The story of Azraq is one of both destruction and regeneration. The signs of destruction are clearly visible: The two main marshes and pools have been drastically reduced over the past years, due to massive extraction of groundwater. Grazing pressure and slow-burning fires in the marshland further degraded any surviving vegetation, leading to a dramatic decline in the number of birds visiting the region.
At the Ramsar Convention of 1977 the Azraq Oasis was declared to be an internationally important wetland and a small wetland reserve was established in the southern areas of the oasis. At that time the wetland contained large areas of permanent marshland and several deep spring-fed pools. Unfortunately, many of these have dried up because of massive extraction of groundwater from the oasis. The cities of Amman and Zarqa are now trying to locate alternative water sources and farmers are being encouraged to adopt more efficient irrigation practices. The main pools have been dredged and water is being pumped back into them through irrigation pipes. Water buffaloes have also been reintroduced to control the
invasive reeds and keep areas of open water for birds. Birds are now returning to the oasis, but not in the vast numbers it once attracted. The endemic killifish has also been rediscovered and a rescue programme is underway to save it from extinction.
While the Azraq Oasis is still far from its former glory, this restoration project is the first of its kind in Jordan and represents a real attempt to reverse a destructive trend.
The best time to visit Azraq is late Autumn, Winter or Spring. Winter rains often create pools and marshes over the reserve, which continue to attract many seasonal species of birds. The success of bird-watching visits depends largely on the amount of water that has accumulated in the reserve.
This facility mainly tells the story of the fight to conserve this internationally important wetland. It also contains a lecture room and an aquarium as well as a nature shop that sells unique handmade local gifts. Visitors can receive information or tour guide books from the centre.
A Roman Wall and a beautiful bird-watching hide can be visited through a short walking trail currently being developed around the marshes of Azraq.
The Marsh Trail is an easy loop around the marshes and pools. From the Visitors' Centre, the trail leads out to the marshes across a wooden walkway. It then crosses a dry area to reach a viewing platform overlooking the Shishan pools, the centre of the huge springs that once spilled millions of cubic metres of water across the marshland. Before they dried up the pools were popular swimming holes for the local people. In fact, the villagers refer to the two pools as "Man's Pool" and "Woman's Pool," an indication of their designated swimming areas.
On leaving the Viewing Area the trail passes along an ancient Umayyad or Roman wall (it is not certain who built it). Constructed of black basalt rock, it is an intricate structure with buttresses jutting out from the wall on either side. The wall was possibly a water control system, used to separate salt water from fresh water and as a barrier against winter floods.
The trail leaves the wall to cross more open water and reeds to a bird hide made of local mud brick. The hide overlooks a large stretch of shallow water that attracts many birds - including vivid blue kingfishers. From here also, water buffaloes can occasionally be seen. The trail then leads back to the Visitors’ Centre via an ancient circular walled pool, thought to have been used in ancient times for storing fresh water.