Situated to the east of the River Tigris, Haur Al Hawizeh (Hawaizah) and its associated marshes cover an area of approximately 2,200 km2 between Amara and Basrah (31°00'N--31°45'N, 47°25'E--47°50'E). A small portion of the haur extends over the border into Iranian territory, where it is known as the Hoor Al Azim. The wetland is fed by floodwaters from the River Tigris and from the Karkheh river in the east (in Iran); it is bordered in the north by the Musharra Canal and in the south by the Shatt Al Arab. The marsh is partly seasonal and partly permanent. The latter area has extensive Phragmites reedbeds alternating with open sheets of water. The Nahrsabla Marshes (31°30'N 47°35'E) are an area of predominantly seasonal marsh in the north-eastern portion of the haur, near the Iranian border.
According to Savage (1968), Haur Al Hawizeh provides wintering habitat for some of the largest concentrations of wildfowl in the world. Large numbers of Anser anser, Anas platyrhynchos, A. strepera, A. crecca, A. penelope, A. acuta, A. clypeata, Netta rufina, Aythya ferina, A. fuligula, Phoenicopterus ruber and Fulica atra are believed to occur in winter, while A. querquedula is common on passage (Georg and Savage 1970b). However, no systematic ornithological surveys or waterfowl counts have ever been undertaken in the Iraqi portion of these marshes. Haur Al Hawizeh was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V), Lutra perspicillata (K; the subspecies L. p. maxwelli is endemic to the marshes and endangered), Gerbillus mesopotamiae (endemic).
Additional Important Bird Observations: During the 2005-2010 surveys, 94 bird species were observed in Hawizeh. In addition to those listed in the table above, two Vulnerable species, Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliacal) and Greater Spotted Eagle (A. clanga), were found wintering at this site, as were three Near Threatened species, Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) (summer and winter), Pallid Harrier (Circus cyaneus), and Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) (passage and winter), all in sub-IBA threshold numbers. The Iraqi race of Little Grebe (Tachibaptus ruficollis iraquensis) and the Iraqi race of Hooded Crow, (Corvus cornix capellanus) (also known as Mesopotamian Crow) breed here. Additionally, the site supported eight breeding Sahara-Sindian Desert biome-restricted species but these did not trigger inclusion under the A3 criterion. Hawizeh is the only wetland in Iraq that holds a breeding population of African Darter Anhinga rufa (of the Middle East race chantrei) and African Sacred IbisTheskiornis aethiopicus. According to frequent reports of locals and hunters, the Goliath Heron Ardea goliath occurs in the northern part of the marshes, but in small numbers.
Data were collected in 2005-2010 at various sites in Hawizeh. The southen marshes lie at the centre 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 the Hawizeh, as this is one of the few areas in southern Iraq that was not completely drained in the 1990s. Some key carnivore species found or reported during the KBA surveys include Jungle Cat Felischausand Wild Cat Felissilvestris. In 2012, Grey Wolf Canus lupus, Golden Jackal Canisaureus, and Wild Cat Felissilvestris were camera trapped in Majnoon.
