Freshwater (Climate Change, Species Shifts)

Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, Romania

Content Cover Image

Scene along the upper Danube Delta. @ C.Michael Hogan

The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (44° 25'-45° 28'N, 29° 42'-28° 45'E) is a World Heritage Site located in Romania along the Ukraine border. The Danube Delta has chiefly been formed over the Holocene when humans utilised the Danube River basin for increasingly intensive agriculture and other sediment producing land use changes; this vast delta is extensively braided and is an ongoing state of enlargement. The delta is mainly a freshwater zone of discharge to the Black Sea, and contains areas of marsh, riparian upland and reedbeds.

Geographical Location

The Danube Delta lies on the coast of the Black Sea in the eastern part of the country in Tulcea County, and encompasses the area between the branch rivers Chilia, Sulina and Sfintu Gheorghe, the former creating the boundary between Romania and the Ukrainian SSR. The site also includes the Razelm-Sinoie complex of lakes Razelm, Sinoie, Zmeica and Golovita to the immediate south of the delta. 44° 25'-45° 28'N, 29° 42'-28° 45'E

Date and History of Establishment

caption The Danube Delta in the northwest area of the Black Sea. (Source: NASA)

In 1938 the Council of Ministers passed Decision No 645 declaring 'Letea Forest' as a nature reserve. In 1961 it passed Decision No 891 declaring Rosca-Buhaiova (14,600 hectares (ha)), St George-Perisor -Zatoane (16,400 ha), Periteasca-Gura Portitei (3,900 ha) and Popina Island (98 ha) as nature reserves. In 1971 the Management of Forestry declared the Caraorman Forest (840 ha) and Erenciuc Forest (41 ha). In 1975 the Council of Ministers passed the Decision No. 524 extending the Danube Delta protected areas to cover 41,500 ha. In 1979, an area of 18,145 ha combining Rosca-Buhaiova Reserve and Letea Forest was internationally designated as Rosca-Letea Biosphere Reserve.

An area of 500,000 ha including all previous designations was declared a biosphere reserve under National Decree No. 983 with supporting Articles 5, and 6 on 27 August 1990. Further legislation is under preparation. This area was further enlarged in early 1991 to cover 547,000 ha and was also declared a national biosphere reserve.

The latest legislation gives patrimony of the biosphere reserve to the Delta Authority. Decree 264/91 passed on 12 April 1991 places all institute, agency and inspectorate staff under the administration of the biosphere reserve. The environment agency for Tulcea Judet is also subordinate. All public domain and aquatic and natural resources generated are the ownership of the biosphere reserve authority. Further legislation will significantly strengthen the administration of the site. Danube Delta was designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1991, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1991 and internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1992.


679,222 ha, including 103,000 ha marine. The entire delta region comprises 799,000 ha of which 679,000 ha are in Romania and 120,000ha in the Ukrainian SSR. The Razelm-Sinoie lagoon complex adds a further 88,000 ha. The exact boundary of the site put forward for nomination has been altered to exclude less natural areas such as the Pardina polder and the fish ponds in the south-west.

Land Tenure

The State owns over 90% with the rest in private hands. The latter was only recently granted.


Sea-level to 15 meters (m).

Physical Features

The origin of the Delta can be traced to the Ice Age 'Wurm 3'. The present geomorphological form has evolved in historical times. The northern part of the Delta is slowly sinking, resulting in measurable water flow increase in the Chilia arm of the Danube. Only 9% of the area is permanently above water. The Delta is extensive in European terms (some 12 times the size of Cota Donana Reserve on the Guadalquivir Delta, Spain) with numerous freshwater lakes interconnected by narrow channels with huge expanses of aquatic vegetation. The Razelm-Sinoie complex to the south consists of several large brackish lagoons separated from the sea by a sandbar. Every year thousands of tons of alluvial deposits are carried into the Delta by the Danube resulting in a constant reshaping of the river banks and sandbars.

The overall basic hydrological and ecological systems of the Delta, although strongly degraded, are considered intact. Rosca-Buhaiova-Hrecisca Nature Reserve (part of Rosca-Letea Biosphere Reserve) is considered almost unaltered by man due to the shallow water level making access almost impossible. Perisor-Zatoane-Sacalin Nature Reserve is a mosaic of lakes and ponds and reedbeds with parallel strips of sand dunes ('grinduri'). Sacalin Island is made up of alluvial deposits with sand dunes and Tamarix.

The Delta has been classified into 12 habitat types as follows: aquatic habitats - lakes (0.80 m - 2.50 m depth) covered with flooded reedbeds; 'plaur' - flooded islets; flooded reeds and willows; riverine forest of willows and poplars; cane-fields; sandy and muddy beaches; wet meadows; dry meadows (arid); human settlements; sandy and rocky areas; steep banks; and forests on high ground.


The prevailing continental climate, with only 450 millimeters (mm) of annual rainfall, is temporarily influenced by proximity to the sea and the humidity rising from countless inland lakes and small waterways.


caption Phragmites australis reeds. (Source: U.S. National Park Service)

This is the largest continuous marshland in Europe which includes the greatest extent of reedbeds in the world. The marsh vegetation is dominated by reeds Phragmites australis which form floating or fixed islands of decaying vegetation ('plaur') with some Typha angustifolia and Scirpus sp. Reeds cover some 1700 square kilometres (km2) and 'plaur' 1000 km2, whilst the total area not included is only 148 km2. There are also water lilies Nymphaea alba and Nuphar luteus and Stratiodes alloides. The higher ground supports stands of Salix, Populus, Alnus and Quercus. Sandy areas are covered with feather grass Stipa sp. and other steppe species. Forest elements are best observed in Letea Forest, occurring in a series of bands along dunes up to 250 m long and ten m wide, where trees reach 35 m in height. The species present are Quercus robur, Q. pedunculiflora, Populus alba, P.nigra, Fraxinus ornus, F. angustifolia, F. palisae, Pyrus pyraster, Tilia tomentosa, Ulmus sp., and the occasional Alnus glutinosa. Among the shrubs are Crataegus monogyna, Euonimus europea, Cornus mas, C. sanguinea, Rhamnus frangula, R. catharctica, Viburnum opulus, Berberis vulgaris, Hippophae rhamnoides, Tamarix spp. and occasional Corylus avellana. The distinctive feature of the forest is the abundance of climbing plants including Periploca graeca, Clematis vitalba, Vitis sylvestris and Humulus lupulus. In spring, the ground is carpeted with Convallaria majalis. Particularly rare and threatened plants include Convolvulus persica, Ephedra distachya, Merendera sobolifera, Plantago coronopus and Petunia parviflora .


Over 300 bird species have been recorded, of which over 176 species breed, the most important being: cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis (3000 pairs), pygmy cormorant P. pygmeus (K) (2500 pairs comprising 61% of the world's population), white pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus (2,500 pairs comprising 50% of the Palaearctic breeding population), Dalmatian pelican P. crispus (E) (estimated at 150 pairs, perhaps now only 25 to 40 pairs, on the floating islands on lake Hrecisca, which represents 5% of the world population), night heron Nycticorax nycticorax (2100 pairs), squacco heron Ardeola ralloides (2,150 pairs), great white heron Egretta alba (700 pairs), little egret E. garzetta (1400 pairs), purple heron Ardea purpurea (1250 pairs), glossy ibis Plegadis falcinellus (1500 pairs), white stork Ciconia ciconia (many), mute swan Cygnus olor (500 pairs), white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (V) (eight pairs), marsh harrier Circus aeruginous (300+ pairs), osprey Pandion haliaetus (3 pairs), Saker falcon Falco cherrug (1-2 pairs), red-footed falcon F. vespertinus (150 pairs), Sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis(1700 pairs), common tern S. hirundo (20,000+ pairs), whiskered tern Chlidonias hybridus (20,000+), and black tern C. niger (10,000 to 20,000 pairs). White-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala possibly still breeds. Slender-billed curlew Numenius tenuirostris (K) has occurred on passage (28 in 1971 and one or two in 1989). The Delta holds huge numbers of Anatidae in the winter with counts of 500,000 white-fronted goose Anser albifrons (but only 64,000-77,500 in 1982), up to 500 lesser white-fronted goose A. erythropus, 45,000 red-breasted goose Branta ruficollis (a globally threatened species with almost 95% of the world wintering population present here), 150,000 teal Anas crecca, 200,000 mallard A. platyrynchos , 14,000 pintail A. acuta, 40,000 shovelor A. clypeata, 32,400 red-crested pochard, Netta rufina, 970,000 pochard A. ferina, 13,000 ferruginous duck A. nyroca, and 1500 red-breasted merganser, Mergus albellus. In winter there is a concentration of some 30 to 40 Haliaeetus albicilla (R).

