Restoring the Garden of Eden: An Ecological Assessment of the Marshes of Iraq





The Mesopotamian marshes of southern Iraq had been all but destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s regime by the year 2000. Earlier assessments suggested that poor water quality, the presence of toxic materials, and high saline soil conditions in the drained marshes would prevent their ecological restoration and doom the reestablishment of the Marsh Arab culture of fishing and agriculture.

However, the high volume of good-quality water entering the marshes from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, a result of two record years of snowpack melt in Turkey and Iran, allowed 39% of the former marshes to be reflooded by September 2005. Although reflooding does not guarantee restoration success, our recent field surveys have found a remarkable rate of reestablishment of native macroinvertebrates, macrophytes, fish, and birds in reflooded marshes. However, the future availability of water for restoration is in question, which suggests that only a portion of the former marshes may be restored. Also, landscape connectivity between marshes is greatly reduced, causing concern about local species extinctions and lower diversity in isolated wetlands.


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