Paradise Restored: Iraq's first national park

These vast wetlands are widely believed to be the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

Last week, Iraq's Council of Ministers approved the creation of the country's first national park, offering hope that other lost wetlands can be restored. New Scientist reports.

This vast Mesopotamian marshland in the south of the country is widely held to be the location of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were created (and subsequently cast out).

It was the region’s progression into modernity that threatened the landscape, according to Azzam Alwash, founder of environmental group Nature Iraq, which led the campaign for the park's creation. The building of infrastructure, roads, and water systems would potentially ruin the ecosystems if proper regulations were not put in place.

After the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq's president, Saddam Hussain, used dykes, sluices and diversions to cut off the country's two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. This drained 93 percent of the marshes, largely obliterating the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East.

When the dykes were broken, water returned, as did the reed beds, birdlife, and even water buffalo. And despite the disappearance of most of the marsh for several years, every species survived -- that’s all 278 recorded bird species, including the Basra reed warbler (pictured) and Iraq babbler.

The main issue now is the hydro-politics of the region. Iraq's upstream neighbors -- Syria, Turkey and Iran -- are increasingly restricting the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates. In response, Nature Iraq has persuaded the Iraqi government to construct an embankment to divert water from the Euphrates onto the marshes.

Declaring a park means a percentage of the water can be reserved, and last year, with a stable share of water, 76 percent of the potentially restorable marshland were reflooded. However, in the long run, the marshes can only be protected if there’s an international agreement on water-sharing, Alwash says.

Also, managing the park itself will require money. (He hopes tourists will pay.) Next year, the group wants to establish four more parks.

[Via New Scientist, National Geographic]

Image: Stephen Foote, David Johnson, and Aqua Vita Films and WNET.ORG Properties LLC

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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