The Danube Delta - a Biosphere Reserve

The concept of "biosphere reserve “ was promoted in 1971 by the Man and Biosphere (MaB) Programme of Unesco and it seeks the conservation and protection of certain characteristic natural zones, representative ecosystems with potential for conservation and extension of some threatened species of plants and animals.
Unlike other protected areas (strictly natural reserve, national park, natural monument, reserve for nature conservation- more likely a wild life sanctuary, terrestrial or protected coastal landscape, reserve of resources, anthropological reserve, areas for the management of the resource, worldwide inheritance areas), the biosphere reserve is not meant to be exclusively protected, but has more goals, namely:

  • conservation of ecosystems and sustainable use of the renewable natural resources;
  • conservation of traditional activities harmless to the environment;
  • research and survey of the components of the core protected ecosystems;
  • awareness and training of the local inhabitants referring the scientific value and the necessity to preserve the species of plants and animals, as well as the landscape
  • integration in the international network of protected areas and exchange information referring the status and scientific value of those areas .
  • integration of the economic activities within the DDBR territory to maintain the ecological equilibrium
  • to harmonize the local inhabitants interest with the most important goal of the biosphere reserve- the conservation.

The biosphere reserve concept considers three interdependent relationships: conservation, development and logistic. The conservation is the main objective, being implemented through the total protected area; it has to be well defined, for the cognition of biological diversity, the scientific values of those components.

From the logistic aspects, the most important are the scientific research and the monitoring activity of the protected components. The biosphere reserve area requests specific research, namely: biodiversity assessment, ecosystems working, inhabitants ethnic and cultural values-including the guarantee of inhabitants life standard likely outside the biosphere reserve, sustainable use of the natural resources, economic activity technologies according the conservation objective.
The development aspect depends on the socio-economic context of the transition area. The best ways must be found in any situation (inhabiting rate, indispensable economic interest), to offer an incentive to local inhabitants in order to practice activities, which are leading, in time, to the rehabilitation of the ecological balance.

The Danube Delta, hosting an amazing range of habitats and life forms, in a relatively small area, is a real museum of biodiversity, a natural genetic bank with incalculable value for the worldwide natural patrimony. Many plant and animal species found in the delta are also important natural resources that have attracted people to inhabit the area since ancient times. The human settlements were mainly based on the resources - so, traditional economic activities and characteristic cultural and social relations have been developed.

Latter, the tendency to overexploit some of those natural resources has occurred. The trend still exist, putting increased pressure especially on fish and grasslands, as well as the development of economic activities unsuitable for the deltaic system. Those facts caused the disturbance of the natural balance of the area, loosing some important feeding and reproduction grounds for fish and bird species, as well as other groups, due to silltation, eutrophication and marine erosion phenomena.

The cumulative effects of the activity within and outside the delta will continue to jeopardize the equilibrium of the natural ecosystems, if measures will not be taken in order to reduce the negative effects, to rehabilitate some of the affected zones, to preserve the unaffected areas and to harness local and regional support for those measures.

The factors briefly described above provided arguments to designate the Danube Delta a Biosphere Reserve, in 1990, by the Government of Romania, and by the Romanian Parliament, through Law 82/1993. The “Man and Biosphere” Programme of UNESCO recognized the universal value of the area in 1990, for reasons listed bellow:

  1. it preserves examples of characteristic, unspoiled ecosystems, having core strictly protected areas, areas for traditional use of the fish, vegetal, hunt game, landscape resources, as well as buffer zones to mitigate the impact of human activities;
  2. it is a coastal/marine area, human population living within and its management ranging form total protection to intensive sustainable use;
  3. it is a regional center for monitoring, research, education and training on natural ecosystems and administration;
  4. place where the Government policy makers, scientists and local inhabitants are co-operating in order to develop a management plan for conservation of natural resources and local inhabitants well being;
  5. it is a symbol of voluntary co-operation for conservation and use of resources for the wellbeing of people everywhere.

The geographic position and the complex conditions found in the reserve have imposed the elaboration of a specific management plan for the area. The plan contains the main objectives for an ecological management and it was issued by the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve.

The scientific background of the management objectives of the DDBR is the main field of activity of the Danube Delta National Institute for Research and Development, Tulcea. Within that framework, the research programme includes an important number of projects, which are following:

  • Biodiversity (Flora and Fauna) and habitats monitoring;
  • The rehabilitation of deltaic ecosystems and endangered species;
  • To establish conditions for sustainable use of natural resources (fish, reed, pastures, forests, medicinal herbs, hunt game and tourism);
  • To reduce the human impact and measures for ecological restoration of the affected areas;
  • To harmonize the human economic and social interests with the conservation and protection of biodiversity;
  • To accomplish the informational system.

The value and abundance of the species diversity, as part of the natural patrimony of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, have resulted form the latest inventories, after 1991, undertaken by a meaningful number of researchers all over the country, under the co-ordination of the Danube Delta National Institute, Tulcea. Approximately 6 000 species have been recorded then, quite many being recorded for the first time in the area, in Romania or new for science, as well as a lot of high value species, because of their rarity rate, the uniqueness (endemic), and of the high extinction level for a quite considerable number of species. A relatively great number of wild species were not located during the last surveys. Certain hope to be re-located in the future still exist for some. Part of the wild species use to be or still are renewable resources to be exploited, but others, without an obvious economic value, are a part of the food chain, vital for the perpetuation of the first category. The scientific and aesthetic value of more species, as well, has to be considered, within the universal biological patrimony.

