The Danube Delta - Landscape of
The Danube delta, situated in the borderland of Romania and Ukraine, is one of Europe‘s last nature paradises. Now it is to become a pilot region for sustainable regional development which will be of benefit to all: the region, its inhabitants, its visitors – and especially its biodiversity.
The Danube Delta is one of the most remarkable resting and breeding places on earth. Sustainable eco-tourism, like bird watching, can bring small groups close to nature and create local income – but needs monitoring and guidance.
The Danube delta is rich in superlatives. With an area covering more than 5,500 square kilometres, it is the largest wetlands in Europe and provides a habitat for over 5,000 animal and plant species. Its wealth of fish is legendary and the largest reed surface worldwide provides resting and breeding places for numerous kinds of birds – such as pelicans, spoonbills, red neck geese and many others.
However the delta stands not only for ecological diversity, but also for cultural diversity. Due to its location on river and sea, it has always been a place of settlement, passage and refuge for the most divergent peoples. Today Romanians, Lipovans (Russians), Haholens (Ukrainians), Turks, Greeks and Aromunens live here, to mention but a few, many even retaining their old customs
It is therefore not surprising that the delta was declared a biosphere reservation as well as a UNESCO world nature and cultural heritage site: Here, humans and nature have forged close bonds, formed by living at the waterside in an extreme climate.
Highlighting treasures and identifying needs. Of course life has changed in the delta, too. Fishing and agriculture alone is often not enough to support a family anymore, and most young people have to look elsewhere for career opportunities. Increasing environmental pollution and intervention in the landscape –road construction, uncontrolled tourism or the danger of a planned oil harbour nearby – are threatening the ecological balance. “Human activities within the Delta, but even more often effects coming from outside, endanger the ecological balance” says Sulfina Barbu, Romanian Minister of Environment and Waters Management. “It needs urgent measures for the protection, the renaturisation and the local and regional cooperation for sustainable development”.
That is where the project ‘Danube Delta - Landscape of the Year 2007-2009’ plans to make a difference. Through the project, the International Friends of Nature (IFN) and its executing partner, the Friends of Nature of Romania (Prietenii Naturii Romania, PNRO), aim to trigger development that conserves this unique habitat and creates new sources of income.
Since the 1990s, the IFN – the umbrella organisation of the Friends of Nature movement with more than 500,000 members worldwide – has supported sustainable development in peripheral, cross border regions of Europe by granting the Landscape of the Year distinction. Landscape of the Year is more than an award; it is the starting point for sustainable regional development that brings together authorities, regional stakeholders and the local population.
Building tourism models that last. Tourism today
faces huge interest from foreign and non-regional investment, with the danger of overuse and destruction
for quick profit. The tourism in the Danube Delta lacks a concrete sustainability strategy and the means to implement the relevant tourism parts of the Biosphere
Reserve Master Plan. Through the Landscape of the Year project, a tourism monitoring scheme – developed with the universities for applied life science in Vienna and discussed with the network of protected areas along the Danube – should bring knowledge about tourism flows and enable authorities to establish a guiding system.
“In the Danube Delta – which is really an El Dorado of birdwatchers and nature lovers – eco-tourism could offer a big potential for saving the biodiversity”, says Tiberius Tioc, president of PNRO and tour operator in the delta. “This miracle world of the delta with its bird colonies can only be explored by canoe, rowing or small motorboat, on narrow canals through reed and pasture woods. Without guides, strangers are lost in this labyrinth. Our problem is that local expert guides speaking foreign languages are hard to find”, says Tioc. One of the first concrete measures of the Landscape of the Year project will be to establish training courses for local nature guides and hosts on the basis of certified quality standards.
Sustainability through cooperation. The Landscape of the Year also aims at the development – along with the local population, authorities and regional interest groups – of overall concepts for sustainable development. Measures are based on cooperation and synergy effects like the set-up of a regional marketing structure, coordinated visitor information, the development of new offers (like a cycle track along the Black Sea) or the revival of old handicraft techniques and traditional architecture (as the once typical reed roof) in combination with innovative technologies (like solar energy).
This involves cooperation with Ukraine, because while the delta represents an ecological and cultural unity, cross-border thinking and acting is one of the main ideas of every Landscape of the Year project. “For the protection of such fragile ecosystems”, says Herbert Brückner, president of IFN, “it needs the close cooperation across any border, be it political, ideological or cultural”. For this, the European Union neighbourhood programme opens up common options that will be taken advantage of.
The Landscape of the Year is a complex project which will lead to long-term effects, made possible through IFN’s close cooperation with regional, national and international partners (see box). With this broad backing, the Landscape of the Year 2007-2009 has good chances to become a pioneer for sustainable tourism strategies in Romania.
Partners in the Landscape of the Year 2007-2009 Danube Delta are the Biosphere Reserve Authority (ARBDD) and the Danube Delta Institute (INCDDD) in Tulcea, the City of Tulcea, the County Council, the Romanian Ministries of Environment and Tourism and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). Other co-operation partners so far are the Romanian Eco-tourism Association (AER), Greenways Romania and the Danube Carpathians Programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), as well as GTZ Romania and USAID.
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