Damaged Iraq marshes show renewed signs of life

The marshes of southern Iraq, devastated in recent decades by Saddam Hussein's regime, are showing a "remarkable" recovery, according to an ecological survey team led by scientists at Duke University and the University of Basrah.

In their latest and most thorough evaluation of the marshes -- claimed in some quarters to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden -- the researchers found that populations of many native fish, invertebrate animals, birds and plants are well on their way to recovery.

"When we first arrived in June 2003 with an exploratory team, soon after the start of the current military activities, there were serious questions about whether these areas could ever be restored," said Curtis J. Richardson, director of the Duke University Wetland Center and co-leader of the team. "What's exciting is that when our Iraqi colleagues surveyed the area again in September 2005 -- it was too dangerous by then for American scientists to work there -- their data revealed that more than 40 percent of the marshes have been reflooded.

"What's even more exciting is that the team members recorded tremendous growth in the giant reeds that naturally made up most of the marshes, and they observed bird species that hadn't been seen in 25 years," he said. "In the three areas the team was able to survey, we have proof that an amazing recovery has now begun."

The researchers reported their findings in the June 2006 issue of the journal BioScience. Najah A. Hussain, a fisheries biologist at the University of Basrah, in Iraq, served as co-leader of the team.

The Mesopotamian marshes, which once were twice the original size of Florida's Everglades, were all but destroyed during the 1980s and 1990s by Hussein's troops, who ditched and diked the marshes to cut off the natural inflow of water from the nearby Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The intent, according to many observers, was to punish the people living there, known as Marsh Arabs, for th

Contact: Tom Burroughs
Duke University

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