Turning fishing communities into allies
I wanted to become a doctor but the admission exam for medicine was very difficult. I decided to go for Biology because it was dealing with living organisms and I found this matter easy to understand. In the third year of my studies I had the opportunity to specialize in Ecology. It was like embracing my old dream again – to heal peoples – but at a superior level, because a healthy environment contributes significantly to all aspects of human health: biological, social and economical.
Before the Danube became fascinating for me as a professional, it was fascinating for me as a human. I like quiet spring mornings, when the water is glowing in the fresh sun, and birds are singing looking for their mate. As a professional, I came to like the complexity of subjects that come together here: forests, birds, fish farms, sturgeons. The dynamic of the Danube is surprising. The landscape changes every month, and one year does not resemble another. You will never become bored trying to understand this place, while looking for solutions for species and humans that live together here.
The biggest conservation lesson I learnt through my work for WWF is that you have to be patient with both people and nature, and that good results need long and solid relationships with places.
My first project on the Danube was a project funded by the EU’s Life programme. As part of the project we planted native willows and white poplars on the Danube islands, replacing the hybrid poplars. We also built artificial nests for the White-tailed eagles and Saker falcons, and tried to keep the invasive species Amorpha fruticosa under control until the newly planted trees were high enough to dominate the shrub. It was a continuous fight with droughts and floods, which affected our work every year, demonstrating that any living creature should be strong and very flexible in order to survive in the floodplain areas of the Danube. While working on this project, I came across the threat from navigation infrastructure projects. While doing an evaluation of the impact of navigation on the Danube islands, I found out that navigation was particularly harmful to the survival of the sturgeons.
Which brings me to our new EU-funded Life project. One of the most exciting aspects of this project is discovering the variety of people’s perceptions on these ancient species. The most challenging aspect of the project will be working with fishing communities. There, socio-economic aspects have been ignored and poverty is not a good friend of conservation. We will need good strategies in order to turn these communities into our allies. This is a project I very much look forward to.