Wetlands International

Comparative analysis on biological diversity and institutional management of the Marshlands of Southern Iraq

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Courtesy of Courtesy of Wetlands International

Framework and goal of the comparative analysis

The government of Iraq, assisted by UNESCO, UNEP and IUCN, is currently preparing the nomination of the Iraqi or Mesopotamian Marshlands as a World Heritage site under the name Marshlands of Southern Iraq. Wetlands International was requested by UNEP-DTIE-IETC to carry out an independent comparative analysis of the Marshlands of Southern Iraq to other wetlands in the world to be used for the nomination process. This analysis has two goals:

  1. Compare the biological diversity to provide scientific background for the nomination file.
  2. Compare the institutional management to suggest possible improvements to the current management structure for the long-term conservation of the Marshlands of Southern Iraq.

Seven sites were selected for comparison

  1. Marshlands of Southern Iraq (Iraq)
  2. Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (Senegal)
  3. Okavango Delta (Botswana)
  4. Inner Niger Delta (Mali)
  5. Danube Delta (Romania)
  6. Donana National Park (Spain)
  7. Everglades National Park (Florida, USA)

The sites are river fed wetlands in an inland or coastal delta, five sites have estuarine or marine influences. All except one (Everglades) are situated in semi-arid to arid climates with low to very low precipitation. The Marshlands of Southern Iraq have the most arid circumstances and lowest precipitation. All sites have or had varying degrees of human impacts. The most natural site is the Okavango Delta. The Iraqi Marshlands were the most heavily impacted due to massive drainage in the 1990s, but have partially recovered after 2003. Five sites have a UNESCO World Heritage status, two are nominated on the Tentative List, and all are at least partially designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

Biological diversity

Total species numbers

  • No single site has the highest species number across all taxonomic groups considered (vascular plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and Odonata).
  • The Marshlands of Southern Iraq do not have the highest total number of species. However despite the negative historical impacts on the marshes, the biodiversity values are highly respectable compared with the other globally important sites.

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