The Delta is very important for fish with 45 freshwater species present including threatened representatives of the Acipensenidae.

European otter (Lutra lutra), Stoat (Mustela erminea), and European mink (Mustela lutreola) (E), as well as wildcat (Felis sylvestris) are to be found on the floating islands. It appears that little work has been done on mammals since 1970 largely as a result of lack of funding, but the mink population, although its size is unknown, is apparently significant in European terms.

The forest areas contain several rare reptiles, including Vipera ursini, Elaphe longissiuma, and Eremias arguta deserti.

Cultural Heritage

The very long history of trading along the Danube is evident from remains of Greek and Roman settlements (including a lighthouse). Villages surrounding the Delta show a Turkish influence.

Local Human Population

Estimated at between 12,000 and 16,000 (most of Ukrainian orthodox Lipki descent), depending on the definition of the area covered and residence status. The lower figure is considered to be 50% less than 50 years ago. The population is distributed along the three main waterways, Chilia, Sulina and Sfintu Gheorghe, the main source of drinking water. Cases of cholera have been reported, the latest in August 1990 when 66 cases were diagnosed in the Tulcea region. Most of the younger generation has left the Delta and old fishing villages of reed huts have been replaced by concrete structures, although individual fishing huts are retained. Some villages (e.g. Gorgova) have no electricity. Social problems are exacerbated by low incomes due to set prices for fish (500 lei per 1,000 kilogram (kg) of fish; 1989 figures). Conditions for the workers on state farms (on the newly-created polders) are reported to be extremely bad (attempts to introduce eco-farming in the near future); they lack basic infrastructures and the work is unpopular. It is reported that the state farms were used as prison camps. Some constructions are inappropriate to the region such as the blocks of flats and large commercial complex at Sfintu Gheorghe which remain empty.

The local population has been involved in small-scale, low-intensity use of natural resources supplemented by outside interests, such as fishing (10,000 boats are registered), cattle grazing and beekeeping, thought on the whole to be integrated to preservation of natural heritage.

The center of commercial activity in the Delta is the freeport of Sulina. In the late 1980s the town underwent rapid expansion with 500 new dwellings being built, an hotel and a shipping center to handle 3,500 ships annually. Other urban developments have taken place at Chilia Veche, Sfintu Gheorghe, 1 Mai, Unirea and Independenta.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

Under the previous regime parts of the Delta were heavily used for tourism, with up to 100,000 visitors annually, mostly concentrated at two hotels along the Sulina channel, although many camp along major channels in the summer. Permission is needed to visit the nature reserves which are closed during the bird breeding season. Away from the three main channels the areas are rarely frequented with very few visitors. Nature tourism, however, has been greatly neglected, with, for example, a detailed plan prepared in 1982 by the Institute for Research on Ecology for Tourism of the Ministry of Tourism (together with the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research and the Academy of Sciences in Agriculture and Forestry) being ignored. General tourism development was encouraged, however, on the coast. More recently the beginnings of indiscriminate tourism organized by numerous tourist agencies is evident, with 40 private agencies springing up in Tulcea.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Ecological studies on the river and the Delta conducted by Grigore Antipa began at the beginning of the century. In the past two decades research on the delta was carried out in a number of phases: between 1974 and 1978 an intensive program of investigations on Rosu-Puiu complex of lakes (SE area of delta) covered morphometric measurements, physico-chemical measurements, structure and dynamics of communities, biomass, production measurements (primary and secondary), field and laboratory experiments for oxygen consumption, filtration rates, energy expenditure on anaerobic pathways and the relationship between phytoplankton and submerged macrophytes, and on energy flows; between 1979 and 1981 investigations were carried out on Matita-Merhei lakes (north-east area of delta). Measurements as above were carried out; between 1980 and 1982 an extensive program of investigations throughout the whole delta identified eight distinct aquatic ecosystems. From each of these groups one lake was selected as being characteristic; and since 1982 investigations have concentrated on eight characteristic ecosystems and since 1987 two lakes from the Razelm-Sinoie complex have been added.

Overall scientific data on the delta is being collected by a national group formed from members of the disbanded parliamentary Committee for Ecology. The Ministry of Environment has provided funds to a number of bodies to prepare research reports on past uses of the Delta and future developments. A research program for the Delta, the Black Sea and the Danube has been started in cooperation with the USSR. This envisages investigations on the cycling of nitrogen, phosphorous, heavy metals and pesticides, the effects of the above on the biodiversity and biological productivity, as well as the role of ecotones in controlling the density of flow of chemical compounds.

