Restoring a unique marsh ecosystem in Iraq
Brian Helmuth explores the effects of climate change on marine life to predict future impacts and find ways to make coastal ecosystems more resilient. His goal is to provide policymakers and resource planners with accurate and useful forecasts. He collaborates with colleagues worldwide—including in Australia, China, and the United Kingdom—but one of his most rewarding partnerships has been in Iraq.
Since 2011, Helmuth has collaborated with University of Basrah scientists to research and restore vital marshlands that Saddam Hussein destroyed. In southern Iraq, at a site widely considered to be the biblical Garden of Eden, Hussein punished a group that opposed him—the Marsh Arabs—by diverting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. By destroying this rare marsh ecosystem, Hussein eliminated a way of life and many animal species.
After Hussein was overthrown, Iraqi scientists began assessing the damage—and working with colleagues there and abroad to begin restoring the marshlands. Helmuth has made multiple trips to the region to collaborate with University of Basrah faculty on restoration, biodiversity monitoring, and policy. He also helped his Iraqi colleagues obtain USAID funding to assist with a biodiversity monitoring plan. The NGO Nature Iraq has worked to restore more than 2,000 acres of marshland, but climate change threatens to reverse the progress. Helmuth has enlisted several CSI faculty to help the Iraq team develop natural and engineered solutions to keep the marshlands healthy.
“This work that began in 2011 is a reminder of the power of persistence and personal connections,” Helmuth says.
He continues to visit the region to engage in talks with stakeholders and policymakers, from government ministers to oil company executives. He has also recruited University of Basrah students and faculty to visit Northeastern and be trained in cutting-edge research methods. In addition, a team of faculty from CSI, Iraq, Arizona State University, and Boston’s Museum of Science is developing a comprehensive framework with which decision-makers can consider stakeholder needs in environmental restoration.
Contact faculty researcher Brian Helmuth.
Author: CSI Staff