Delta And Anti-Delta

The Danube flows in accordance with all theories and definitions. After crossing Europe, it flows into the Black Sea, forming a delta which conforms entirely to the general definition of a "delta". Over the centuries, the Danube had many other names: "Danubius", "Istrus", "Histru", "Danare", "Donaris", "Phisos", "Rio Divino". Napoleon Bonaparte considered it to be "Le roi des fleuves de l'Europe". Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote in one of his works: "one of the well-known, navigable rivers when you come from the sea is the Istros…" The second longest river in Europe (after the Volga) and the 26th in the world, the Danube springs from the Black Forest Mountains (Germany) and flows into the Black Sea near the Caraorman forest, whose name also means "black forest" in Turkish. The Danube crosses ten countries and flows through four European capital cities, with a hydrographic basin of 820,000 km2, populated by approximately 80 million inhabitants. The Danube collects tributaries from 17 countries and more than a third of its total length (2860 km) is on Romanian territory (1075 km). The flow rate of the Danube River is approximately 6300 m3/s. In the past, the Danube had several arms: according to Herodotus, "the Istros" had five arms, Ptolemy mentioned six arms, and Polybius, seven. Due to a natural silting process, today there are three arms on which the Danube ceaselessly builds its delta. Chilia is the longest (120 km) and most vigorous arm, taking over 58% of the total flow capacity of the Danube. Having many ramifications and islets, Chilia is the youngest arm, and also the point of maximum depth in the delta: 38 m. Chilia is mainly used for navigation, with Ismail and Valcov as its main ports. As a result of the deepening and correction of some meanders, Sulina is mainly used for navigation. Following these works (1862-1902), the length of the river arm dropped from 93 to 64 km, and the water volume doubled (reaching 18% now), while the minimum depth is 7 m and the maximum one 18 m. Sfantu Gheorghe (Saint George) is the oldest arm, carrying 24% of the water and alluvium volume. The deepest point on this arm is 26 m. Sfantu Gheroghe, too, underwent some transformation caused by the cutting off of six meanders, its length being reduced to 70 km. The youngest land in the country, the Danube Delta dates back to approximately 13,000 years. We owe the first mentions of the Danube Delta to the "father of history", Herodotus (484-425 BC), who wrote about the Danube's five arms. The works of Polybius (2nd century BC) mention the seven arms of the river and the huge sand piles at the mouth of the Istros. The sketch made by Strabo (63 BC-19 AD) is the oldest map of the Delta. The most detailed description of the Danube Delta, including its geographical coordinates, latitude and longitude, comes from Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 AD). Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the province of Dobrogea (Dobruja) and the mouths of the Danube were occupied by the Ottoman Empire. The geographical coordinates of the Danube Delta are between 44047'25'' and 45037'30'' north latitude, and between 28044'25'' and 29046'00'' eastern longitude. The 450 parallel crosses the Delta, with the climatic consequences associated with a terrain of great diversity (mainly amphibian) under the influence of the Black Sea. The surface of the Danube Delta (the second largest in Europe, after the Volga Delta) is of 4170 km2, of which 3445 km2 (82%) is on Romanian territory, and the remaining 18% in Ukraine. The geographical configuration maintains the characteristics of deltas in general: the Danube Delta is situated on a plane surface (an alluvium plain in the course of formation) with a slight inclination from east to west (0.006%, across the 60 km distance between Tulcea and Sulina. The result is a level difference of 3.6 m). 20.5% of the Delta's surface is below the Black Sea level, and 79.5% is above it. The biggest stretches of land are those situated between 0 and 1 m altitude (54.5%), followed by those between 1-2 m (18%). The highest points are on the maritime spits (Letea 12.4 m, Caraorman 8 m), and the deepest points are on the Danube arms (-39 m on Chilia, -34 m on Tulcea, -26 m on Sfantu Gheorghe, -18 m on Sulina). The delta lakes are no deeper than 3 m, with the exception of the meander lake Belciug, 7 m deep. The average altitude in the Danube Delta is +0.52 m. Due to its geographical position and the presence of the Black Sea, the climate is continental temperate with Pontic (i.e. Black Sea, from Pontus Euxinus, its ancient name) influences. The continental character of the climate is predominant, even if the Delta is near the sea and it comprises of a large surface-area of water. The north-western winds cause strong storms during autumn and spring. The annual average temperature is 11oC (-1oC in January, 22oC in July). Here are the values of the main climate parameters, compared with the rest of Romania: the largest number of hours of sunshine: 2500 h/year (Sfantu Gheorghe); the strongest solar radiation: 135 kcal/cm2-year; the largest number of clear days: 150-160 days/year; the lowest degree of nebulosity; the biggest quantity of precipitations in 24 hours (690 mm on Letea spit in 1924); the lowest quantity of precipitations (in Sulina, 1920); the highest degree of aridity; the highest value of relative humidity in the air (80%); the highest average annual value of evapoperspiration (Tulcea, 1990). The development of a diverse fauna and the formation of spits, lakes, brooks, and swamps led to the formation of unique ecosystems. Among the more than 30 ecosystems, the most important are: the flowing water ecosystem: the Danube arms, the canals and brooks, which cover 2.5% of the Delta's surface. The Danube currently has three arms which flow into the Black Sea: Chilia, Sulina, and Sfantu Gheorghe. The most important canals are: Litcov, Crisan-Caraorman, Pardina, Vatafu, Mila 35, and the best-known brooks are Perivolovca, Sontea, Lopatna, etc. the stagnant water ecosystem: lakes, puddles (japse), clogged canals and brooks, representing 10% of the Delta surface. The biggest lakes are: Dranov (21.5 km2), Rosu (14.4 km2), Gorgova (13.7 km2), Lumina (13.6 km2), Isac (11 km2). 50 lakes are larger than 10 hectares, and the number of natural lakes larger than 1 hectare is 670. Razim-Sinoe (731 km2) is the biggest lagoon system in Europe. the ecosystem of swamps and floodable surfaces (reed plots and floating islets made of reeds and roots), situated between -0.5 and 1 m, occupy 67% of the Delta surface. the spits ecosystem: maritime spits: Caraorman, Letea, Raducului, Saraturile (positioned transversally on the arms of the Danube, 270 km2, 8%), and fluvial spits (which accompany the arms of the Danube and the main brooks, 200 km2, 6%). organized surfaces for agriculture, tree plantations, and fisheries, which represented 30% of the Delta surface in 1991. These surfaces completely changed the Delta landscape, and, due to their economic inefficiency, some of these surfaces are scheduled to be reintegrated in the natural hydrographic scheme. This percentage of adjustments brought to natural ecosystems, of organization and redirection of the hydrographic system has had a major influence on the regression of all species of fish living in the Danube Delta. If we can see pieces of ice floating on the surface of Lake Angara and Lake Baikal, on the surface of the Romanian Delta we can see islets (plauri). These are a combination of roots, grass, reed, organic debris and soil. The reed rhizomes (subterranean stems) are very important for the formation of islets: they accumulate gas, which makes the respective stratum come up to the surface and break as a result of wave action. Their thickness varies between 0.5 and 1.5 m. The islets occupy a large surface in the Danube Delta. Depending on the water level and on their thickness, the islets may be: mobile, moving on the surface of lakes according to the strength of the wind and water currents; clogged, in less deep areas, when the water level is low; fixed on other clogged islets, with water underneath them, thus forming an excellent habitat for certain species of fish such as: sheatfish (Silurus glanis), carp (Cyprinus carpio), crucian carp (Carassius vulgaris), etc. The dynamics of the islets is very dangerous: some canals may be obstructed and navigation becomes very difficult. Also, another disadvantage is that the islets may drag or even tear away fishermen's nets. It is quite difficult to clear away the obstructed waterways, and when the islets are really clogged with mud, the local people use saws to cut narrow passage ways for their long fishing boats. In some places, where navigation is scarce and the fishing boats smaller and lighter, the boats pass straight over the islets. We may compare the islets to pieces of puzzle pushed by the wind on the surface of a lake, placed randomly in one of its corners. Since the islets vary in shapes and sizes, "puddles" are formed between them, which are great for fishing. In some places, two puddles may be connected to each other through passage ways under the islets, which are also used by the fish to move from one lake to another. Experienced fishermen use bow nets in an attempt to reach as much as possible under the islets. Nicknamed "The Birds' Paradise", the Danube Delta is visited by more than 325 species of birds, 70 of which come from outside Europe (China, India, Egypt, etc.). There are about 170 brooding species, 40 of which are sedentary and 130, migratory; the species which are not brooding usually come to the Delta as temporary guests during winter, spring or autumn. 60% of the world population of the small cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) lives in the Danube Delta. 80% of the European bird fauna can also be seen here. 10 species are protected by law, some of them being recognized as "monuments of nature", since they are on the verge of extinction. Protected birds may be classified into two groups, depending on the color of their feathers: white, such as the common and curly pelican (Pellecanus onocrotalus), the spoon bill (Platanea leucorodia), the great white egret (Egretta alba), the small egret (Egretta garzetta), the mute and the singing swan (Cygnus); multicolored, such as the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), the avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), the sheldrake (Tadorna tadorna), the ruddy sheldrake (Tadorna ferruginea), the white-tailed vulture (Vulturidae). Three other species are carefully monitored in order to be protected: the common crane (Grus cinerea), the Danube falcon, and the field bird. The Danube Delta hosts the biggest pelican colony in Europe. The pelican is a protected species, and it represents the symbol of the Danube Delta. A summer guest, the pelican lives in large colonies, migrating to warmer climates at the beginning of autumn. Pelicans feed on fish, using a very organized, efficient and interesting way of catching the fish. The Militarova puddle is a renowned place for bird watching, since many species, such as cormorants, swans, bald coots (Fulica atra) find plenty of food here. It is a characteristic feature of the Danube Delta lakes that they are invaded by vegetation and the shallow waters (1-2 m deep) covered by water milfoil (Myriophyllum verticillatum) during summer. This makes it rather difficult to practice stationary fishing. That is why, even if other species of fish, such as carp, sheatfish, zander (Lucioperca lucioperca), crucian carp, etc. are also present, mainly pike (Exos lucius) and perch (Perca fluviatilis) are fished from lakes using spoons as bait. The carp and sheatfish often prefer to go under the islets, which makes it impossible for them to be caught, since only traditional fishing methods (using bow nets and large, anchored nets) have good results in these areas. There are water currents on most of the Delta canals, and that is why the water is usually muddy and bait fishing for pike is not very productive, although there are plenty of pike. The lack of vegetation on the bottom of the canals, especially in the pit areas, the fluviatile spits which accompany the canals and allow for the installation of fishing gear, make it easier to practice stationary fishing. Therefore, sheatfish, carp, zander, perch, bream (Abramis brama), crucian carp, etc. are usually fished all along the canals, with the exception of clogged or current-less canals, where pike can also be caught using spoons. There are many fishing spots near Caraorman, which could be classified into five distinctive areas, depending on some characteristic features and the species of fish:- The Crisan-Caraorman Canal, wider and deeper than the common canals, has certain characteristic features and attracts many species of fish. Carp, sheatfish, zander, rapacious carp (Aspius aspius), pike, crucian carp, perch, bream, redeye (Scardinius crythrophtalmus) may be fished here; in the morning, sheatfish (1 kg) and pike may be caught using earth worms, fan crickets (Gryllotalpa vulgaris) and frogs, or small fish and spoons, respectively. - The Puiulet-Lumina-Puiu-Vatafu-Rotund Lakes are not very old and less clogged, therefore deeper (2-3 m). Pike and perch are fished here. - The Perivolovca Brook is situated in an older area, where the natural clogging process resulted in shallow lakes. The many puddles and the extremely rich vegetation make these areas very interesting and beautiful. Pike is fished in the lakes and carp, sheatfish, zander and perch are fished in the Perivolovca brook. - The canals near Caraorman (Litcov, Vatafu, Puiulet-Lumina, etc.). We may fish for sheatfish, carp, zander, perch, etc. - Most of the Suez Canal is clogged, with the exception of a couple of pits which are preferred by the pike and perch. - Mila 23 – small fish. Parr may be caught in the morning or evening using bait fishing, lead angling, in the flowing direction. - Fortuna I (Sontea) – famous place for redeye and perch, in the morning and in the evening – carp (1-2 kg) caught using "polenta bombs" (with the help of Petrica, the specialist).
If you get bored of fishing, or of bird watching and admiring the landscapes, you may visit the artists' house in Partizani, a village 12 km south of Tulcea, on the Sulina arm. The modest house is a place where painters come to admire the beauty of the Delta and to create works of art, inspired by the local landscapes. The sculptor Aurel Contras is now in charge of the house, which has belonged to the Plastic Artists' Union (Uniunea Artistilor Plastici) ever since the '70s. Awestruck by the places where the water becomes one with the sky and the earth, artists like Mihai Cizmaru, Bogdan Pietris, Neculita Scrieru have delighted our eyes with many inspired paintings.

by Maxim Trikhanov; Ştefana Mărmureanu