|Location||Iraq, Al-Basrah,Dhi Qar,Maysan|
|Central coordinates||47o 5.00' East 31o 10.00' North|
|IBA criteria||A1, A2, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2|
|Altitude||12 - 18m|
|Year of IBA assessment||2001|
Ornithological information No comprehensive surveys of birds or wildlife have ever been undertaken. Georg and Vielliard visited the Al Azair area (in the north-east) in January 1967; Koning and Dijksen visited the Chabaish Marshes (in the south-east) in December 1972; Carp and Scott visited the Feraigat Marshes (in the north) and the Chabaish Marshes in January 1979. Other notable wintering species included Ciconia ciconia (103), Plegadis falcinellus (150) and Circus aeruginosus (73). The entire area was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980). Portions of this vast wetland which are, or were, known or thought to be of special importance for waterfowl include the following (comments on current status are based on study of a Landsat image from August 1992).
Feraigat Marshes (31°30'N 47°10'E) The north-easternmost section of the marshes, fed by flood waters from the Tigris. Known to support huge concentrations of wildfowl in winter (Savage 1968). In the 1950s Anser anser occasionally remained to breed. Much of this area has now been drained.
Al Azair Marshes (31°17'N 47°23'E) The north-easternmost section of the marshes, just west of the River Tigris. According to Savage (1968), this area of seasonal and permanent marshes was the principal known haunt of Oxyura leucocephala in Iraq. The village of Al Azair is also known as 'Ezra's Tomb' in earlier literature. These marshes have now been drained.
Haur Umm Al Binni Marshes (31°15'N 47°05'E) A large area of predominantly permanent marshes around Haur Umm Al Binni lake in the west-central part of the marshes. According to Savage (1968), these marshes were important habitat for wintering Aythya ferina. Marmaronetta angustirostris was reported to breed. Some of this area may now have been drained.
Fartus Marshes (31°10'N 46°55'E) Along the western edge of the Central Marshes. According to Savage (1968), this area, which includes the Sabil Al Awaidiya, was the habitat of large numbers of wintering Aythya ferina and Anser sp. Marmaronetta angustirostris was said to breed. This area may not yet have been affected by drainage.
Haur Az Zikri (31°10'N 47°10'E) The very large open-water lake in the centre of the marshes, said to be very important for wintering waterfowl (Savage 1968). This area may now have been drained.
Chabaish Marshes (31°00'N 47°00'E) A large area of permanent and temporary marshes in the south, including Haur Birkat (Birkat Baghdad), flooded both from the Tigris and the Euphrates (Savage 1968). This area may not yet have been affected by drainage.
Al Jazair Marshes (31°00'N 47°15'E) The extensive marshes on the north bank of the Euphrates before its confluence with the Tigris (Savage 1968). At least the eastern sector of these marshes has now been drained.
Site description The Central Marshes comprise a vast complex of mostly permanent freshwater marshes with scattered areas of open water, to the west of the River Tigris and to the north of the River Euphrates (30°50'N--31°30'N, 46°45'E--47°25'E). The marshes are fed by both rivers, and at maximum flooding in late spring they cover an area of about 3,000 km2. Almost the entire area is covered in tall reedbeds of Phragmites and Typha. Large portions of the marshes are difficult of access, and have seldom been visited by biologists. To the north, between the marshes and the Tigris, lies extensive cultivation, including rice fields and huge sugar-cane polders. The Ma'dan or Marsh Arabs have lived in these marshes for at least 5,000 years, but the majority have now been displaced by massive habitat destruction (see 'Conservation issues').
|Species||Season||Period||Population estimate||Quality of estimate||IBA Criteria||IUCN Category|
|Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris||breeding||1997||-||poor||A1, A4i, B1i, B2||Vulnerable|
|Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus||winter||1975-1979||140-413 individuals||poor||A4i||Least Concern|
|Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus||winter||1975-1979||7-72 individuals||poor||A1, B2||Vulnerable|
|Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus||winter||1985||31 individuals||poor||A1, B2||Least Concern|
|Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca||winter||1985||3 individuals||poor||B2||Vulnerable|
|Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris||winter||1917||-||poor||A1, A4i||Critically Endangered|
|Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis||winter||1979||503 individuals||poor||A4i, B1i||Least Concern|
|Basra Reed-warbler Acrocephalus griseldis||breeding||1985||present [units unknown]||-||A2||Endangered|
|Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris||resident||1985||present [units unknown]||-||A2||Least Concern|
|A4iii Species group - waterbirds||winter||1979||-||poor||A4iii|
|IUCN habitat||Habitat detail||Extent (% of site)|
|Artificial landscapes (aquatic)||minor|
|Artificial landscapes (terrestrial)||minor|
|Land-use||Extent (% of site)|
Other biodiversity Mammals: Lutra perspicillata (K; the subspecies L. p. maxwelli is endemic to the marshes and endangered), Gerbillus mesopotamiae (endemic), Erythronesokia bunnii (endemic).
Management considerations No nature conservation measures are known to have been taken. Since 1991 intensive hydrological engineering activity has been occurring in the Central Marshes, leading to massive habitat destruction. According to reports in July 1993 and an unsourced satellite image made public in late 1993, a 35-km-long double embankment was built (and completed in July 1992) from the village of Al Jandallah (Maysan Governorate) south-eastwards to Abu Ajil (near the Qal'at Salih airfield), crossing most of the northern and north-eastern end of the Central Marshes, and thus blocking and diverting more than 40 distributary streams and rivers which formerly flowed into the marshes from the Tigris. This double levée joins the 'Al Amarah Canal' or 'Anfal 3' canal, which is another double embankment built for defensive purposes during the Iran-Iraq war (now converted into a drainage canal) and which runs southwards, just west of the Tigris, for 50 km before discharging into the Euphrates at Qurna. In addition, dykes were said to have been constructed up to 30 km into the marshes west of the Al Amarah Canal in 1992-1993, to compartmentalize areas of marsh and facilitate drainage, and it is also claimed that locks, sluice gates and flanking embankments 6-8 m high have been placed at the heads of many of the Tigris distributaries in order to regulate water flow into the marshes. Collectively these measures are said to have prevented water from entering up to two-thirds of the Central Marshes during 1992-1993; a Landsat satellite image from August 1992 showed more than one third of the marsh was dry, and in July 1993 it was claimed that this proportion had increased to two-thirds. The westernmost distributaries of the Tigris still appeared to be unimpeded and flowing into the surviving western sector of the Central Marshes on the August 1992 Landsat image, and this corridor is thus extremely important in sustaining what remains of the Central Marshes, and possibly also in supplying water from the Tigris to the Haur Al Hammar (site 039) further south.
References Georg and Vielliard (1968, 1970), Koning and Dijksen (1954), North (1993), Pearce (1993), Prentice (1993), Savage (1968), Scott and Carp (1982), Thesiger (1954).
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Recommended citation BirdLife International (2013) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Central Marshes. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2013
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