Danube River Delta

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Aquatic vegetation on the Danube, Danube Delta, Romania.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

About the Area

The Danube delta was formed just 6,500 years ago when a cove in the Black Sea started filling up with soil carried by rivers. It is the 2nd largest wetland in Europe and the largest reedbed in the world. It provides a unique habitat of canals, reed beds, lakes, and ponds. The delta is still growing as it extends farther into the Black Sea at a rate of 24m per year.

During its 2,800km (1,780 mile) course, the Danube River runs through cities, valleys, and deep, wide gorges. Just before the Danube pours into the Black Sea, it splits into three branches, the Chilia, Sulina, and Sfântu Gheorghe.

The Danube delta provides a critical refuge for several globally threatened species. It is home to about 330 bird species, including 70% of the world’s white pelican population and 60% of the world’s pygmy cormorants. The delta is home to a remarkable population of glossy ibis, spoonbill, different species of egrets and herons. Most of the European freshwater fish species (around 70 species) exist in the delta.
Size:
230,000 sq. km (89,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large River Deltas

Geographic Location:
Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species

Found here are 88 freshwater mollusks (18 endemics), 75 dragonfly species, 18 amphibian species, and 73 native freshwater and 9 brackish-water fish species.

The delta is an important site for breeding populations of a number of rare or imperiled waterbirds, including the Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), water rail (Rallus aquaticus), pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), and collared pratincole (Glareola pranticola).

Historically, 10 diadromous fish species occurred in the lower Danube River. These include 5 sturgeon species (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, A. nudiventris, A. stellatus, A. sturio, and Huso huso), European eel (Anguilla anguilla), 3 shad (Alosa caspia, A. immaculata, and A. maeotica), and Tyulka sprat (Clupeonella cultiventris).

Today, A. nudiventris and A. sturio are extinct in this ecoregion. Fish species endemic to the lower Danube basin are - loach, Cobitis megaspila, and the critically endangered Romanichthys valsanicola.

Threats

The loss of 2 migratory fish species and the imperilment of several more, testify to the modified nature of this ecoregion's aquatic systems.

Pollution, damming, industrialisation, agriculture, livestock, and urban settlements disrupt the fragile ecology of the delta. Over-exploitation of birds, frogs, and introduction of exotic species constitute other significant threats. Recent human conflicts in the Danube basin have also had negative impacts on this ecoregion.

WWF’s work

WWF’s Danube–Carpathian Programme focuses primarily on freshwater and forest resource conservation in the Danube River Basin and Carpathian Mountains.

WWF is also working with the local organizations and governments of Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova to help realize an integrated ecological network of healthy, restored and protected wetlands covering some 600,000ha along the lower Danube, as well as the promotion of sustainable socio-economic development in the area.

In 2005, WWF's Danube-Carpathian Programme created a ‘black list’ of navigation projects along the Danube proposed by the Trans- European Networks for Transport (TENT). WWF is lobbying for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and coordination between the European Commission’s Directorate of Environment and Directorate of Transport & Energy on navigation projects.

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