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Iraqi Conservationist to Lead Seminar on Marshes of Mesopotamia

An expert on the renewal of the well-known Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq will speak Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the seminar series of the Old Dominion University Department of Biological Sciences.

The presentation by Azzam Alwash, titled "The Marshes of Mesopotamia: Past, Present and Future," will begin at 12:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the Mills E. Godwin Jr. Life Sciences Building. Alwash is executive secretary of the board of trustees of the American University of Iraq, Sulimani, and the founder of the Twin Rivers Institute of Research and the Nature-Iraq environmental research organization.

Mesopotamian marshes where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet in southern Iraq have promoted global biodiversity through the millennia. Up until four decades ago, the nearly 20,000 square kilometers of nurturing grounds for plants and animals composed the largest wetlands tract in the Middle East. But between 1970 and 2000, dam projects and the purposeful draining of marshes reduced the marshlands by about 90 percent.

This loss of wetlands has adversely affected biodiversity from Siberia to southern Africa.

Alwash is among the scientists and engineers who over the past 10 years have worked with some success to renew the marshlands. He served as senior project advisor for the Eden Again Project of the Iraq Foundation, which developed an action plan for restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes. He and his work were featured in a news segment of CBS's "60 Minutes" last year.

A civil engineer by training - he has a doctorate in the field from the University of Southern California - Alwash also has developed specialties in ecological services and inter-governmental and inter-institutional relationships.

Lytton John Musselman, ODU's Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Biology, met Alwash when they participated in a Middle East biodiversity symposium in Jordan in 2008. That meeting led in 2009 to Musselman's work on a project involving the plants of Iraq, and to Musselman lecturing to organizations founded by Alwash. "I am most impressed with his commitment to get young Iraqis involved in conservation," Musselman said.

The seminar is free and open to the public.

This article was posted on: February 3, 2010

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