Birds return to Iraq marshes, but long-term recovery in doubt

Birds have begun to return to restored wetlands in southern Iraq, the famed marshes rumored to have been the location of the biblical Garden of Eden. In decades past, ornithologists recorded more than 250 bird species in the region, including the fun-to-say Iraq babbler and lesser white-fronted goose. In the 1980s and ’90s, Saddam Hussein drained the marshes to only 7 percent of their original size; thanks to post-Saddam restoration efforts, 39 percent of the wetlands are again wet. A recent winter survey by Iraqi naturalists found 74 species of birds. Unfortunately, increased water demand from farmers and cities puts long-term recovery of the wetlands in doubt, especially when (if?) the political situation stabilizes and more water is earmarked for agriculture and hydroelectricity. Says Duke University’s Curtis Richardson, who conducted a study on marsh recovery, “The amount of restoration is directly proportional to the amount of water available.”