Meet a wetland: The Sabkhat al Kuz (coastal Cyrenaica, Libya)

If you wish to know if there are still some near-pristine typical Mediterranean coastal lagoons remaining in the Mediterranean, likely resembling those many that were destroyed or heavily modified by mass tourism and other human activities during the last century, you would be interested to meet the Al Kuz lagoon (or Sebkha) on the Mediterranean coast of Libya.

The 15km-long coastal wetland of Sabkhat al Kuz (32°26’27”N, 20°26’00”E) lies at the north western corner of the high karstic limestone of Cyrenaica, covered with vast forests of Juniperus and haunted by the ghosts of the ancient Greek dwellers of Cyrene. Surrounded by the typical vegetation of brackish Mediterranean wetlands, al Kuz is one of the largest coastal lagoons of Libya and may have potentially offered some of the best wintering habitat over the whole Libya to the possibly extinct Slender-billed Curlew Numeniustenuirostris. The lagoon runs parallel to the seashore, between the towns of Daryanah and Tukrah, both founded in ancient Greek times not far from Berenice (present-day Benghazi).


Curlew flock on Sabkhat Al Kuz (Libya, 2007). Photo: ©H. Azafzaf/AAO


Biodiversity in Sabkhat al Kuz

One major feature of a typical Mediterranean lagoon is its intermittent connection to the sea. Sabkhat al Kuz likely has a few such connections, the number and position of which vary over the years. The vegetation is representative of brackish coastal temporary wetland habitats and includes vast Arthrocnemum and Juncus beds as well as Tamarix bushes bordering temporary pools and sandy mudflats.

The bird fauna has been regularly surveyed since 2005 by the Environmental General Authority (EGA), the Libyan Society for Birds (LSB) and a number of international experts. Again, the waterbird community is highly representative of the Mediterranean lagoon ecosystem which includes Greater Flamingo, Kentish Plover, Slender-billed Gull, Common Shelduck, Yellow-legged Gull, Avocet and Common Redshank. Because the site is surrounded by brackish dry meadows grazed by all sorts of livestock, it also attracts Eurasian Curlew and Golden Plover and would potentially offer adequate wintering habitat to the mysterious and possibly extinct Slender-billed Curlew. Although this is certainly not Libya’s top wetland for waterbird abundance, richness or regional importance (cf. Atlas, page 30), its representativeness is very high when considering also the ecological features and status.

Both surrounding meadows and Arthrocnemum beds are extensively grazed by camels as this type of food is said to be curative for them. Some habitat patches suffer from overgrazing but waste disposal appears to be one of the main threats to the ecological integrity of the site. The remains of a large ship wrecked on the dune edge, after many years, has probably turned into a traditional landmark and does not threaten the value of the ecosystem.


Sabkhat al Kuz, Libya. Photo: ©N. Baccetti


Overall, however, the ecosystem is still largely the result of quite natural processes which make this natural wetland so ecologically valuable. The Sabkhat al Kuz is one of the most beautiful examples of what was once a typical Mediterranean lagoon, with its temporary connection with the sea, its moving sand dunes, and its brackish vegetation. Although certainly spoiled by unregulated waste disposals and overgrazing, this vast Libyan wetland would most likely deserve a strong protection status in free Libya.


More information

Related articles:

EGA–RAC/SPA Waterbird Census Team. 2012. Atlas of Wintering Waterbirds of Libya, 2005–2010. Tunis: Imprimerie COTIM. Temporarily available at:

Isenmann, P., Hering, J., Brehme, S., Essghaier, M., Etayeb, K., Bourass, E., &Azafzaf, H. (2016). Oiseaux de Libye/Birds of Libya. Société d’Études Ornithologiques de France.



Nicola Baccetti
Responsable of Area BIO-EPD
Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la RicercaAmbientale (ISPRA)

Pierre Defos du Rau
The migratory avifauna research unit of the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS), Tour du Valat