and Baluchistan province are some of the other bays on the southern coasts of Iran. From among them, Moosa Bay and Chabahaar Bay have been placed under ecological management, the former as an international marshland and the latter as a protected zone. The Naayband Bay, in the neighborhood of the Naaynband protected zone, has also attracted attention as the most suitable site for a national marine park. The Iranian bays enjoy a dynamic state, being affected by the tides, and evolve on geological time scales under the influence of the hydrodynamical energy of the sea. Since the coastal structures are strongly affected by the sea currents and receive whatever is carried by them, their ecological sites are easily polluted as a result of sea pollution. Meanwhile, industrial and urban development is threatening Khur-e Moosa, the Bushehr Bay, and the Chabahaar bay, and their marine life are threatened by the pollutants from land. It should be mentioned that the Chabahaar and Naayband bays contain a portion of the mangrove thickets and the corresponding animal population. The bays mentioned above, are all among the vulnerable coastal zones of Iran, and strategies for long-term utilization of them avoiding environmental damage, are under study.

The vulnerable marine zones of Iran are under threat from many human activities on the seas which include: oil exploration, its excavation and transport on the continental shelf, the water drained out of oil tankers, open sea accidents, overfishing, poor fishing methods, unmanaged tourism without due consideration to zoning, as well as human activities on land and coastlines which include: urban development and the pouring of sewage into the sea or the rivers flowing to the seas, industrial development and the drainage of industrial sewage into the sea with incomplete or no processing, overuse of the creeks as local ports, utilization of the harbors above their capacity without due consideration to their safety, the presence of oil terminals, poor choice of locales for marine farms and industrial workshops along the coasts, the concentration of industrial units on some islands without any attention to possible limits, the flow of chemically stable agricultural toxins from palm groves and large-scale farming lands into the basins of rivers flowing into the sea (especially in the Khuzestan province), direct exploitation of the vulnerable ecological resources such as the leaves and branches of the Harraa trees which damages their regeneration as well as that of the turtles and other sea mammals, utilization of the corals and the hunting of seabirds.

Most important of all, the lack of protected marine zones and approved plans for the environmental management of the coastal zones, has created many difficulties for the protection of the vulnerable coastal zones. Certainly speeding up the EIA for some of the marine projects currently in process, the lack of which is critically felt at present, and requiring other marine organizations to coordinate their activities in the coastal areas with the Environmental Protection Organization, can play an important role in the management of the vulnerable coastal zones.

The main thrust of the management effort should be: protection of these zones from damages inflicted by pollution from marine and land sources, stabilization of the natural ecological conditions, the protection of living (plant and animal) organisms, protecting the diversity of animal species especially the rare ones, preventing damage to genetic resources for the indigenous species, and establishing appropriate approaches for educational, research, and touristic utilization in accordance with the capacities of these zones as long-term strategies. In parallel with the identification of vulnerable coastal zones on the southern shores of Iran, efforts are under way to localize the sources of pollution, industrial, urban, as well as agricultural, and to classify the chemical composition of each pollutant, separately in each southern province of Iran. So far the studies associated with the localization of vulnerable zones and the sources of pollution, have been completed for the Khuzestan province. In other provinces the results of such studies will result in the drawing up of a plan for the management of the vulnerable coastal zones of Iran and the protection of these zones.


Region Longitude Latitude Area


Ecological management
Bushehr Province
Malehgonzeh 51^35' 27^52' 0.3 Protected
Bander-e Deyr 51^59' 27^52' 0.01 --


52^37'-52^41' 27^24'-27^27' 3.57 --
Hurmuzgan Province
Bandar-e Khamir 55^41'-55^46' 26^45'-26^59' 10.5
North-western shores of Qeshm 55^32-55^48' 26^43'-26^56' 67.5 Protected zone, Biospheric reservoir International lagoon
Tiyaab 56^48'-56^52' 27^03'-27^08' 1.3 International lagoon
Syric 57^04'-57^09' 26^14'-26^24' 4.86 International lagoon
Jaask (city) 57^44'-57^47' 25^40'-25^41' 0.02
Jaask (creeks) 57^07'-58^25' 25^34'-25^34' 2
Sistaan and Baluchistan Province
Guatre Bay 61^28'-61^35' 25^11'-25^16' 2 Protected Zone

Environmental Value: Habitat for migratory waterfowl, vulnerable plants, habitat for rare animal species, natural nursery for marine life, diversity of marine life, unreplaceable ecosystem


Island Longitude Latitude Area


Ecological management
Bushehr Province
Khaarg 50^18'-50^32' 29^17'-29^21' 5.39 ----
Khaarkoo 50^16'-50^18' 29^16' 6.75 Wildlife reserve
Hurmuzgaan Province
Tunb-e Buzurg 55^87'-55^19' 26^15'-26^16' ? ----
Tunb-e Kuchak 55^08'-55^09' 26^14'-26^15' ? ----
Farvar 54^22'-54^30' 25^55'-25^56' ? Protected Zone
Bani- 54^29'-54^32' 26^15'-26^20' ? ----
Siri 54^25'-54^26' 26^07'-26^09' ? ----
Abu-Moosa 55^02'-55^03' 25^52'-25^54' ? ----
Laarak 56^17'-56^20' 26^49'-26^52' ? ----
Hurmuz 56^25'-56^26' 27^02'-27^03' ? ----
Kish 53^53'-54^04' 26^30'-26^35' ? ----
Sheedur 53^24'-53^25' 26^47'-26^48' ? Wildlife Reserve
Laavaan 53^08'-53^22' 26^46'-26^50' ? ----
Qeshm 56^17'-56^18' 27-27^31' ? ----
Hengaam 55^51'-55^55' 26^49'-26^52' ? ----
Hendurabi 53^53'-54^04' 26^39'-27^42' ? ----

Environmental Importance: Vulnerable animal species sensitive to environmental change, sensitive to oil pollution and turbidity of water, diversity of symbiotic animals, rare ecosystems in Iran, unreplaceable ecosystems.

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