Riverwatchers to protect the “Amazon of Europe” | WWF

Riverwatchers to protect the “Amazon of Europe”

Posted on
01 February 2012
Zagreb, Croatia - A long blue band waved by six men wearing uniforms on Zagreb’s central square today marked the start of WWF’s Riverwatch campaign aimed at halting destruction of Croatia’s unique natural rivers: the Danube, Drava and Mura - Europe’s Amazon. All three rivers are under threat from channelling works as well as from gravel and sand extraction. This poses a severe threat to unique wetlands and to Europe’s largest and best preserved floodplain forests.

The Riverwatchers are volunteers who – on canoe and on foot – will patrol a total of 470 km of the rivers for at least the next two years. Riverwatchers will keep an eye not only on the Croatian stretches of the rivers, but also on Hungarian and Serbian shores as these rivers are natural borders between the three countries.

“If we find something inappropriate we will inform the Croatian government as well as the European Commission who like to know if there are activities going on which are not in line with EU law”, said Tibor Mikuska from partner organization Croatian Society for the Protection of Birds and Nature, coordinator of the Riverwatch campaign.

“For the first time in Croatia and in Eastern Europe, a network of people who care about their rivers is taking action”, said Arno Mohl, WWF International Freshwater Expert. “To protect successfully our rivers from destruction, it is key to monitor the situation on the ground regularly and to take action when necessary”, Mohl said.

Devastating actions taken by the water authorities in Croatia as well as in Hungary and Serbia severely harm the three natural rivers and their inhabitants. The area is home to the highest density in Europe of breeding pairs of White-tailed eagle and endangered species such as the Little tern, Black stork and Ship sturgeon. It is also an important stepping stone for more than 250,000 migratory waterfowls every year. The survival of these vulnerable species depends on preserving intact the “Amazon of Europe”.

In December 2011 Croatia signed the EU Accession treaty to become an EU member in 2013. This obliges Croatia to comply with EU law and to protect its unique natural rivers. In September 2011, the Danube, Drava and Mura riverine area was nominated to become part of a 5-country Transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve together with Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia.

The Riverwatch campaign is being implemented in partnership with a wide range of local NGOs.
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