Farasan Archipelago IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

5 889 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Bryde’s whale – Balaenoptera edeni

Criterion Cii

Indian Ocean humpback dolphin – Sousa plumbea

Criterion A; Cii

Spinner dolphin – Stenella longirostris

Criterion Bii

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops aduncus

Criterion Cii

Dugong – Dugong dugon

Criterion A; Cii

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Balaenoptera edeni, Dugong dugon, Orcinus orca, Sousa plumbea, Stenella longirostris, Tursiops aduncus


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. A Marine Protected Area was established in the archipelago, which is also included by Saudi Arabia in the Tentative List of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. The protected area covers 5,408 sq. km, the majority of which is state-owned with recognised municipal lands and private ownerships allocated within the boundaries of organised municipal area in and around the town of Farasan. The waters of the Farasan Islands support a host of marine mammal species including Bryde’s whales, spinner dolphins, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, and dugongs.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

Two species within the area listed as threatened in IUCN’s Red List: the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (EN) (Gladstone & Fisher 2000, Masseti 2010), and the dugong (VU) (Preen 1989, Masseti 2010) consistently occur in the area. Please note that: a) Indian Ocean humpback dolphins where listed in both papers as Sousa chinensis, opposed to Sousa plumbea, because they were published before the species was split; b) bottlenose dolphins are listed as Tursiops truncatus, but the locations where the sightings were made (many of which in very shallow waters) strongly suggests that these must have been Tursiops aduncus, a species the presence of which in the Red Sea seems not to have been known by the authors.

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion Bii: Aggregations

The area is noted as providing aggregation opportunities in shallow waters for spinner dolphins, a species known to spend daylight hours within reef shelters to rest after a night spent foraging over open sea slope/deep areas. Given the proximity of steep slopes (about 10 n.m.) to the Farasan Islands, likely to provide appropriate feeding grounds for the dolphins, it can be assumed that the Farasan Islands provide daytime resting aggregation opportunities for spinner dolphins.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion Cii: Feeding Areas

Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins were observed feeding in the area (Gladstone & Fisher 2000) and dugongs were reported to occur on the extensive seagrass beds in Khawr Ma’di between Farasan Kebir and Segid (Masseti 2010).

Supporting Information

Gladstone W., Fisher P.R. 2000. Status and ecology of cetaceans in the Farasan Islands marine protected area (Red Sea). Fauna of Arabia 18:385-396.

Masseti M. 2010. The mammals of the Farasan archipelago, Saudi Arabia. Turkish Journal of Zoology 34:359-365. doi:10.3906/zoo-0905-2

Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Kerem D., Smeenk C., Rudolph P., Cesario A., Costa M., Elasar M., Feingold D., Fumagalli M., Goffman O., Hadar N., Mebrathu Y.T., Scheinin A. 2017. Cetaceans of the Red Sea. CMS Technical Series 33. 86 p.

Preen, A. (1989). The status and conservation of dugongs in the Arabian Region. MEPA Coastal and Marine Management Series Report, 10, 200 p.


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