The Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania, is an area of over 10 000 km2 of shallow water and tidal flats between the Sahara and the upwelling system off the Mauritanian coast. The results of the Dutch-Mauritanian project Banc d'Arguin 1988 as well as the relevant literature are reviewed in order to develop a preliminary conceptual model of the functioning of this ecosystem. Hydrographically the Banc d'Arguin can be characterized as a large-scale negative estuary with higher salinities near the shore. It is concluded that ultimately the Banc d'Arguin ecosystem is fueled by nutrients and organic matter derived from the upwelling area. The inner part of the Banc d'Arguin system is dominated by a detritus-based benthic foodweb in which seagrasses are the principal primary producers. Little of the seagrass production seems to be exported to other parts of the system or other areas. Zooplankton and zoobenthos biomasses are relatively low, but nevertheless support high densities of consumers. Aquatic birds are especially numerous. The study identifies many research topics for the future.