|Ecological reconstruction in the Danube Delta
The Danube is the second largest river, after the Volga, on the European continent, with one of the largest intact deltas of Europe. It covers 418.000 ha, of which 344.600 ha lie in Romania. Only marginal human settlement occurs in the Delta. There are no more than approximately 15.000 inhabitants and this number is presently declining. Most of the Delta territory consisted of reed marshes and shallow lakes. The Delta is divided into various hydrological complexes by the three Danube river branches and by fossil beach bars. Mineral wetland soils prevail in the upstream half of the Delta. The downstream part of the Delta is dominated by huge peat complexes.
Human intervention in the Danube Delta always was a consequence of different land use policies. Over the last century the ecosystem was significantly changed and in parts, destroyed or degraded. Only since the 1990s restoration efforts are under way.
At the end of the 19th century, measures to improve navigation affected especially the flow distribution on the channels and arms.
Between 1903 and 1960, in the so-called “fish period” new channels were built (eg. Dunavat, Mustaca) and existing ones were enlarged in order to activate the water flow inside the Danube to improve fish production.
1960-1970 is considered as the “reed period” in the exploitation of natural resources in the Danube Delta, e.g. reed exploitation for pulp. Special places for extraction were established, new channels and platforms were built, without any preceding feasibility studies. After a few years the reed habitats were destroyed and the period of “reed exploitation” closed.
Over the 1970s and 1980s the Romanian administration has pursued active economic development of the Danube Delta. Reclamation has led to natural areas being put to productive use, including fish-farms (40,600 ha), agricultural polders (40,400 ha) and forestry polders (8,700 ha). Semi-natural pasture has come into being on river levees and fossil beach bars covering some 29,200 ha.
After the political changes in1989 through concert actions of many scientific institutions and political parties a series of the planned developments was stopped and the Danube Delta was declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1990. In 1992 for the first time the ecological restoration issue was discussed. In 1994 a first project started on the Babina islet (1.200 ha) and was continued in 1996 with Cernovca islet (1.580 ha).
Ecological restoration in the Danube Delta
Since 1994 ecological restoration of the Danube Delta is a priority for the Romanian Authorities and Environmental NGOs (SOR/BirdLife in Romania and WWF).
Ecological restoration inside the Danube Delta is regulated through legislation (Danube Delta law) and a Management Plan. According to the latter for 2007 – 2012, 14 areas (fishponds, agricultural polders) are proposed for ecological reconstruction. From these 14 areas, only one has been restored by now, one is in reconstruction and two project applications were submitted for funding, including from EU-Structural Funds.
The Murighiol Lake restoration project started in 2011 and should end in 2012. The investment costs are 1.8 million Euro, funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
The purpose of this project is the reconstruction of Lake Murighiol (334 ha) through connecting the lake directly to the natural hydrological regime and hydraulic works in order to ensure water circulation and a higher water level.
The Murighiol Lake was removed from the natural hydrological regime during 1974 – 1975, being arranged as a fish farm in its northern part, without ensuring the free circulation of fresh water between the lake and St. Gheorghe arm of the Danube. The initial channels and streams have clogged and the level of water drastically decreased, the remaining water body started to dry out due to a lack of rainfall and high temperatures. The most important negative effects of these changes of the biological environment were:
The concept for the ecological reconstruction of the Murighiol Lake (fish farm) consists of the following elements:
SOR (BirdLife partner in Romania)
Marina Cazacu, marina.cazacu(at)sor.ro
Resistance against ecosystem restoration
Political and economical interests are often delaying or blocking the restoration of the Danube Delta. In many cases the reason is pressure to create or maintain agricultural polders. An additional factor is the fact that many areas are leased by the local council to different enterprises for agriculture (providing income for the municipality).
An example of an unsuccessful case is the restoration of the Stipoc levee/polder. The idea of this project was promoted by SOR (BirdLife in Romania) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) in 2009. The Stipoc polder is situated in the northern part of the Danube Delta close to some important lakes and marches including the single known colony of cattle egret in the Danube Delta). The aim was to make the area attractive for tourist and birdwatchers and decrease human impact on the surrounding areas. Although the idea of the project was initially accepted, and the feasibility study had started, political pressure of the local authorities stopped the project at the end of 2010.
SOR is continuing to advocate ecological reconstruction in the Danube Delta, to convince especially the relevant public authorities about the many short- und long-term benefits of restoring agricultural polders and fish farms in the Danube Delta.
But even despite these problem, to date in the Danube Delta about 15.025 ha were restored, which is possible the biggest restored area in the Europe.