A new PBS documentary reveals the struggle to restore the Mesopotamian Marshes and to attract birds back to Iraq

Did you watch Braving Iraq on PBS Nature this week? This documentary chronicles efforts to restore the Mesopotamian Marshes and to encourage animals, birds, and plants to return to this traumatized region.

From the introduction online:

As recently as the 1980’s, Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes were reminiscent of the Garden of Eden – indeed, many biblical scholars believe they are one and the same. Fed by the combined waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, this enormous marshland of over 6,000 square miles dominated southern Iraq…But in the 1990’s, due to political conflict, Saddam Hussein attempted to eradicate them – not through systematic extermination, but by destroying the marshes on which they depended for survival…What had been a green paradise twice the size of the Everglades shrank to less than 10% of its original size. Most of it was transformed into a parched, lifeless desert. The wildlife and the people were forced to leave.

But, as this documentary shows, there is hope yet in the region.

Filmmakers David Johnson and Stephen Foote follow Azzam [Alwash], chronicling his efforts to breathe new life into the green paradise he remembers from his childhood, while also navigating the inherent dangers of working in a dangerous and politically volatile region.

Is there any hope that such a massive ecosystem can be brought back to life? Have the exiled rare birds of the marsh, such as the marbled teal and the Basra reed warbler, survived? And will they return to their old territory?

If you would like to learn more about the birds of Iraq, you might wish to check out the second edition of Birds of the Middle East by Richard Porter & Simon Aspinall. It only just published this month but it is the most complete field guide to this region of the world.

[a hat tip to Mike at the Two-Fisted Birdwatcher for the notice about the PBS program, thanks!]


  1. David Gee says:

    We’ve just had a documentary called MIRACLE IN THE MARSHES OF IRAQ on BBCtv: truly inspirational. Saddam Hussein’s heinous desertification of the Mesopotamian marshlands in the 1990s was a crime against humanity and a crime against nature – ecological terrorism on a par with the destruction of primeval forests around the world by loggers and farmers and palm oil producers. It almost helps to justify the Allied invasion and occupation of Iraq with their appalling consequences in terms of lives lost, infrastructure wrecked and the impoverishment of a nation.

    Bravo to David Johnson and his cameraman who risked their lives in a war zone to bring us these images of a stunning environment with its ‘biblical’ history, a corner of Paradise almost lost and now slowly being regained. And huge hurrahs to the Iraqi engineer Azzam Alwash for his visionary projects to re-create the marshlands and restore this ‘Garden of Eden’ to its people and its wildlife. Surely Alwash deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?