Friday, April 3, 2009

Restoration of the Mesopotamian Marshes, Iraq

Title: Case study: Cultural and ecological restoration of the al-Ahwar wetlands, Iraq

Author: Dr. Michelle L. Stevens, California State University at Sacramento, Environmental Studies Department, Amador Hall 555B, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819

This chapter chronicles the ecological restoration and cultural revitalization of the al Ahwar or Mesopotamian marshlands, which constitute the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East and Western Eurasia. After the cultural and ecological devastation that occurred in the 1990’s under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the Iraqi people released water into the desiccated marshes.

Since 2002, extant marshes have expanded by close to 58 percent, with vegetation increasing at a rate of 800 km2 per year. Thousands of birds have been recorded in the last year; 75 of the 80 recorded species of birds returned to the marshes, including some of the rare species that haven’t been seen for over 40 years.

The marshes are a culturalized landscape, with the Marsh Arabs or Madan living in and traditionally managing the marsh ecosystem for over 5,000 years. Refugees are returning to the marshes from internal displacement in Iraq, or from exile in Iran. As the 2002-2003 project manager of the Eden Again project, I interviewed Iraqi expatriates before the Iraq War, recording their longing to return to the marshes, in “mashhuf paddled silently in the golden light of dawn”.

Throughout the past five years, I have been in touch with Iraqi scientists, marsh dwellers, and members of the international community working to study and restore the marshes. In this presentation, I will include interviews with people involved in restoration and monitoring of the marshes from before the Iraq war to present: this provides a human perspective on the condition of the al Ahwar marshes, and will give voice and credibility to cultural memories and sense of place. Understanding the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Marsh Dwellers, and including this knowledge in marsh restoration, will help to support conservation biology, ecological restoration and sustainable development.

This blog will include a commentary on my April 11-18, 2009, trip to the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research in Kuwait and the 3rd Annual Conference on the Rehabilitation of the Southern Iraqi Marshes in Basrah, Iraq. After being the first project manager of the Eden Again Project in 2002, I have developed a great respect for and admiration of the Iraqi scientists and Marsh Dwellers, and am very honored to be able to finally meet the people I have heard such wonderful things about.

Keywords: Eco-cultural restoration, Mesopotamian Marshes, Marsh Dwellers, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Iraq


  1. Wishing you the best on this journey. You have worked hard to get there, glad you finally will have a chance to see it yourself.

  2. Is there any update ? Please!