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Location Iraq, Al-Basrah,Dhi Qar,Maysan
Central coordinates 46o 59.33' East  30o 57.53' North
IBA criteria A1, A2, A4i, A4iii, B1i, B2
Area 131,780 ha
Altitude 0 - 6m
Year of IBA assessment 1994

Nature Iraq (Affiliate)

Summary 2014 updates. Historically, the Central Marshes comprised a vast complex of mostly permanent freshwater marshes, with scattered areas of open water, located to the west of the River Tigris and north of the River Euphrates (within Basra, Thi-Qar, and Missan provinces) and represented many diverse habitats from seasonal to permanent marshes. Evans (1994) listed it as an Important Bird Area (IBA038) fed by both rivers but today, even after re-flooding of some areas many of the connections from the Tigris remain severed. The Central Marshes are now restricted to two areas: Chibaish Marshes, north of the city of Chibaish, and Abu Zirig Marsh to the northwest; the two areas are still connected and the geology of both areas is Mesopotamian alluvium, mainly silts.

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').

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris breeding  1997  50-249 individuals  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 Microcarbo pygmaeus 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  < 50 individuals  poor  A1, A4i  Critically Endangered 
Larus michahellis winter  1979  503 individuals  poor  A4i, B1i  Not Recognised 
Basra Reed-warbler Acrocephalus griseldis breeding  1985  present  A2  Endangered 
Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris resident  1985  present  A2  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1979  20,000-49,999 individuals  poor  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Mesopotamian National Park Protected Area 100,000 protected area overlaps with site 95,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland)   major
Artificial - aquatic   minor
Artificial - terrestrial   minor

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture minor
rangeland/pastureland major
fisheries/aquaculture major
hunting major

Other biodiversity Mammals: Lutra perspicillata (K; the subspecies L. p. maxwelli is endemic to the marshes and endangered), Gerbillus mesopotamiae (endemic), Erythronesokia bunnii (endemic).

Protection status 2014 updates. This site, especially the proposed National Park area (NEPIWR 2010), is a key part of the southern marshes complex and needs a stable and adequate water supply and effective protection from hunting and disturbance to maintain its value. In July of 2013, the Iraq Council of Ministers approved the designation of a portion of the Central Marshes as Iraq’s first National Park. Key to protection of the area will be the full implementation of the management plan for the area.

Acknowledgements Information compiled by Dr D. A. Scott and D. J. Brooks, reviewed by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh and Dr Hanna Y. Siman.

References Georg and Vielliard (1968, 1970), Koning and Dijksen (1954), North (1993), Pearce (1993), Prentice (1993), Savage (1968), Scott and Carp (1982), Thesiger (1954). 2014 updates. Al-Sheikhly, O.F. and Nader, I.A. (2013). The status of the Iraqi smooth-coated otter Lutrogale perspicillata, Hayman 1956 and Eurasian otter Lutra lutra, Linnaeus 1758 in Iraq. IUCN Otter SG Bulletin 30(1): 18-30. Coad B. W. (2010). Freshwater Fishes of Iraq. PENSOFT Publishers, Sofia-Moscow.No.93. Evans, M. I. (1994). Important Bird Areas in the Middle East. Birdlife Conservation Series No. 2. Freshwater Fishes of Iraq NEPIWR (2010). Mesopotamia Marshland National Park Management Plan. Vol 1. Site Description & Vol 2. Strategies and Objectives. The New Eden Project for Integrated Water Resources. Omer, S.A., Wronski, T., Alwash, A., Maha H.E., Mohammed, O.B., Lerp, H. (2012). Evidence for persistence and a major range extension of the Arabian Smooth-coated Otter, Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli (Mustelidae, Carnivora) in Iraq. Folia Zoologica.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Central Marshes. Downloaded from on 25/10/2014

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