Sunday, June 16, 2013

Arrival at Azrak Wetlands Reserve, June 14, 2013

We woke up at 4:30 am and walked in first light down to the Azraq wetlands. The guard let us in the gate. There is a boardwalk, and eleven water buffaloes were happily grazing on the Phragmites.The guard moved them off the trail, for our safety. We took pictures of the light glowing on the reeds and the water.  Really a peaceful place, lots of birds.

In 1978, Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature established Azraq WetlandsReserve to conserve the uniquely precious oasis located in the heart of Jordan’s eastern desert, between a limestone desert in the west and a basalt desert in the east. It is distinguished by lush marshland and natural springs forming sparkling pools, giving Azraq its name, which is the Arabic word for ‘blue’.

Citation: The Azraq Wetland Reserve web site. "In 1977, Azraq was declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance. Tragically, the wetland has suffered an environmental disaster because of overuse of water from the Azraq Basin aquifer. Due to excessive pumping of water from the oasis to large urban areas, particulalry Amman, and the illegal drilling of artesian wells for agricultural purposes, water levels have steadily dropped over the course of 50 years. These high levels of water extraction resulted in the extreme depletion of this natural oasis, drying up massive areas of invaluable wetland equaling over 25 km2. In 1992 the four  springs which were feeding the wetland had dried out and the water table reached a depth of 12 meters below ground level. The water body that used to be a thriving ecological hotspot has dwindled alarmingly to cover 0.04 % of the area it used to cover in the past; the effects of which can be clearly seen in declining numbers of birds stopping over in Azraq wetland on their migratory route." In 1994, RSCN and international agencies managed to obtain enough water to restore depleted water levels by 10 percent. So far, this target has not been achieved due to continued water pumping, lack of manpower, and a lack of experience in wetland management. However, thanks to RSCN's efforts, many birds for which Azraq was once renowned for are coming back, and special boardwalks and bird hides have been constructed to enable visitors to observe and enjoy them.
The wetland provides a natural habitat for numerous aquatic and terrestrial species, including the Azraq Killifish Aphanius sirhani, the only true endemic vertebrate species of Jordan. Due to the degradation of the species native habitat, the killifish is a critically endangered species as identified by the World Conservation Union IUCN. A captive breeding project was initiated, and kilifish have returned to the pools. their numbers greatly increased in their natural habitat. 

We met Hazen y. Al-Hreisha, the Azrak Refuge Manager. He has been so kind, and is helping to organize our interviews and research. He helped us contact local people to interview about their community based conservation program, representing the local Chechen, Druze and Bedouin cultural groups in Azraq. I hope to determine how they relate to the wetland both from the time when the wetland was whole, to its current degraded condition.

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