The Restoration Potential of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq

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Science  25 Feb 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5713, pp. 1307-1311
DOI: 10.1126/science.1105750

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Uncontrolled releases of Tigris and Euphrates River waters after the 2003 war have partially restored some former marsh areas in southern Iraq, but restoration is failing in others because of high soil and water salinities. Nearly 20% of the original 15,000-square-kilometer marsh area was reflooded by March 2004, but the extent of marsh restoration is unknown. High-quality water, nonsaline soils, and the densest native vegetation were found in the only remaining natural marsh, the Al-Hawizeh, located on the Iranian border. Although substantially reduced in area and under current threat of an Iranian dike, it has the potential to be a native repopulation center for the region. Rapid reestablishment, high productivity, and reproduction of native flora and fauna in reflooded former marsh areas indicate a high probability for successful restoration, provided the restored wetlands are hydraulically designed to allow sufficient flow of noncontaminated water and flushing of salts through the ecosystem.

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