IN FOCUS: Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland in the heart of Europe
A conservation atlas for transboundary conservation areas
Restoration of the Rio Bravo-Grande
Type of TBPA: Two or more contiguous protected areas across a national boundary.
The Danube Delta, one of Europe's last and largest natural wetlands, covers 564,000 hectares (ha), 122,000 within Ukraine and 442,000 in Romania. The Romanian part of the Danube Delta was declared a biosphere reserve in 1990. A small reserve had been established on the Ukrainian side in 1981, followed in 1998 by establishment of the Ukrainian Danube Biosphere Reserve with the assistance of the GEF project.
Over the last century, the wetlands have been degraded by the construction of dikes and large scale hydrological works but maintain significant social, economic, and biodiversity values. The original GEF project planned assistance only to the Romanian part of the delta because Ukraine was not yet a member of the World Bank. During the project's identification, the scope of the project was amended to provide parallel support to the Danube Plavny Reserve Authority (DPA) in Ukraine, to raise the level of national and international interest in the protection and management of the Ukrainian part of the delta.
Project objectives and investments emphasized improvements in management of the protected areas at the local level and in the capacity building needed to implement the project and sustain project results after the project period.
The projects have improved the protection and use of the Danube Delta ecosystem and elevated the participation of local communities in achieving this. The projects led to improved cooperation between Romania and Ukraine, and their collaboration with other European organizations engaged in coastal management and nature conservation.
Importance to biodiversity:
The reed beds, riparian forests, dunes and the open waters of the maze of tributaries of the Danube River provide critical wintering and feeding habitat for many threatened species. Danube Delta wetlands provide critical wintering and feeding habitat for over a million waterbirds migrating through the northwest shelf of the Black Sea along various Eurasian-African flyways. The delta's aquatic and marine habitats support 75 species of resident and migratory fish, a third of which have traditionally been commercially harvested. The delta ecosystem also plays a role in environmental management of a major international water by acting as a biological filtering system for water flowing from the Danube river system into the Black Sea.
Importance to regional economic growth and integration:
The delta ecosystem has been a source of subsistence and income to human populations for over 500 years. Over the last 50 years, fish harvests have significantly declined. The causes of these declines are thought to be habitat loss and degradation as a result of large scale hydrological works (dams, dikes, etc.), changes in Black Sea ecology as a result of its eutrophication, and overfishing. The prevailing economic environment as well as the impacts of the transition led to unsustainable use of Delta fish resources and deteriorating relations between Delta communities and the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority (DDBRA). Restructuring and closure of industries that provided most employment in the towns near the Delta (Tulcea, Braila and Galati) led to large scale unemployment, increasing economic dependency on the illegal use of Danube Delta resources, and the emergence of a vibrant black market for fish. At the same time, State fishing enterprises employing fishermen maintained low acquisition prices for fish in order to be able to cover inefficiencies. During the first years of project implementation, legal marketing channels, via State owned fishing enterprises, paid a price that was only a small fraction of the price available on the illegal free market. Consequently, in order to survive, Danube Delta fishing communities turned to the black market. This development undermined the relationship between Delta communities and DDBRA field staff who were obliged to try to enforce an inappropriate and unwelcome law, and resulted in uncontrolled and excessive use of Delta fish resources.
Importance in promoting a culture of peace and cooperation:
Benefits of improved relations between Romania and Ukraine include an agreement on the collaborative monitoring and management of migratory birds and fisheries in the trans-boundary protected area, and development of a vegetation map of the entire Delta. This bilateral initiative has served as a model for wider cooperation throughout Europe, and has been expanded under the recently declared lower Danube green corridor, whereby the Ministries of Environment of Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine have agreed to conserve and manage wetland and flood plain habitats of the region.
Support for the project is strong among government agencies, local communities, and NGOs that have been closely involved in the process, although the desire for a peace park came first from local communities, among them a number of indigenous communities. International interest and support for conservation initiatives in the Danube Delta have come mainly from GEF (US$4.5 M to Romania and $1.5 M for Ukraine); Dutch RIZA (i.e., the General Directorate of Public Works and Water Management), which provided technical assistance in water resources management and wetland management, and WWF-International, which provided assistance in public education and NGO capacity building.
The two reserves are managed at the national level, but the project facilitated the creation of a transboundary biosphere reserve. In February 1999, the Council for the Man and the Biosphere Program (UNESCO) awarded diplomas designating the Ukrainian Danube Biosphere Reserve and the Romanian/Ukrainian Bilateral Biosphere Reserve. In 2007, the project ‘Danube Delta - Landscape of the Year 2007-2009’ was launched. Through the project, the International Friends of Nature (IFN) and its executing partner, the Friends of Nature of Romania (Prietenii Naturii Romania, PNRO), aim to trigger development that conserves the unique habitat of the Danube Delta and creates new sources of income.
Initial public resistance to the project could have been minimized had a public communications strategy been professionally designed early on in the project cycle, to build the necessary support among key stakeholders. Well-planned public education and awareness activities are needed early in a project to get the public involved in a meaningful way; one way to catalyse these activities is to initiate activities with local communities and local NGOs through a small grants program.
The Danube Delta Biodiversity Project has demonstrated the feasibility of public participation in government efforts to protect and restore endangered ecosystems. The most notable areas of progress are the data collection and species monitoring activities, which have built an important foundation for sustainable natural resource management.
This case study was written by the World Bank and updated by Tanya Rosen, WCS.