Mesopotamian Delta and Marshes

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Common otter (Lutra lutra) walking on a frosted river bank at dusk.
© WWF-Canon / SANCHEZ & LOPE

About the Area

At the northern end of the Persian Gulf is the vast deltaic plain of the Euphrates, Tigris and Karun rivers.

A complex of shallow freshwater lakes, swamps, marshes, and seasonally inundated plains between the Tigris and Euphrates make up the largest river delta in the Middle East, the Mesopotamian Delta and Marshes ecoregion.

The general climate is subtropical, hot and arid. The aquatic vegetation includes reeds, rushes, and papyrus, which support numerous species. The marshy land is home to water birds, some of which stop off on migratory journeys, whilst others spend the winter in these marshes living off the lizards, snakes, frogs, and fish.
Size:
100,000 sq. km (50,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large River Deltas

Geographic Location:
Middle East: Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Of the 278 species of birds that have been recorded in the Mesopotamian Delta and Marshes, nearly half are wetland birds. These marshes support almost the entire world population of 2 bird species, Basra reed warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) and Iraq babbler (Turdoides altirostris).

Other species unique to these wetlands include 2 species of mammals (Erythronesokia bunnii and Gerbillus mesopotamiae) and several subspecies of fish.

More widespread freshwater-dependent mammals found in the ecoregion include the Ccommon otter (Lutra lutra) and a subspecies of smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillatamaxwelli).

Migrants such as pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), and red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) winter in the wetlands and numerous other species of waterbirds and birds of prey frequent the ecoregion.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Chris Martin BAHR
Red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis).
© WWF-Canon / Chris Martin BAHR

Featured species

Basra reed warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

The Basra reed warbler is a large, dark brown and white reed-warbler. Its size is about 18cm. The head pattern is strong with whitish supercilium and contrasting dark eyestripe. The Basra reed warbler breeds in the Mesopotamian marshes of south-east Iraq.

The Basra reed warbler is found in aquatic vegetation in or around shallow fresh or brackish water, still or flowing, mostly in large, dense reedbeds. It is found in thickets and bushland on migration and when wintering. It occurs mostly singly or in pairs, but during migration it has been recorded in loose groups.

It was listed as endangered on the 2004 IUCN Red List, due to an 80% decrease in the species' breeding population - largely a consequence of the draining of the Mesopotamian marshes by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Efforts are now underway to restore habitat vital to the future conservation of the species.

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Threats
Channelisation, damming, water withdrawals, salinisation from agriculture, oil production activities, hunting, and drainage schemes have destroyed large parts of the wetland complex.

Much of the fighting during the prolonged Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and bombings during the Persian Gulf War occurred in and around the wetlands causing considerable damage to the marsh ecosystems. The drying of the marshes lead to the disappearance of the salt-tolerant vegetation, the plankton rich waters that fertilized surrounding soils, 52 native fish species, the wild boar, red fox, buffalo and water birds of the marsh habitat.
WWF’s work
WWF proposes alternative solutions to protect the future of wetlands, lakes and rivers from common unsustainable practices, including the building of dams. Through its wetlands conservation and protection work, WWF seeks to conserve many of the most wildlife-rich wetlands on Earth. These habitats make up a life support system on which people and wildlife depend.

WWF supports the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar, 1971), believing it a vital instrument for wetlands conservation worldwide.

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