Fish: Data were collected from 2005 through 2007, and in 2009, during which15 species were found. These were Acanthobramamarmid, Acanthopagrus cf. latus, Alburnusmossulensis,Carasobarbusluteus, Carassiusauratus, Cyprinuscarpio, Heteropneustusfossilis, Leuciscusvorax, Liza abu, L.carinata, Luciobarbusxanthopterus, Mesopotamichthyssharpeyi, TenualosailishaandSilurustriostegus. In addition, Mastacembelusmastacembeluswas observed, which has economic importance but whose conservation status is unknown in Iraq.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No nature conservation measures are known to have been taken. An August 1992 Landsat image shows that large areas of the north-western, western and southern shores have been drained, using river control and dyke-building, apparently for security reasons. However, the haur is not under immediate threat of widespread drainage on the vast scale which has affected the Central Marshes and Haur Al Hammar, since it receives much of its water from Iranian rivers which are not currently subject to major flood control, drainage and irrigation projects. Reports from sources in Iraq and Iraq suggest that the marsh vegetation on both sides of the border was badly damaged during the Iran/Iraq war, and there may have been significant wildlife mortality. Several of the largest battles occurred in and around these marshes, involving heavy bombing and shelling, extensive burning and the use of chemical weapons. Large areas of reedbed were cut or burnt in the search for rebels after the 1980-1988 and 1990-1991 Gulf Wars. According to the Landsat image from August 1992, the southern quarter of the marshes is probably now saline, since it appears to be shallow (less than 1 m deep) yet does not support any emergent vegetation. Furthermore, compared to a Landsat image from 1984, it appears that the southern edge of emergent vegetation (Phragmites) has retreated northwards by 20 km, implying that any such salinization is a recent development. Although there is little information available, the area must be considered highly threatened if not already severely damaged. Persistent pesticides are reported to have been used to kill and catch fish. No conservation measures are known to have been proposed.
The most urgent priority is to remove the embankment to renew water supplies.During recent years, the habitat has changed dramatically and most of this site is suffering from the serious drought that began in 2009, which had a direct effect on biodiversity
Oil development is primarily focused in the northern part of the site near Umm Al Ni’aaj (HZ1) and the southern part part in Majnoon area (HZ8), and was considered a very high threat due to previous pollution from well sites as well as plans for further development. Human intrusion, both from past damaging military campaigns and current movement of people and equipment across the southern part for oil development was also considered a very high threat. Additional high threats result from urban and commercial development and expansion occurring largely close to Umm Al Ni’aaj (HZ1); fishing and bird hunting that appears to be largely unsustainable and is concentrated at sub-sites HZ1 and HZ2, as well as HZ4 and HZ8 (before 2008); and pollution from sewage coming from upstream cities and towns to petrochemical pollution from oil facilities in southern Hawizeh. In addition, in 2010/2011, Iran used mobile pumps to pump highly saline (more saline than waters of the Gulf) directly into Hawizeh with damaging effects upon these wetlands and local agriculture. The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources began construction on a new embankment in 2013 in the southern part of Hawizeh (in Basrah Governorate) in an attempt to protect Iraqi lands from such activities in the future.
With the listing of Hawizeh as Iraq’s first Ramsar Site, a management plan was developed but remains largely unimplemented
Habitat and land use
The geology of the area is Mesopotamian alluvium, mainly silts and the habitats range from submerged and emergent marshland vegetation to riparian vegetation of Salix spp. to shrub woodlands of Tamarix sp.
Hawizeh Marsh is a transboundary wetland, with about 75-80% located in Iraq and the remainder in Iran. The Iraqi Ramsar site and the KBA site delineations exclude the marsh areas that extend into Iran. The Ramsar site only includes the water bodies with narrow margins around the marshlands, but the KBA delineation for Hawizeh is somewhat larger because a larger buffer zone is proposed. This is to ensure the biological requirements of the key bird species of this site. The area is dominated by freshwater to brackish marshes, both permanent and seasonal, with reed beds and open areas of shallow water. Hawizeh was one of the only Mesopotamian marshlands that never fully dried out because it continued to receive water from Iran through the Kharkeh River. Nevertheless the re-flooding that took place throughout the marshes after the war in 2003 greatly benefitted Hawizeh Marsh as well. Unfortunately, the wetlands are shrinking significantly again today and becoming increasingly restricted northwards as dry land extends from the southern edges of Majnoon oilfield to the north of LisanE'jayrda. This is due to the completion of a 65-km long embankment in 2009 on the Iranian side of the border that now impedes water entering the marshes from Iran. In addition, water resources from the Tigris are declining due to upstream dam and diversion projects. This has caused serious drought particularly in the lower half of Hawizeh.
Information compiled by Dr D. A. Scott and D. J. Brooks, reviewed by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh and Dr Hanna Y. Siman.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hawizeh. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/09/2021.