Action for river protection: WWF celebrates Amazon of Europe Day across five countries
Thousands of people all over Europe simultaneously jumped into their rivers to set the stage for water protection and send their message about the high ecological value of wetlands and living rivers in contrary to lifeless channels that serve only for navigation and electricity production.
The Mura river, bordering Slovenia and Austria, is the western portal of entry into the mutual five-country river area that also spans Croatia, Hungary and Serbia and is likely to become Europe’s largest cross-border protected area under the UNESCO flag. “I am convinced that the shared ecological treasures of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers have the tremendous potential to bring our five countries closer. Their long-term protection requires, nevertheless, broad local support and involvement of the people in all five countries,” says Arno Mohl, project leader from WWF Austria.
Stojan Habjanic of the International Mura Committee has been working on the protection of the Mura river for many years. He adds: “We strongly oppose new hydro dams and will do everything we can to preserve the free-flowing Mura, home to over 50 endangered fish species.”
At the Natura 2000 site where Mura straddles along the two countries as a natural border, both people from Halbenrain, Austria and Apace, Slovenia jumped together for the Amazon of Europe yesterday afternoon. Guided tours through the riparian forests and the WWF “River Mystery Tent” provided information on the animal inhabitants of the rivers and floodplains for the young ones were also organized.
In Hungary, the winners of an online competition about Transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (TBR MDD) values were invited to join a canoe tour to celebrate the Amazon of Europe. “We invited more than 40,000 people to the competition and received many correct answers. We are happy to offer to winners a relaxing but exciting experience in the nature. A canoe tour is the best way to get to know the ecological values of the nature protected areas along our rivers” says Tamas Gruber, head of freshwater program at WWF Hungary.
The canoe tour took place at Gemenc, a side-arm of Danube, which was restored by Danube-Drava National Park a couple of years ago, and is now enjoying an improved water supply from the Danube.
In Sombor, Serbia, river enthusiasts jumped into the waters of the Danube at the Veliki Bački canal. Especially in Serbia, the flood disasters along the Sava river in May 2014 sadly demonstrated that rivers coulf develop destructive power if deprived of their natural floodplain areas (which protect villages and infrastructure from harmful floods). The participants of the Amazon of Europe Day in accordance with the local NGOs and representatives of city authorities held a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the floods.
Duska Dimovic, head of WWF office in Begrade, stated: “We are deeply saddened by the dramatic losses of life and homes caused by tremendous floods this spring. It is important to prevent such effects in the future by finding natural solutions for flood mitigation. Restoring the natural capacity of the floodplains in the TBR MDD to retain flood waters would help to protect people from flood impacts and will also provide important benefits to nature, people, and local economies.”
In Križnica, Croatia, where the Drava river winds around the small town Pitomača, few hundred participants took part in the BIG JUMP and visited the Living Danube Tour, travelling exhibition, organized regionally by WWF. Living rivers were promoted through various games for children and adults. The municipality recognized the value of the Amazon Amazon of Europe day with a special cultural programme on the bank of the river Drava.
With its EU accession almost a year ago, Croatia added its most valuable rivers into the common European natural heritage Natura 2000 network, including the Danube, Drava, Mura, Sava, Zrmanja, Neretva and Ombla rivers. Irma Popovic of WWF in Zagreb said: “The first Amazon of Europe Day was held in Legrad, the second one in Križnica, now we are inviting all other municipalities, local initiatives and NGOs to join WWF in celebrating this remarkable natural and cultural area by organizing the Amazon of Europe Day on their parts of TBR MDD”.
The Amazon of Europe Day is celebrated as an annual powerful reminder of Martin Schneider-Jacoby, who pioneered the international protection of the river system of ‘Europe’s Amazon’ and dedicated his life to save rivers and wetlands across the Balkan region until he passed away far too early in 2012.
We thank the MAVA Foundation, the Asamer Holding and the Coca-Cola Company for their support of the WWF project for the trans-boundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube.