Among the many tragedies of Saddam Hussein's reign over Iraq was the draining of the ecologically rich Mesopotamian marshes--sometimes identified as the site of the fabled Garden of Eden--to punish the Marsh Arabs who opposed him. Indeed, the vast wetland was central to their culture. They fished and raised water buffalo in close harmony with its environment.
Even though the marsh now occupies only 10 percent of its original area, international wetlands experts led by Duke ecologist Curtis Richardson have concluded that the remaining marshland could serve as a source of its revitalization. In their report, published in the February 25 issue of the journal Science, they wrote that "the high quality of water, the existing soil conditions, and the presence of stocks of native species in some regions indicate that the restoration potential for a significant portion of the Mesopotamian marshes is high." In expeditions to the area, the scientists conducted studies of the region's soils, water, plants, and animals.
In an interview, Richardson added, "I think the main outcome of this early research is to show that the marshes have much more resiliency than we thought, and that the potential for them to be restored is much higher."