The peninsula of Qatar projects northward for about 160 km into the western part of the Arabian Gulf and has a maximum width of 90 km. It is bounded on the south by Saudi Arabia.
The land surface, which covers some 11,437 sq.km, is predominantly low-lying semi-desert, with low hills rising to a maximum elevation of 103 m in the Dukhan Heights in the west, and extensive sand dunes in the southeast. Vegetation is sparse, consisting of acacias and other scrub desert communities concentrated mostly in depressions and small wadis. Particularly in the north, pumped groundwater supports scattered farms with trees and limited crops.
Elsewhere, the principal land-use activity is livestock grazing. Almost all of the interior of the peninsula has been modified or degraded by human activity. Belts of sabkha or salt flats surround much of the indented coastline, while offshore there are several small islands and numerous coral reefs and sandy shoals. The coastal waters are fairly shallow, with an average depth of less than 20 m and a relatively high salinity.
Summary of Wetland Situation
Almost all of Qatar's wetlands are marine and coastal. Around the coast there are extensive coral reefs and seagrass beds, and one notable area of mangroves at Al-Dhakira on the east coast.
The few permanent wetlands inland are man?made, and include small water storage reservoirs, spillage from irrigation systems, sewage treatment ponds and small bodies of water created by effluent waste water from populated areas. Such artificial wetlands are locally important for invertebrate and bird diversity. The only natural surface water is in low-lying areas flooded after heavy rain, and is highly ephemeral.
The recent inventory of Important Bird Areas in the Middle East, sponsored by BirdLife International, identified five sites of special importance for bird conservation in Qatar (Evans, 1994). All five are coastal, comprising three offshore islands important for breeding seabirds, and two inter-tidal areas along the mainland coast important for feeding and roosting waterbirds. One of the offshore islands, Al-Aliyah, and the two inter-tidal areas, Al Dhakira Mangroves and Khor al-Udeid, are included in the present inventory as important wetlands, along with two artificial freshwater wetlands not included in the IBA report. The IBA report stressed that much of Qatar's coastline remains poorly known, and highlighted the need for further investigation of coastal wetlands on the west coast of Qatar north of Dukhan.
Al-Dhakira (Adh Dhakhirah) Mangrove: A sheltered group of saltwater bays with dense stands of mangrove, broad mudflats and saltmarsh vegetation. Possibly an important spawning and nursery area for economically valuable fish and shrimp stocks. The site is important for wintering and passage waterbirds, including ducks and Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber.
Al-Aliyah Island: A small rocky island with long sand spit and broad inter-tidal flats, important for breeding, passage and wintering waterbirds; of special interest because of its proximity to the capital city Doha.
Salwa Road Ponds : A group of freshwater pools in the desert southwest of Doha, fed by treated sewage and supporting relatively luxuriant aquatic vegetation; primarily of interest for the wide diversity of waterbirds occurring on passage and in winter. Umm Said Sewage Pond : A man-made pond with a fringe of tall reeds, fed by effluent from a sewage treatment plant; of interest for its breeding, passage and wintering waterbirds.
Khor al-Udeid (Khawr al-'Udayd) : A large sea bay with narrow connection to the sea on the southeast coast of the Qatar Peninsula, possibly of considerable importance for marine mammals, sea turtles, waterfowl and seabirds, but very poorly known.