East Hammar is an extensive area of wetlands. It is located at the upper corner formed by the meeting of the Euphrates and Shat Al-Arab Rivers and extends west to the oilfields of West Qurna. The Shatt Al-Arab flows southwards along the eastern edge of the site. Hammar Marshes were originally drained in a systematic campaign over the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s for various reasons. They were only reflooded in 2004 when the embankments blocking the water from entering the marshes were removed or destroyed by the local community. Gradually the plant cover (mainly reedbeds and reedmace) returned and birds and other wildlife came back to the site.
The geology is Mesopotamian alluvium, mainly silts.
Additional Important Bird Observations: A total of 81 species was observed during the 2005-2010 surveys. In addition to those in the table, Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga and Eastern Imperial Eagle A. heliaca (both Vulnerable) were recorded in winter but in numbers below the IBA threshold. The endemic race of Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis iraquensis and endemic race of Hooded Crow Corvus cornix capellanus (Mesopotamian Crow) breed. The site also held breeding populations of seven Sahara-Sindian Desert biome-restricted species (Table XX) but these did not trigger inclusion under the A3 criterion.
Other Important Fauna: Mammal data were collected in 2005-2010 and six species have been observed and/or reported in the area, including Golden Jackal Canis aureus and Grey Wolf Canis lupus.
The southern marshes lie at the center of the distribution of an isolated subspecies of Smooth-coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli. Its status and distribution have been unclear due to confusion with the Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra (Near Threatened), which also occurs in the region. Recent surveys (Omer et al. 2012, Al-Sheikhly and Nader 2013) have confirmed the presence of smooth-coated otter in parts of the southern marshes for the first time since the 1950s-1960s and it is likely that this species occurs in Hammar Marshes too.
Fish: Data were collected at this site for the years 2005-2007 and 2009, during which 25 species were reported. According to Coad (2010), significant species were: Acanthobrama marmid, Acanthopagrus cf. latus, Alburnus mossulensis, Carassius auratus, Carasobarbus luteus, Ctenopharyngodon idella, Cyprinus carpio, Cyprinion macrostomum, Gambusia holbrooki, Heteropneustes fossilis, Leuciscus vorax, Liza abu, L. subviridis, Luciobarbus xanthopterus, Mesopotamichthys sharpeyi, Silurus triostegus, Tenualosa ilisha, and Tor grypus. The following species were also documented, which are of no commercial importance but their conservation status in Iraq is unknown: Mastacembelus mastacembelus, Mystus pelusius, and Squalius Lepidus. The following marine fish species were also recorded: Eleutheronema tetradactylum, Bathygobius fuscus, Nemipterus bleekeri, and Otolithes ruber.
Habitat and land use
Habitats vary from desert shrublands to aquatic communities of submerged and free floating vegetation, reed beds, salt or brackish mudflats with Salicornia herbacea, and periodically flooded lands.
The different parts of the site that were visited in the KBA surveys are described separately. Al-Nagarah is located west of Al-Deer town (sub-district on the west side of Shatt Al-Arab, 30 km northwest of Basra). This is a large marsh fed by the Euphrates River; it is tidally affected and is characterized by the presence of dense vegetation with distinct water flow. It is bounded by reed, cattail, & club-rush on two sides, and about 500 m to the north, the river expands to form a wide shallow area (locally called “Barga”). The area is affected by tides, which creates good habitat for waders. There is a high diversity of birds and also a high level of hunting and fishing throughout the whole area.
Al-Shileichia area is located southeast of the Rumaila oil fields. The Main Outfall Drainage (MOD) runs through it and the main road parallels the MOD along a high embankment. There is very little water south of the MOD save for scattered ponds with reed cover. The plant cover mainly consists of Phragmites and stretches of semi-arid adapted plants. There is some grazing and hunting in this area. The southern area below the road and MOD is subject to tidal action. Al-Shileichia is characterized by the presence of dense floating algae and the existence of diverse birds and fish species. Mudskippers were seen in sub-tidal habitats. There are a small number of reeds on the edge of the MOD canal. The quality of water, according to the locals, has improved through 2010 and this may be due to the decreasing flow of the MOD to the Gulf via the Khor Al-Zubayr canal caused by the closing of the Khor Al-Zubayr regulator. This is the main regulator on the Shatt Al Basra Canal and it regulates the water level between Khor Al-Zubayr (where the tidal effect is very active) and the lower parts of Al-Hammar. In 2009, the Ministry of Water Resources decided to close this regulator to maintain a good level of water in Shileichiya Marsh.
Slein (or Ghatra) area is located about 30 km west of Shileichiya. The area is cut by the MOD that runs eastward to join the Basra Canal. It is a new area that was added to the KBA site in 2008 as it regularly harbors considerable numbers of wintering waterfowl including threatened species like the Marbled Duck. A road and embankment run parallel to the MOD. The road was being paved to link Shileichiya with Rumaila Oilfields. Large numbers of waterfowl were observed in the Slein area but most of them were unidentifiable because of the distance and inaccessibility of the southern margins of this area due to vast mudflats. The water level is shallow but still there are scattered reed beds.
Al-Mas’hab area is located in the middle of the KBA and is tidally-influenced by Mas’hab River. Phragmites australis is the prevailing plant species, which is utilized for grazing and cutting. Al-Sallal is a large marsh fed by the Shatt Al Arab River, close to Mas’hab marshes. The area contains good vegetation cover and is tidally affected with terrestrial plants along the fringes. Generally, the water is moderately turbid and this might be due to the continuous movement of water by tidal effects as well as the movement of motor-boats. Shaafi is a wetland located northwest of Basra. The reedbeds here are dense in most of this sub-site but there are some open-water patches. Considerable hunting pressure was observed here.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Two very high threats facing the East Hammar area are the lack of water (due to upstream dams and water resource management) and the expansion of the oil industry. The lack of water (resulting from lower flows from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) is causing an increasing tidal effect over the area and a rise in salinity in the eastern parts of the marsh. The oil industry also affects the western side of East Hammar due to its location between two of the largest oil fields in Iraq (West Qurna and Rumaila). In the western parts construction of embankments have cut large areas from the original marsh and added them to the oilfield. Two additional very high threats were unsustainable hunting and human disturbance caused by reed-cutting and fishing especially during the bird breeding season. Other high threats come from residential and commercial development that is affecting some areas around this KBA. Pollution from the oil industry affects mainly the western parts of this area, also the occasional use of poison for fishing. Transportation, road construction and agriculture are considered medium threats.