Monday, July 26, 2010

Conference on Biodiversity of Middle East, July 17

I arrived in Barcelona late on July 17. My plane was delayed from London, so arrived after midnight. I took a bus with two heavy bags to the main Plaza de Catalunya at about 1:30 in the morning. A nice Catalonian woman helped me find the bus station, warning me to keep my luggage close as there are a lot of pick pockets. There wasn’t another bus for an hour and a half, so tried to find the train station. Finally, after wandering in the dark with luggage, a police woman advised me to take a taxi. It was very expensive, but was able to get to the Villaterra campus after about 40 minutes (around 2:00 am). The driver dumped me off, exhausted, in the middle of buildings and dark. I had no idea where to go to check in, or if it was open. At this point I was frayed and scared. Some young men directed me up the hill to the hotel; I wasn’t at the hotel, but he directed me to the check in, which was open. I got into my room at 2:30 am after travelling for over 24 hours straight.
The next day my roommate Dr. Nadia Fawzi and I welcomed two other Iraqi scientists, Dr. Adil and Dr.Nadir, and Tova Fleming arrived from US. We went into Barcelona, and experienced the radical night life in this city. Women were dressed extremely feminine and sexy, with very short skirts, clingy dresses and low cut tops. Mingled among them were the Muslim women and more modest women of other cultures. People would stand dressed up in elaborate costumes as statues, with a box in front for spare change. One gimmick was to sell these loud quacking toys, so men would stand around making quacky annoying noises. Other gimmicks were these blue lighted toys that flew up into space. This area has the most pick pockets of anywhere in Europe, and one of our Iraqi colleagues had his identify and passport stolen. We went to a restaurant where they served meat that is OK for religious Muslims to eat called Hillel. The animal is slaughtered facing toward Mecca, and a prayer is said. Its throat is cut and all the blood drained out before butchering.
Sunday all the Iraqi’s arrived. It was fun, loud and boisterous. We sat around and talked about what we wanted to achieve at the conference, and that we wanted to reach as many people as possible. I wrote the session organizers and asked that we have a round table at the end of our 5 sessions on Biodiversity and the Middle East. I helped go over several scientists’ presentations, and then worked on my own. I was the introduction, Dr. Adil was the conclusion.
Tuesday July 20
My Introductory remarks ( opening act) was in the Conservation and Restoration in the Middle East: Successes, Challenges, and Methodologies.” My talk was on “Cultural and Ecological Restoration of the Al Ahwar Wetlands, Iraq”. I opened up with Traditional Resource Management, the 5,000 year cultural relationship of the Marsh Arabs and the Mesopotamian Marsh ecosystems. I discussed the devastation to the marshes under the Baathist Regime and Iran-Iraq war, where only 10% of the marshes remained and the Marsh Arabs were killed or displaced as refugees. Then in 2003-2006 during good water years the marshes were rejuvenated to around 58%. Now with drought and upstream water withdrawals, only 10-30% of marshes remain. Tragically, the Haweizeh Marshes were drained immediately upon designation as a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Convention. People who returned to the marshes now cannot make a living, as the reeds and fish are dying, and there is nowhere to care for their water buffalo.

The first Session “Impacts on Aquatic Biodiversity in Southern Iraq – Salinity and Shatt Al Arab” had the following oral presentations:
1 – Musafa Sami Faddah “Expected Genetic Fish Populations inhabiting Shatt al Arab River in Iraq De to Fluctuations in Water Salinity”
2 – Dr. Nadia Fawzi and H.T. Al-Saad “Examining the Condition of Iraq’s Water Ways and their Impact on the Water Quality of the North-Western Arabian Gulf”
3 – Nadir a Salman and M.M. Taher “Impact of Salinity Changes in Shatt Al Arab Estuary on Biodiversity of Marine Mammals of the Arabian Gulf”
4 – Dr. Malik Ali and HK. Ahmed – “The Impact of Low Fresh Water Discharge on Community Structure of Shrimps at Shatt Al Arab Estuary and Northern Arabian Gulf”
Dr. Adil Yousif Al-Handal ended this session stressing the condition of the marshes with low water flows, high salinity, and the suffering of people who cannot get clean drinking water to drink. He said that Basrah was unable to get even their small share of the Shatt Al Arab water due to towns’ upstream diverting water.
Our last session was “Biodiversity in the Mesopotamian Marshes and the Gulf”. The talks presented were:
1 – Mustafa Al-Mukhtar & K. Younis, “The Effect o Environmental Changes on Ichthyofauna in the Inland Waters of Basrah Government”
2 – Abdulridah Alwan “The Deterioration of the Aquatic Macrophytes of Southern Iraq: Al-Safay Preserve as an Example:
3 – Salman Salman, M. Abbas and A. Akaash “Distribution and Abundance of Cladocera in the Southern Iraqi Marshes”
At the end of the papers, we had a round table discussion, with participants arriving from the other talks and sessions. I will write this in the next email blog entry.

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