Over the past couple of centuries, some 80% of the Danube’s original floodplains, including important wetland areas, have been lost mostly due to drainage for agriculture and industry as well as flood prevention and navigation. The multiple roles of wetland ecosystems and their value to humanity have been increasingly understood and documented in recent years. This has led to larger and larger wetland areas being protected and restored.
The agreement commits Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine to preserve a total of 935,000 ha, including enhanced protection for 775,000 ha of existing protected areas, and new protection for another 160,000 ha, and to restore 224,000 ha of former wetland areas. The four countries also pledged to promote sustainable development along the Lower Danube. The Lower Danube Green Corridor was and still is the most ambitious wetland protection and restoration initiative in Europe.
About the Lower Danube Green Corridor
After squeezing through the Iron Gates gorge and dams between Serbia and Romania, the Danube flows free for 1,000 kilometers through Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. The Lower Danube is one of the last free-flowing stretches of river in Europe.
The Danube’s greatest jewel is its delta, Europe’s largest remaining natural wetland area and, as regarded by WWF, among the 200 most valuable ecological areas on earth. A total of 5,137 species have been identified along the lower stretch of the river, including 42 different species of mammals, and 85 species of fish.
The Lower Danube and Danube Delta are especially important as breeding and resting places for some 331 species of birds, including the rare Dalmatian pelican, the white-tailed eagle, as well as 90% of the world’s population of red-breasted geese.
Ten years on...
Ten years on, the Lower Danube Green Corridor target for protection has been exceeded, with 1.4 million ha of wetland areas along the Lower Danube under some form of formal protection. Progress with restoration is further behind, but moving forward, with well over 60,000 ha realised to date.
The most ecologically-important areas along the Lower Danube Green Corridor in Bulgaria are the Islands of Belene and Kalimok Marshes. There, former floodplain forests and wetlands are being restored, reconnecting them with the river, creating rich feeding, breeding and spawning grounds for fish, flora and fauna. This has provided opportunities for fishing, and economic benefits from grasslands and wetland resources, along with the survival of the riverine floodplain forest as an ecologic benefit.
The Danube Delta is one of the world’s most important eco-regions for biodiversity. In Romania, dry and unproductive land on the major islands of Babina and Cernovca has been returned to the river. The islands have been turned into a mosaic of habitats that offer shelter and food for many species, including rare birds and valuable fish species.
The economic benefits of the restoration works (3,680 ha), in terms of increased natural resources productivity (fish, reed, grasslands) and tourism, is about €140,000 per year.
In Moldova, large sections of the Lower Prut River have been brought under protection and management plans are being prepared. With the support of the local community, a new management plan will be implemented at the Lake Beleu Scientific Reserve. This first attempt for an integrated management of wetlands will be expanded in the Lower Prut area as part of a Trilateral Biosphere Reserve between Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
On the Ukrainian side of the Danube Delta, authorities and NGOs are working hand in hand to develop a vision for the protection and restoration of the wetland areas – and have taken steps toward its realisation. Bulldozers have breached dikes on Tataru and Ermakov Islands, restoring natural flooding to 800 ha. This has allowed for the re-establishment of natural flooding conditions, creating rich feeding, breeding and spawning grounds for fish, flora and fauna. Today amazing rare birds, such as white-tailed eagles, pygmy cormorants and ferruginous ducks, thrive on Tataru Island, while inner lakes serve as spawning places for young fish from the Danube.
By early 2008, the protection target has been reached, with over 1 million ha of wetlands protected. Restoration projects are moving forward slowly. Over 50,000 ha have been restored to date, corresponding to roughly a quarter of the area envisioned. WWF's activities focus on practical implementation of the Lower Danube Green Corridor through coordination and policy work with governments and other authorities, demonstration projects, and work with local stakeholders to promote sustainable local development.