Conserving the marshes of Southern Iraq
The Al Hawizeh Marshes are the only Ramsar Site in Iraq, but the marshes are increasingly drying out. This region is also the scene of new oil and gas development. Under our collaborative partnership, we are assisting Shell to make sure that these developments have minimal negative impact on the biodiversity of the marshes and the ecosystem services they provide. Working with Shell, contractor Mott MacDonald and local partner Nature Iraq, this is an opportunity to contribute to the restoration of the marshes.
The region of Southern Iraq is disaster-struck: years of war have left it with the highest density of explosive remnants of war in the world. Another disaster has been the demise of the famous Mesopotamian marshes in the lower floodplains of the Euphrates and the Tigris, the cradle of civilization. Increasing numbers of dams upstream in the river basin are reducing the amount of water and killing the flood pulse, deteriorating the quality of the remaining water. In addition, there was a large-scale drainage of the marshes by Saddam Hussein. Through all of that the Al Hawizeh marshes on the border with Iran have remained the core of the wetland area, from where several re-expansions have occurred over the years, with a peak in 2008.
Al Hawizeh Marshes are a Ramsar site - the only one in Iraq. However, a recent embankment built by Iran on the border, and closed in 2010, has killed the last remaining reliable inflow of freshwater (Karkheh River from Iran) and the marshes have increasingly dried out.
This same region is now the scene of new oil and gas developments by the state oil companies of Iraq, which have subcontracted international oil companies (IOC’s) to develop these enormous fields, bringing Iraq to a potential capacity of more than 10 million barrels of oil a day. Shell is developing the huge Majnoon field, which overlaps with the Hawizeh Marshes Ramsar Site. Under our collaborative partnership, we are assisting Shell to make sure that these recent developments are taking place with minimal negative impact on the biodiversity and ecosystem values of the marshes and the services they provide. Importantly, we are seeking opportunities to make these developments contribute to the restoration of the marshes.
In February 2012 we initiated the development of a Biodiversity and Sustainable Livelihoods Action Plan (BSLAP), working with Shell, contractor Mott MacDonald and local partner Nature Iraq. In March 2012 the baseline surveys for biodiversity and the socio-economic and ecosystem services review are planned, and fieldwork is targeted to start in April. The dangerous field conditions and related stringent safety and security regulations make fieldwork very tough, but Nature Iraq is well equipped and highly motivated. There is a lot at stake for all involved in this very important wetland.
Watch and learn more
The following video provides an overview of the many challenges facing the marshes. In addition, the growth of the oil and gas industry will pose huge additional water pressures – there simply is not enough water to make this possible at the scale being proposed. Innovative solutions will be needed to protect and restore the marshes.