Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
Weblog about cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore.
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Mon 15 Dec 2003

Restoring the Mesopotamian Marshlands

Category : world

In the early 90's during work on Asian otters, I came across an interesting account of an subspecies of Smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillata maxwelli Hayman, 1957) encountered in the 1960's from the marshes of southern Iraq north of Al Basrah. This was very surprising since the next area in which to find Smooth-coated otters was in India.

The Iraqi otter population was a relic of an ancient wetland connection (possibly punctuated) with India. The marshes themselves are geologically young, believed to be not more than 18,000 years old. Many scientists had confidently predicted the marshes to be a refuge to many undiscovered species of plants and animals that were undergoing evolution in isolation.

The people in the area, the Madan, are popularly referred to as the Marsh Arabs. They are themselves unique, reportedly descendants of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians (yes, remember the ancient history you studied in school), who have inhabited the Tigris-Euphrates delta for 5,000 years. Unfortunately, scientists were unable to do much about the protection of habitat or her people.

The Madan, after a failed uprising in 1991, faced a systematic reprisal that has them reduced to poverty or fleeing as refugees. Post-Gulf War access obviously difficult, and the UNEP report of 2001 (updated 2003), "Demise of an Ecosystem: Disappearance of the Mesopotamian Marshlands" was based on an analysis of landsat images.

It reports that by 2000, due to human population pressure, eco-cidal war techniques and other reasons, a mere 10% of the marshes remained. Recent reports indicate further loss of one-third of that area, and that it is likely to disappear in five years.

UNEP, however, still remains hopeful (from experience elsewhere) that the marshes can be revived from its remnants. By May 2003, reports emerged that 'Iraqi engineer Azzam Alwash had assembled a team of wetlands ecologists, hydrologists and engineers'.

This project, called "Eden Again", is supported by the Iraq Foundation and hopes to restore the Mesopotamian Marshlands. And I just discovered they hijacked the photo of a Smooth-coated otter taken by Alan Yeo off the Asian Otter webpage!

There's more to this than meets the eye, of course, and I can only hope things improve. Some think there is hope in recovering at least 15% of the marshes.

Posted at 12:56AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .