The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (DDBR)

The Danube Delta is one of the most extensive deltas of the European continent and, at the same time, Europe's best-conserved wetland. The Danube Delta's ecosystems, which are of a "mosaic" type, diverse and discontinuously distributed, create a unique setting compared to other biomes in Romania. GENERAL PRESENTATIONThe natural paradise of the Danube Delta stretches as far as the point where the Danube flows into the Black Sea, ending its 2,860-km (1,788-mile) journey from its source in the Black Forest. Over the centuries, the surface area of the Delta has expanded, forming a network of lakes, channels, reed-covered islands, tropical forests, meadows and sand dunes.In September 1990, on the recommendation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and as a result of the efforts of a group of scientists, the Government of Romania declared the entire Danube Delta and some adjacent areas, with a total of 580,000 hectares in surface area, a Biosphere Reserve. The decision was then passed by the Parliament of Romania through Law no. 454/2001. The natural heritage value of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve has been recognised through its inclusion in the international network of biosphere reserves, within the framework of the "Man and Biosphere" programme (1990), through its declaration as a wetland of international importance, and, in particular, through its inclusion in the List of the RAMSAR Treaty (September 1991) and the UNESCO List of World Natural Heritage Sites (December 1991). In appreciation of the efficiency of the management plan applied in the region, the European Council's European Diploma for Protected Areas was awarded in 2000 and renewed in 2005. It has also been awarded two EUROSITE Prizes: in 1995, for ecological projects aimed at reconstructing the Babina and Cernovca polders, and in 2001 for the field of public awareness. In 1990, the Administration of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (ADDBR) was set up in Tulcea, in order to administer the region's natural heritage and to reconstruct and protect geographical units within the reserve. In accordance with Law 82/1993, with subsequent amendments and additions, the ADDBR is a public institution subordinate to the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The running of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is carried out by a Scientific Board, made up of representatives of the ADDBR and of other organisations involved in administering the reserve (local administration, ministries, private companies, specialists from research institutes, members of the Romanian Academy). The ADDBR is run by a Governor, put forward by the central public authorities for environmental protection and appointed by the Government with the approval of the Prefecture of Tulcea County. The Governor fulfils the role of President of the Scientific Board and of the Executive College. The ADDBR is responsible for administering publicly owned territory of national interest, and also has the attributes of an environmental protection authority. The main attributes of the ADDBR are as follows: research into the state of natural heritage, including the evolution of environmental parameters (evaluation, monitoring, impact studies, implementation of the laws in force, co-ordination of the research programme, etc.), elaboration and implementation of the strategy for conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development, elaboration and implementation of the strategy for public awareness and ecological education, as well as development of regional and international co-operation. The administrative headquarters of the Administration of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is located in the municipality of Tulcea, at 34A Portului Street.The main objectives pursued by the ADDBR in ecological management of the reserve's territory are as follows:· Conservation and protection of the existing natural heritage· Promotion of the use of sustainable resources generated by the reserve's natural ecosystems· Ecological reconstruction of areas degraded by the impact of human activitiesAs a biosphere reserve, the ADDBR, with a total surface area of 5,800 square kilometres, is divided into strictly protected areas (506 square kilometres), buffer zones (2,233 square kilometres), and economic areas (3,061 square kilometres), and includes a 150-square-kilometre area of ecological reconstruction.The strictly protected areas comprise eighteen zones (around 8.7 % of the total surface area of the DDBR) of the greatest conservation value and priority. They represent the least affected natural areas, with a high ecological importance: nesting areas for globally endangered species etc. These areas are strictly protected by law. Access is allowed only for research and monitoring activities.The buffer zones, representing around 38.5% of the surface area of the DDBR, serve as protective areas around the strictly protected areas, in order to reduce human impact. In the buffer zones, traditional activities for the exploitation of natural resources (fishing, livestock breeding, reed harvesting) are permitted, as well as active conservation activity aimed at rebuilding natural ecosystems deteriorated by human impact (ecological reconstruction). The remaining surface area of the DDBR is occupied by economic areas (more than 52.8%), where economic activities in accordance with the demands of environmental protection are allowed.LOCATION, SURFACE AREA, LIMITS AND ACCESSThe Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is situated in south-eastern Romania. The main geographic co-ordinates of the DDBR are 28º10'E/ 29º42'E and 45º27'N/ 44º20/N.The northern limits are formed by the Danube and the Chilia Arm, the international frontier between Romania and the Republic of Moldova and between Romania and Ukraine. The eastern limits are represented by the Black Sea and the southern and western limits are formed by the hills of the Dobrudja plateau. The DDBR is divided into six distinct morpho-geographical units: the Danube Delta (4,178 square kilometres), the Razim-Sinoe Complex (1,015 square kilometres), the Danube (Galatzi-Tulcea section – 55 square kilometres), the Black Sea coast as far as the 20 metre isobath (1,400 square kilometres), the Isaccea-Tulcea flood plain (92 square kilometres), and the Sărături-Murighiol saltwater lakes (87 hectares). The municipality of Tulcea is the most important human settlement bordering the reserve, together with thirty-seven other settlements.The main component of the DDBR, the Danube Delta is situated on the territory of two states (Romania and Ukraine). The total surface area of the Danube Delta is 4,178 square kilometres, of which eighty-two per cent lies on Romania territory and eighteen per cent on Ukrainian territory.Likewise, the major area of compact reed beds (the largest in the world) plays an important ecological role in the cleansing and filtering of Danube river-water before it flows into the waters of the Black Sea. The main ecosystems of the Delta are the arms of the Danube, the channels, distributaries, lakes, pools, floating islets of vegetation, flood areas, sandbanks, beaches, flood meadows, willow woods, and the Letea and Caraorman forests. Situated at the eastern extremity of Romania, and with its own specific natural conditions, access to the area is only via peripheral localities.THE BIRTH OF THE DANUBE DELTA The Danube Delta is a landscape that has formed recently due to the silting of a marine gulf, with alluvia carried by a river or re-sedimented by the circular current of the Black Sea, which created, in the Pleistocene Era, the Delta's system of conjoined sandbanks (Letea, Caraorman). After the formation of the Delta, which shut off the original gulf, the area became a lagoon.The Danube Delta biome can be understood as an entity only if it is viewed in its evolution, in its development. Its subsequent evolution was conditioned by the formation of the three arms, St George (the oldest), Sulina, and Chilia (the most recent).THE RELIEFThe Danube Delta is an extensive, flat area, with an average altitude of just half a metre. The lower parts of the region are in the riverbeds of the arms and in the lakes.The greater part of the region is represented by wetlands: aquatic basins and reed beds (circa 3,446 square kilometres, including around 1,300 square kilometres of lakes, channels, pools and marshes, around 1,750 square kilometres of reed beds, and around 396 square kilometres of ponds for fish farming). A significant surface area is used for agricultural purposes (circa 615 square kilometres), including arable land surrounded by dykes (around 388 square kilometres) and grazing land (around 226 square kilometres). Forests occupy around 228 square kilometres, including around 65 square kilometres of forestry areas surrounded by dykes. The marine waters (around 1,405 square kilometres) are made up of the Black Sea coast to an isobath of 20 metres.THE CLIMATE The proximity of the Black Sea has an influence on the temperate continental climate of the reserve. Thus, the average annual air temperature has moderate values with a slight increase from West to East. The number of winter days varies from fifteen on the coast to twenty in the West.Frosts occur from October until April, and the number of days of sub-zero temperatures varies depending on the area, from the West to East. The number of days of sub-zero temperatures varies between thirty and sixty in warmer years and between eighty-four and one hundred in colder years.The annual precipitation is between 400 and 500 mm in the East, and between 300 and 350 mm in the West of the Delta. There is wind almost all year round (80%), predominantly north winds, particularly along the coast, but also south winds, particularly in the interior of the Delta.HYDROLOGYThe predominantly aquatic environment of the DDBR is due to the large quantities of water that the Danube carries to the entrance of the Delta, regarded as the river's first bifurcation (the Chilia Arm, situated about four kilometres upstream from Tulcea). During the period 1921-1990, the average annual flow was 6,570 m³/s at the entry to the Delta.The main watercourses are the three arms whereby the Danube empties into the sea:1. Chilia – 105 km as far as Periprava, the northernmost and most active arm, with two groups of ramifications and its own micro-delta. It transports around fifty-eight per cent of the total river water.2. Sulina – 64 km; the shortest, straightest and best-kept arm. It transports around nineteen per cent of the total river water. A channel of fluvial-maritime traffic (at the obligatory minimum depth of 7.32 metres, 7,000-tonne ships can circulate).3. Sfîntu Gheorghe – the oldest arm of the Danube. It transports around twenty-three per cent of the total river water. The lakes constitute a major morpho-hydrological category within the Danube Delta as a whole. Following the draining of lakes in the Pardina and Sireasa agricultural zones, the number of lakes has been reduced to 479 (lakes of over one hectare) from 668. The total area of lakes is now 25,794 hectares, representing 7.82% of the Delta's total surface area.FLORAThe Danube Delta is one of the largest deltas in Europe, including the continent's least disturbed wetlands. The mosaic of habitats that has developed here is the most varied in Romania and is home to a large diversity of plant and animal species, whose number exceeds 5,500.Around seventy per cent of the Delta's vegetation consists of reeds, rushes and floating reed islets. In the lakes and channels can be found submersible aquatic plants: white lily, yellow lily, water chestnut, common arrowhead, etc. A distinct category is formed by rootless, floating plants. Willow woods can be found on the higher banks, while the smaller grey willow grows on the lower banks. In the Letea and Caraorman forests, which have developed in the low-lying and damp areas between the sandbanks, can be found species of oak and ash, together with varied species of shrub and climbing plants, such as wild vine and lianas.FAUNAThanks to the favourable conditions created by the wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, as well as the proximity of a number of palaeo-arctic fauna regions (e.g. Mediterranean, Pontic, Euro-Asian), the fauna of the DDBR is represented by 3,600 species. Invertebrates make up by far the largest part of the Delta's fauna, with more than three thousand species. The fish-life of the Delta is remarkably varied, with eighty-four species in twenty-two families. The majority of these are fresh-water species, but there are also marine and eurihaline species that live in the Black Sea and penetrate the Delta and the Danube during the reproductive season. Amphibians are represented by eight species of frogs. However, the DDBR is most renowned for its birdlife, with more than three hundred and thirty-one species (apart from the five hundred and twenty species inventoried in the whole of Western Europe). The zone has global importance as a nesting area for many bird species such as the white and crested pelican and the pygmy cormorant. There are also important colonies of spoonbills, and a number of nesting species of white-tailed eagle. The Danube Delta is a major stopover place for millions of migrating birds in spring and autumn, in particular ducks, storks and numerous species of birds of prey. In the winter season, the DDBR is host to large groups of swans and geese, including almost the entire population of red-throated geese.There are twenty-eight species of mammals, including important protected species such as the otter and European mink. Bison and boars are economically important for their hides and for hunting. Other predators are the stoat, enot dog, fox and wildcat.THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC SETTING Thanks to its mild climate, natural riches and geographical position, humans have been drawn to the Danube Delta since the earliest times. The Delta is of economic, political and strategic importance. Access to the Danube and to the sea meant that the region has always been a major centre of trade and a crossroads for human migration.All the high ground of the Delta contains evidence of human migration. The oldest traces of human habitation have been discovered on the terraces and promontories around Razim and Sinoe lakes. Many of the towns from the Roman period were situated along the arm of the Danube to the south, such as Noviodunum (Isaccea), Talmonium (Nufăru), Aegyssus (Tulcea) and Salsovia (Mahmudia). The physical and social infrastructure is poorly developed in the Delta due to the difficulties of transportation and communication. Until 1970, the population grew (reaching a maximum of 21,657), but since then has been in continual decline. In 1992, a populace of around 15,000 inhabitants was recorded. The population density is low, with around 25-50 inhabitants per square kilometre in the west and less than 25 in the east. The population is concentrated in rural settlements, sited along the arms of the river. The only town in the Delta is Sulina (approx. 5,000 inhabitants), a free port, which functions as a transhipment point and is to be refurbished as a maritime port. The majority of the population is Romanian in origin (85%), the rest being dominated by two large ethnic groups: Ukrainians and Russian-Lipovans. All the villages have telephone connexions, and most of them are also connected to the electricity network. In Maliuc, Sulina, Sf. Gheorghe, Chilia Veche, Crişan and Pardina there are drinking water systems, and in most of the villages there are churches. The standard of living for inhabitants of the DDBR is low, with fishing representing the main source of income. Household income is often supplemented by traditional activities: small-scale agriculture, livestock breeding and vegetable growing. The current potential reed harvest is estimated at forty to fifty thousand tonnes per annum, of which only a small part is harvested. Other economic activities include navigation, building and maintenance, commerce, services, forestry, beekeeping, and the harvesting of mushrooms and medicinal plants.Another activity that has developed in the Danube Delta recently is tourism. Thanks to its impressive landscape and size, the DDBR offers many opportunities for tourism.THE TOURISM POTENTIAL OF THE DDBRThe natural advantages of the Danube Delta as a resource for tourism include:· Landscape – originality, diversity and spatial variety· The biodiversity of Delta ecosystems 5.500 plant and animal species (1,689 flora, 3448 fauna, of which more than 320 are bird species, more 80 species of fish, etc.)· Natural resources – fish, game· Climate – high temperatures, long periods of sunshine· Coastal beachesMAIN NATURAL TOURIST ATTRACTIONSThe almost undisturbed natural landscape of the Danube Delta, made up of a mosaic of river arms, channels, lakes of varying type and size, reed beds, sand dunes, and oak forests with Mediterranean vegetation represent the main tourist attraction of the Danube Delta.Likewise, the Danube Delta is famous for being one of the world's most extensive wetlands. The wonderful natural habitats that have formed here offer conditions suitable for an impressive number of plant and animal species. In the Delta can be found one of the world's largest expanses of reeds. The Letea and Caraorman forests form the northern limit for two of the rarest species of oaks, which are frequently found in the south of the Italian peninsula and the Balkans. Along with a large number of aquatic and terrestrial plants, the Delta is also home to numerous pelican and cormorant colonies, species characteristic of the Danube Delta, and a wide variety of visiting water birds, which come here to nest or winter.Similarly, the large number of fish species is also notable. Some of these species are of great economic importance. The fish wealth of the Delta's lakes and channels, and of the arms of the Danube represent another tourist attraction, both for anglers and those who wish to taste the traditional fish dishes of the region's inhabitants.THE HUMAN TOURIST POTENTIAL OF THE DDBRIn terms of material and spiritual culture, the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve offers a number of attractions, whose artistic and cultural content enhances the tourism value of the region, allowing a wider variety of tourist opportunities to the visitor.Tourist objectives of a human nature in the Danube Delta:Human settlements specific to wetland areas, specific architectureIn the settlements of the Danube Delta, the technique of building houses with vertical bunches of reeds between oak or willow posts, with horizontal laths, is common.These building techniques and materials, to which can be added stone, used in foundations, cellars, wells, boundary walls and barns, enhance the variety of the widespread use of clay and reeds. Both in the Danube Delta and in adjacent areas, houses with thatched roofs are common.Bearing in mind the conditions that have influenced the development of the traditional Dobrudja homestead in the settlements of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, we can enumerate four variations: the traditional Romanian homestead, the homestead with southern, Balkan influences, Lipovan houses, and homesteads with Oriental, Anatolian influences.Besides these distinct categories, there is a great variety in the outward appearance of houses, determined by many factors: variations in physical relief, ethnicity, the origins of Romanians from different provinces (Transylvania, Muntenia, Moldavia, Bessarabia, the Quadrilateral), different occupations, urban influence, the lack of any imposed design, and the transience of settlements in the frequently flooding Danube Delta.Culture and history: ethnography, traditions, archaeological sitesMonuments and archaeological sitesBoth the territory of the reservation and the adjacent areas hold a rich deposit of historical monuments and remains, connected to the cultures that have succeeded each other here since Palaeolithic times.In the Danube Delta, on the Stipoc sandbank and the Chilia plain, Bronze Age vestiges have been discovered. Iron Age remains have been found on the Letea sandbanks and in Caraorman. To the north and west of Lake Razim, a Neolithic culture of the Hamangia (Baia) type developed, followed by Roman, Byzantine and feudal civilisation. In Agighiol, evidence of Iron Age and feudal settlement