In the framework already presented, the elaboration of the first Red List, for this specific area, was extremely necessary; besides the facts strictly related to the extinction, it had to highlight other aspects about the diversity and the value of the DDBR flora and fauna. We thought we succeeded, because the data we have used are up-to-date. We have also consulted an impressive number of paper works, various authors, published before the 1991, the year our inventory started, but, because of the lack of space, we could not afford to mention all of them in the bibliography.

We consider that the Red List can provide a support to the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority in the decision making process, for protection and conservation of threatened species. As a top priority we can mention the critical endangered species, unique or very rare within the habitat, threatened with an immediate extinction not in Romania only, but worldwide, as well.

A short presentation of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve:

The Danube River and its catchment area

  • On the second position, in Europe :
    • 2 840 km length, 817 000 km2 catchment
    • Danube River catchment basin represents 8% form the total surface of Europe.
  • Starts to spring form the Black Forest Mountains and flows into the Black Sea. Rises from 3 joined springs: Breg, Brigach and Donnau Quelle, and flows into the sea through 3 branches: Chilia, Sulina, Sfantu Gheorghe, which are building the delta
  • It crosses 10 countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Republic of Moldavia, Ukraine, and 4 capitals: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade.
  • The water inflow is 6 350 m3/s
  • The average water discharge distribution on the three main branches is: Chilia 62%, Sulina 17%, Sf. Gheorghe 21%.
  •  The Danube Delta is situated both on the territories of Romania and Ukraine.

The total area covered by the delta is 4 178 Km2 , form which:
82% - 3 466 Km2 in Romania
18%- 732 Km2 in Ukraine

The Danube Delta, a biosphere reserve

  •  Total area: 5 800 Km2
    • 2.5 from the total territory of Romania
    • on the 22-nd position in the world and the third in Europe
    • the greatest reedbed expanses worldwide
    • one of the worldwide largest wet zones, a water birds habitat.
  • The single delta in the world declared a biosphere reserve
  • A real natural museum of biodiversity, which includes 32 types of ecosystems
  • A natural genetic bank with an incalculable value for the world wide natural patrimony
  • The geographical location:
    28 015' 50" eastern longitude (Pisicii Elbow)
    28 042' 45" western longitude (Sulina town)
    45 027' northern latitude (Chilia Branch, km 43)
    44 020' 40" southern latitude (Midia Cape)
    45 parallel crosses DDBR, which marks the half of the distance from Equator and the Northern Poll, having a great influence on the migratory birds fly ways, as well.
  • Geographic units:
    • Undivided Danube River, form Galati city to Sulina town
    • The floodplain in the Isaccea - Tulcea area
    • The Danube Delta
    • The lagoon complex Razim- Sinoie
    • The Black Sea coastline, form the Chilia Branch mouth to the Midia Cape, till the depth of 20m
  • Geo-morphological units:
    • River delta: form the first splitting point of the Danube River (Ceatal Chilia) till the marine sand bars line Letea-Caraorman-Crasnicol
    • River-marine delta: between the marine sand bars Letea-Caraorman-Crasnicol and the Black Sea coast
    • The Lake complex Razim- Sinoie
  • Zones divided per categories:
    • Totally protected core areas:
      • 18 areas
      • surface: 50 600hectares (8.7% form the total DDBR)
      • include:
        • physical and biological units, or groups of units, with an exceptional scientific or aesthetic value
        • habitats of plants and animals species, with a universal scientific or conservation value
        • natural sites, with an exceptional scientific, history, conservation or beauty value
      • activities which are allowed:
        • research activity
        • guarding and control
    • Buffer zones:
      • 13 areas
      • surface: 223 300 hectares (38.5% form the total DDBR)
      • include:
        • areas with biological characteristic, likely the previous ones, mitigate the impact of the human activities on the strictly protected areas.
      • activities which are allowed:
        • use of vegetal resources by traditional free of pollution technologies
        • industrial fishing activity, using traditional methods
        • grazing
        • eco-tourism
        • research
        • shooting (filming)
    • Economic areas:
      • surface : 306 100 hectares (52.2 % from the total DDBR)
      • include:
        • area left after excluding the two previous categories, plus public domain and national interest zonesas well as areas where traditional allowed activities are undertaken, in the limits of the support capacity.
      • activities allowed in the area of public domain of national interest:
        • industrial fishing and angling
        • use of forestry resource and the other accessory products
        • use of aquatic vegetation (reed, bulrush, medicinal herbs, other species)
        • use of honey spontaneous flora productivity potential
        • mushrooms harvesting
        • grazing, hay and fodder harvesting
        • hunting game
      • activities allowed in the area of public domain of local and county interest:
        • agriculture
        • fishery
        • cattle growing
        • forestry
        • tourism
        • services
        • any other activities that not jeopardize the conservation of the reserve's natural patrimony
    • Area for ecological restoration:
      • surface: 15 712 hectares
      • include:
        • areas where the human impact or other phenomena lead to the degradation of the natural ecosystems, where the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority carries on activities for ecological restoration
      • activities allowed in the area:
        • buffer or economic zones specific activities, can be carried on, according the core regulations established by the DDBRA

From September 1999, the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve was recognized as a wet zone of international interest, especially as a water birds habitat, being the largest zone among over 600 zones belonging to the Ramsar Convention. The universal natural heritage value of the reserve was recognized in December 1990 through the inclusion of more than half of the area, in the World Heritage List under the World Heritage Convention. This action of the WorldWide Patrimony Committee, is based on the Convention of World Wide Natural and Cultural Patrimony Protection, of the member states of UNESCO, in 1972. The Convention’s goal is to assure the protection against the human activities with destructive effects in the areas with regional and global interest.

Danube Delta National Institute for Research and Development

165 Babadag street, 820112 Tulcea, Romania

Your institution website

0040 240 531520

0040 240 533547

© DeltaNet Project