Balkan countries take measures to protect biodiversity
“The biodiversity in the Danube-Carpathian region is second to none in Europe. Because of our geographical location and the lack of human intervention, the region has many unique, almost intact ecosystems”, says Florentina Florescu, WWF Regional Coordinator for Natura 2000. “The vast reed beds of the Danube Delta, the extensive old-growth forests covering the Carpathian Mountains and the high density of large carnivores such as bears, wolves and lynx are some of the most significant aspects, showing the region’s biological richness”.
“Romania for example still has one of the largest areas of undisturbed forests in Europe. As much as 47% of Romania’s surface has natural and semi-natural ecosystems. Almost half of Romania’s forests (covering about 13 percent of the country) have been managed taking into consideration watershed conservation rather than production”, Florescu said.
Pressures on biodiversity
However loss and fragmentation of habitats is occurring fast in the region and is currently one of the main pressures leading to biodiversity loss. Infrastructure development and construction are often to blame.
“In recent years we witnessed a boom in construction of big hotels and second homes in Bulgaria, especially along the Black Sea coast and near the big mountain resorts. Unfortunately, many of these developments affected national protected areas or Natura 2000 sites”, says Katerina Rakovska, Protected Areas Officer at WWF’s Danube-Carpathian Programme in Bulgaria. “An example of this is the construction of illegal ski runs in Rila National Park and the approved plan for urbanization of up to 80 percent of the Bulgarian coast next to Strandzha Nature Park.” Both Rila and Strandzha are sites of the Natura 2000 network.
Human activities are also the principal pressures leading to biodiversity loss in Serbia, agrees Duska Dimovic, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme representative in the country. In particular, agriculture, industrial development, urbanization, transport infrastructure, forestry, hunting, fishery and unsustainable tourism have profoundly affected the biological diversity in Serbia.
“Serbia is not part of the EU and we do not have the Natura 2000 network of protected areas here, but so far our big achievement in conserving biodiversity is defining our own system of protected areas, developing of the necessary infrastructure for biodiversity conservation and strengthening control of collection of wild plant and animals for commercial purposes”, Dimovic said.
Serbia has established 178 protected areas. The country also has 2 Biosphere Reserves and 4 Ramsar sites, protecting important wetlands.
According to the report Global Biodiversity Outlook, there is a high risk of dramatic biodiversity loss and accompanying degradation of a broad range of ecosystem services if ecosystems are pushed beyond certain thresholds or tipping points.
In this respect the European Union policies are driving forward adoption and implementation of a number of progressive EU laws and policies, such as the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats and Birds Directive, the basis for the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. These powerful tools for nature conservation are observed even in Ukraine, where the country has been aligning its national laws and policies to these important pieces of EU legislation. But this hasn’t come soon enough to alleviate one of the main pressures on biodiversity in the country, the overexploitation of fish populations.
“Sturgeon fishery has collapsed”, said Misha Nesterenko, Project Manager of WWF’s Danube Delta Project in Ukraine. “Some other commercial fishes are being well over-exploited and would soon make commercial fishery not profitable”, he said.
According to the report Global Biodiversity Outlook, rivers and their floodplains, lakes and wetlands have undergone more dramatic changes than any other type of ecosystem, due to a combination of human activities including drainage for agriculture, abstraction of water for irrigation, industrial and household use, the input of nutrients and other pollutants, introduction of alien species and the damming of rivers. Shallow-water wetlands such as marshes, swamps and shallow lakes have declined significantly in many parts of the world. They also have a significant influence on biodiversity in terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.
Not surprisingly, the health of freshwater ecosystems is an important biodiversity indicator. Although oil slicks in the Danube have mostly gone, in the last ten years many analyses, including the ICPDR’s Danube Basin Analysis (published in 2005) and the second Joint Danube Survey carried out in 2007, have identified pollution of the watercourses and groundwater due to agriculture, industry and household discharges as a significant water management issue that endangers environment and people alike.
The excessive nutrients and pollution are not only affecting the Danube but also the Black Sea into which the Danube spills. The past 50 years have left a clear mark, with an excessive input of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus stimulating the growth of algae and leading to decreased water transparency and oxygen depletion with resulting dead zones at the sea bottom.
Today WWF is promoting an EU wide ban on phosphates in all detergents, including for laundry, for dishwashers and for cleaning, for household as well as for commercial use.
The growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value, led to the adoption in 1992 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, developed at the request of the United Nations. The biodiversity targets set by the CBD inspired international action at many levels. Today some 170 countries have national biodiversity strategies or action plans, including the countries in the Danube-Carpathian region with the exception of Serbia, which expects to adopt its National Biodiversity Strategy in 2010.
The two classic ways of protecting biodiversity are the creation of protected areas and the protection of species themselves.
“The coverage of Natura 2000 in Bulgaria is especially high, compared to other EU countries. We rank second after Slovenia on the Habitats Directive coverage, and forth after Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain on the Birds Directive coverage. A total of 34 percent of the territory of Bulgaria is covered by Natura 2000”, said Katerina Rakovska. “At the same time a number of plant and animal species are protected by the Biodiversity Act”.
The use of market incentives and avoidance of harmful subsidies to minimize unsustainable use of resources is another way to tackle the looming biodiversity crisis.
“Initiatives for biodiversity protection include the development and implementation of market mechanisms which stimulate responsible consumption of natural resources”, said Katerina Rakovska. “A good example of this is the FCS certification system in both Bulgaria and Romania, which seeks to promote forest products from forests which have been managed in a sustainable way. Other systems, such as the PAN Parks certification system, promote responsible tourism in well managed protected areas”, Rakovska added.
A recent Eurobarometer survey carried out at the request of the European Commission shows that many Europeans do not understand what is meant by biodiversity and do not feel well informed about biodiversity loss. The "Attitudes towards biodiversity" survey reveals that only 38% of Europeans know the meaning of the term, although another 28% have heard of it but do not know its meaning.
A majority feel that biodiversity loss is a serious issue, although they do not think they will be personally affected by the decline of species, with only 17% of respondents agreeing that they are already touched by it.
“It’s important to realize that people already suffer from biodiversity loss in many ways. Only this month the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko suffered serious floods. The Glazne River flooded and damaged newly built hotels and streets. Apart from the ample rainfall, a serious reason for the flood may well have been the recent removal of century old spruce and pine forests from the Pirin National Park to make way for ski runs and facilities”, said Katerina Rakovska.
As the world prepares to celebrate the diversity of life on earth, WWF and other NGOs are calling on governments to make fundamental changes to economic planning to avoid the collapse of the world’s life support system.
“We cannot expect environmental ministries to take this on alone. Conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity must move from the political fringes and into the centre stage if we’re to prevent a catastrophic loss of biodiversity", said Rolf Hogan, WWF International's Biodiversity Manager.
Later in the year, during the Conference of the Parties, the governing body of the Convention on Biological Diversity, strategic issues for evaluating the progress and supporting of the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity will be considered in Nagoya, Japan.