Rehabilitation of the aquatic environment
When rehabilitating an aquatic environment, it is not always necessary to restore a body of water to its original, historical state. Restoration projects often take a more functional approach by creating conditions that meet the needs of society. The restoration of water bodies to their original condition may or may not be acceptable or even possible depending on the size of the occupied area of a given nation.
Several factors need to be taken into consideration in order to achieve the objectives of rehabilitation of any water body, among which are:
The requirements of society. Conservation goals could be well included, such as general protection of entire faunas or of a particularly rare species, or use-oriented goals such as the maintenance of particular types of fauna for food fisheries exploitation.
The development of the river or lake basin. All water body rehabilitation projects should consider the rehabilitation of the basin in conjunction with the water mass. All activities that occur upstream from the target water body will eventually affect any efforts at a local level through increasing sediment loads, change discharge rates and impede migrations.
The minimum area necessary for restoration. In the rehabilitation processes, the number and well-being of the target species or community will increase if processes are limited to a particular species or community. However, other factors may interfere to limit the fish population growth, such as increase in size of the protected area. In the marshlands, the carrying capacity of the environment at low water may be such that only a small proportion of fish spawned can survive to the next year. In such case only a small amount of the marshes are to be restored for an adequate fish stock to be maintained (Welcomme, 2001).
In order to provide the proper habitat requirements of fish, it is essential to establish the ecosystem requirements for each fish species, factors including salinity, pH, nutrient levels or conditions of low dissolved oxygen and flow rate. Water volume is important during breeding and for feeding, individual species having specific individual requirements (Hickling, 1961).
Important for habitat rehabilitation is protection of water quality, which will fail unless the water is free from toxic pollutants (Wellcomme, 2001). For this reason water quality has been given high priority in the aquatic environment rehabilitation programmes of several countries, and it will be important to follow suit in the marshlands of southern Mesopotamia.
The control and use of vegetation should be included among the major aspects in the rehabilitation program of the aquatic environment, since vegetation provides support and refuge for a wide range of organisms, including fish. The southern Iraqi marshlands are famous for their dense, species-rich riparian vegetation (Akbar, 1985). Several marine fish species such as the clupeid Tenualosa ilisha, the engraulids Thryssa hamiltoni and T. purava, the sparids Acanthopagrus berda and A. latus, and the mugillid Liza macrolepis, migrate up the Shatt al-Arab River towards the marsh areas for breeding and feeding during the spring season (Al-Hassan et al., 1989). In addition, vegetation cover is considered to be the ideal protection for larvae and other developmental stages of a large number of aquatic insect and other invertebrate species (George and Savage, 1970). In the aquatic ecosystem of the marshlands, a balance is usually maintained between vegetation and the other factors, and changes occur slowly over time through a succession of plant species. When such balance is lost due to the influence of humans or to the introduction of exotic plant species, damage occurs through the uncontrolled proliferation of some native element of the community or by the invader (Welcomme, 2001).
The role of education in the Lower Mesopotamian Plain fisheries management scheme
Education is considered as a key component in the effective management systems of all successful fisheries. Through education, several important issues are involved in addition to basic provision and communication of information, including an enhancement of people’s appreciation of nature and of the role of the aquatic environment in their own lives and those of future generations. Education becomes the management tool for conflict resolution and the backbone on which other management strategies hang (Fleming, 1996). No water regulatory body, especially for the marshlands, can hope to enforce its regulations without acceptance from the local people, and it is only through education that the locals can learn the issues so that there can be voluntary acceptance of the procedures and regulations.
In every successful educational programme, there should be clearly identified goals and a series of suitable management strategies to accomplish them. The most important education programme role is that of the leader, who should ideally be locally recruited, preferably with roots in the community, well respected and with boundless enthusiasm. In the case of the marshlands, this leader should ideally be from a well-known tribe, with a background in science education. Any number of assistants and advisors can be added to the team but the figurehead must be familiar with the local communities both physically and metaphorically. This is an especially important issue in overseas projects where the motives of foreigners are not always clear to the local residents.
Education goals may be broad in content or they may relate to specific aspects of the aquatic habitat. Typical goals that might be taken into consideration for a management plan might include awareness of the environment, information on policies, aims and objectives of the protective plan for the aquatic environment, and encouragement of locals to participate in the process of protection of their environments and to gain an understanding of and compliance with the regulations proposed in the management plans (DES, 1993; NOAA, 1994).
Two broad categories of strategies are needed to achieve the goals outlined above: (1) community education and involvement; (2) preparation of education/information materials.
It will be very difficult for the local community to accept management plans for their aquatic environment unless they know beforehand about the contents of the plans and fully understand the rationale behind their formulation (Kenchington, 1990).
People’s views on conservation depend upon their own personal assessment of the value of the environment to them, and subjectivity is one of the main obstacles facing the education programme when the local peoples are environmentally illiterate. It is not so much a question of local people being environmentally illiterate but, as the author notes, putting different values of conservation/rehabilitation versus livelihood. Thus, additional efforts are needed in this case to demonstrate to people that the long-term benefits from such protection programme will outweigh the extra short-term costs that they will inevitably incur. As suggested by Kenchington (1990), representatives of the target groups should be involved in the design of the programme, in who should receive educational establishment, from primary to tertiary (in the lower Mesopotamian plain, universities and research centres might be involved); local resources users such as fishermen; local authorities such as municipalities; and non-governmental organizations.
Educational field trips should be organised and supervised by educational staff of schools at different levels. Scientific programmes on the conservation of the aquatic environment should be included in the scientific research plan for the universities and research centres in the area. Ideally, new curricula including the conservation programme for the aquatic environment of the lower Mesopotamian plain should be included in courses at local universities. Unfortunately, it is impossible at the present time to fulfil the two strategic aims of the education plan. This is mainly due to the current instability of the region and to other social factors such as the incomplete and non-organised settlement of the Marsh Arabs. The strategic aims need cooperation from all sides, including the Marsh Arabs and government agencies, in order to attain an acceptable status to deliver information and education. It is important for the governmental agencies to provide the educated and skilful manpower, the media, and material resources. The Marsh Arabs likewise need to re-arrange themselves in cooperative groups to understand and implement the information given to them, unlike what had happened before. As tribes, they need to consider themselves as small communities that can work together to educate their people and develop in them the ability to catch up with the other urban communities in regard to environmental education.
I would like to thank Bruce Marshall of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for continuing advice and suggestions in the preparation of the manuscript, and R. Coory (Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand) for technical help in preparing the figures.
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