West Hammar is a continuous wetland extending from Suq Ash-Shuyukh in the west to an embankment running north-south from the Euphrates just east of Chibaish, and from the Euphrates River in the north to the Main Outfall Drain Canal (MOD) in the south. Two sources of water feed the West Hammar marshes: the Euphrates River (three openings in the river embankment allow water to enter from the north) and the MOD Canal (via a connecting canal that brings the water northward to the site). Today water depth averages 0.5 to 2m at the deepest point.
The geology of the area is Mesopotamian alluvium, mainly silts.
Additional Important Bird Observations: A total of 110 species was recorded. In addition to those in the table, Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca (Vulnerable), Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca (both Near Threatened) were seen on migration and in winter, but in sub-IBA threshold numbers; the site also held a widespread breeding population of Ferruginous Duck. The endemic race of Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis iraquensis and Hooded Crow Corvus cornix capellanus (also known as Mesopotamian Crow) were present.
Other Important Fauna: Data were collected in 2007 only and the only mammals found were Rüppell's fox Vulpes rueppellii and Golden Jackal Canis aureus. No significant reptiles were found.
Fish: Data were collected in 2005-2007 and in 2009, when 17 species were reported. Significant fish according to Coad (2010) were: Acanthobrama marmid, Acanthopagrus cf. latus, Alburnus mossulensis, Carasobarbus luteus, Carassius auratus, Ctenopharyngodon idella, Cyprinus carpio, Heteropneustes fossilis, Leuciscus vorax, Liza abu, L. klunzingeri, Luciobarbus xanthopterus, Mesopotamichthys sharpeyi, Silurus triostegus and Tor grypus. Mastacembelus mastacembelus was also documented, which is of no commercial importance but its conservation status in Iraq is unknown. One marine species Bathygobius fuscus was observed.
Additional Plant and Habitat Information: This site contains a good population of Phragmites australis and Typha domingensis, which are economically and culturally important.
Habitat and land use
The Hammar marshes, in particular West Hammar, are divided by embankments, canals, and roads into several sub-sites. There are open water areas like Rashid lake (HA28) and Buhaira Al-Hilwa (HA3); marsh vegetation like Teena (HA1 & HA2), Umm Nakhla (HA6), Kermashia (HA8), Abu Hedeeda (HA22), and Abu Ajaj (HA23); and terrestrial vegetation like Ghabishiya (HA28). The water is brackish and there is fishing using nets and electro-fishing, and hunting of birds. There are rice farms and date palm plantations especially at Umm Nakhla (HA6). There are many houses built from reeds on the embankments. During 2008-2010, the Hammar marshes lacked water that caused most of the people (M’adan) living on the embankments to leave the area. A large canal was dug near Al-Khamissiya to bring water from the MOD northwards to flood the northwestern parts of the site.
The habitats at the site include: rooted-submerged vegetation; free floating vegetation; marsh beds of Phragmites australis, Typha dominguensis and Schoenoplectus littoralis; seasonally or occasionally flooded lands, and desert shrub vegetation.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main threat to the Hammar marshes in general and West Hammar in particular, is the lack of water (rated very high), because of dam building upstream, agricultural activities and urbanization. These affect the quantity and quality of water, in particular increasing salinity. Some of the soil embankments that were built to dry out the Hammar marshes are still blocking the waterways. Natural system modification is represented by canalization and changing of the course of waterways (for road building and agriculture). As a result of these two related threats (water shortage and natural system modification) some areas, particularly in the southern and eastern edges have become completely dry. Another threat rated very high is energy production and mining, as West Hammar Marsh is adjacent to two major oilfields, West Qurna and Rumaila. Embankments surround these oilfields to protect them from the flooding, but these embankments are also barriers to full restoration of the original Hammar Marshes. Over-exploitation and persecution were also rated a very high threat due to hunting and electro-fishing throughout much of the area. Three threats were rated as high: residential & commercial development; human intrusion and disturbance (especially during the bird breeding season), and pollution, caused by sewage and agricultural wastewater discharged into the rivers and canals feeding West Hammar.
Agriculture and transportation were rated medium threats. One threat not assessed was invasive species as the KBA team had not received adequate training to score the level of this threat. However, during two surveys between 2009 and 2010 the introduced and invasive Tilapia zillii were recorded and formed an increasing percentage of the fish catch; by the end of the survey period they formed the majority of the catch for most fishermen in the Hammar marshes, displacing many of the native species.