has been unearthed, and Palaeolithic and Iron Age vestiges in Sarinasuf. In Eniala, there are remains from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age, early Roman, and feudal periods. Sălcioara: vestiges of the feudal period. Cape Dolojman: Greek, Roman and Byzantine vestiges. Vişina: feudal vestiges. Mihai Viteazu: Iron Age vestiges. Sinoe: Iron Age and feudal remains. Istria: Neolithic and early Roman remains. The Histria Fortress was built by Miletian colonists in the mid-Seventh Century B.C. Nuntaşi: traces of the Neolithic and Iron Age. Vadu: feudal remains. Codru: Iron Age, early Roman, and feudal vestiges.On the right bank of the Danube (the area adjacent to the reservation), there are the ruins of the Roman fort of Dinogeţia, on the island of Bisericuţa (Garvăn). In the Isaccea area, there are traces of early-Roman and Roman-Byzantine settlement. Parcheş: feudal settlement. Somova: Palaeolithic, Iron Age, and feudal settlement. Mineri: feudal settlement. Tulcea: Iron Age, Roman-Byzantine and feudal settlement. Malcoci: feudal settlement. Nufăru: early-Roman and feudal settlement. At Beştepe can be found the monumental earthworks of Fifth-Third-Century B.C. refuge fortifications, covering twenty-five hectares. At Mahmudia, there are remains from the Roman period. Murighiol: Iron Age and Roman remains. Dunavăţul de Jos: Roman-Byzantine, feudal vestiges.Museums, architectural monuments A series of architectural monuments have been restored or are currently undergoing restoration, at Tulcea, Sulina, and Babadag. In the town of Tulcea, there is a programme for the protection, conservation and restoration of historical monuments.At Sulina, in the summer of 1998, the Old Lighthouse, a historic monument built in 1870, entered the tourist circuit. In the town park there is a bust of the great conductor George Georgescu. In the atrium of the Town Hall, there are busts of the town's two most famous sons: George Georgescu and George Pantazi-Boulanger. Other sights: the building of the former European Danube Commission; the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican cemeteries, situated between the town and the beach, a history book open to visitors; the town's churches, the most imposing of which is the Orthodox Church on the cliff, dedicated to Ss Nicholas and Alexander; the house in which Romanian writer Jean Bart (Eugeniu P. Botez) lived, the author of the novel Europolis, which is set in Sulina. At Chilia, there is a church with architecture similar to the church at the source of the Danube: it has stone foundations, walls of burnt brick, and a tin roof. There are two forty-five-metre towers in front of the church. It is a landmark for all those who come to the Delta, as well as the small fishing port, with its strong Slavic influences – it is on the arm of the Danube that is the frontier between Romania and the Ukraine.THE CURRENT STATE OF TOURISMTourism in the Danube Delta enjoys worldwide renown, thanks to the unique character of the region, which combine natural, scientific attractions (bird colonies, luxuriant forests, sandbanks) with recreational facilities (fishing, beaches) and ethnic-cultural attractions (deriving from the composite ethnic makeup of the region, reflected in folk architecture, traditions, and customs).TOURIST ACTIVITIESMain forms of tourism in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve· Relaxation and recreation – through tour operating companies, in hotels within the reserve, or at floating hotels, combining picturesque channel and lake excursions, with sunbathing on the beaches along the Black Sea coast· Knowledge tourism (itinerant), whether individually or in organised tours; suitable for small groups of visitors, who will have the opportunity to explore the variety of the wild landscape, combining rowing-boat trips along picturesque rivulets with trips along the channels or to the fluvial and marine sandbanks· Specialised tourism – scientific (for ornithologists, researchers, students)· Special youth programmes – for understanding and appreciating nature· Rural tourism – accommodation with local guides; many families of locals in the Danube Delta play host to and accompany visitors to the area. This type of tourism represents an important potential for improving the income of the local population· Nautical sports and photo-safaris· Sport fishing – much appreciated by visitors from all age groups in all seasons and for any species of fish; also sport hunting In accordance with the criteria to evaluate the tourist potential of the Delta region – accessibility, tourist resources, accommodation facilities, unpolluted natural conditions, and opportunities for future investment – nine tourist zones have been identified within the reserve. Two of the main reasons for this separation into zones were to reduce the negative impact of tourism and to achieve a greater control over the activities conducted by tour operators.The total number of tourist trails in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is at present nineteen aquatic trails and seven terrestrial trails. The tour operators present in the DDBR are obligated to use