Saddam Hussein's draining of the Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq – recorded as the Garden of Eden in the Bible - was one of the most infamous outrages of his regime, leaving a vast area of once-teeming river delta a dry, salt-encrusted desert, emptied of insects, birds and the people who lived on them.
But nearly two decades later the area is buzzing and twittering with life again after local people and a new breed of Iraqi conservationists have restored much of what was once the world's third largest wetland to some of its former glory.
The story of this once almost impossible restoration is told in an exhibition of photographs that has opened in the UK. They show the huge expanses of reeds and open water – now at least half the size of the Florida Everglades – where plants, insects and fish have returned, creating a vast feeding area for migrating and breeding birds, including the majestic Sacred Ibis, the endemic Basrah Reed Warbler and the Iraq Babbler, along with most of the world's population of Marbled Teal ducks, bee-eaters and many more.
"We call them stop-over sites, refuelling sites," said Richard Porter, Middle East advisor for the conservation group Birdlife International, who has helped train biologists and other experts for the local Birdlife partner Nature Iraq. "They are as important as the breeding and over-wintering grounds for species; if you have got to make a journey from central Africa to norther Europe and Asia, and you've got nothing to feed on, you're stuffed."
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Source: The Guardian