In 1991, seven research groups have been established within a three-year program.

Faunal and floral surveys have been carried out but these have been limited and an overall species survey and long-term studies, especially for migratory waders on the eastern European/East African flyway are lacking. It has been suggested that, due to the vast area of the Delta, aerial surveys are the only effective way of conducting surveys. The national biodiversity survey of Romania includes the Delta where a biodiversity research group is preparing a detailed inventory. Over 70 scientists and 11 institutes are involved.

Conservation Value

The Delta is the meeting point of Palaearctic and Mediterranean biogeographic] zones and represents an unique dynamic wetland ecosystem in Europe (the second largest delta) containing a rich biodiversity of wetland habitats. The site is internationally significant for birds, both breeding and migratory, including a number of globally-threatened species. It is also a vitally important buffer system between the hydrographical basin of the River Danube and the Black Sea.

Conservation Management

The area was previously managed by a Central Deltei, a central office set up in 1970 and abolished in August 1990 upon the creation of the biosphere reserve. The 1983 Decree for the Economic Development of the Delta gave responsibility for this work to the Central Deltei and until recently it had 2,000 employees with a budget of 5M lei. It was reported that the Ministries of Agriculture and Industry were asked to compensate for the loss of employment in the delta as a result of the reclamation ban and the creation of the biosphere reserve. A number of hydrological engineers are already unemployed as a result of the passage of Decree 103. Many of the staff have formed economic societies; six fishing and five agricultural.

Within the 'Delta' biosphere reserve (covering some 679,222h a) 18,145 ha are included in a separate biosphere designation (the core zone covers two-thirds of the area, the peripheral areas forming the buffer zone) and 43,790 ha in seven nature reserves (two of which overlap with the biosphere reserve). The 18,145 ha Rosca-Letea was declared a biosphere reserve in 1979 (the Rosca area has been protected since 1961 and Letea Forest since 1978); the nature reserves are:- Rosca-Buhaiova-Hrecisca (15,600 ha but including part of the biosphere reserve), Perisor-Zatoane-Sacalin (15,400 ha), Istria (8,000 ha), Periteasca-Leahova-Gura Portitei (3,900 ha), Popina (90 ha), Saraturile (100 ha) and Hasmacul Mare (700 ha). These existing nature reserves are considered to be undisturbed zones which are totally protected. The biosphere reserve enabling legislation prohibits damaging and potentially damaging activities (Decree 983, 27.9.90) and controls intensive land-use incompatible with the maintenance of the wetland ecosystem. At present there are 52,980 ha of core zone, at 16 separate sites, 25,500 ha of restoration zone, 230,200 ha of buffer zone and 267,542 ha of transition zone.

A priority action program is being prepared as part of the Danube Delta Strategy and Management Plan. The most fully developed is the research program, consisting of seven task forces with a detailed three-year plan. The enabling agency is the Department of Environment; the responsible agency the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority. The plan will be a "statutory plan" legally binding for all national agencies, answerable to the Ministry of Environment. The Province of Tulcea will have local representation on the Danube Delta Authority. In this context a major input is being made by the international mission led by IUCN's East European Programme and including representatives from UNESCO, WWF-International, ICBP, IWRB and Ramsar Secretariat. The mission visited the Delta in September 1990 and a strategy for international conservation assistance is due to be formalized in May 1991. This is likely to take the form of an integrated management plan for the biosphere reserve together with immediate urgent practical conservation action by the individual agencies coordinated by the Romanian authorities. In the historical context, this is not new. A report 'The conservation situation in the Danube Delta, Rumania during the period 1963-1969', recommending a long-term conservation plan, resulted from a second visit to the Delta in June/July 1969 by a consultant on behalf of IUCN, WWF, ICBP and IWRB. A parliamentary commission of enquiry visited the Delta in late 1990.

Decree No. 103 entitled 'Decree concerning the abolition of the reclamation works in the Danube Delta', appearing in the Official Publication of Romania No. 22 on 7 February 1990, halted the major development projects in the delta. However, the Decree allowed 'strictly necessary works' to be completed or continued. These are listed as: maintenance of flood defense; completion of the regulation of the Sf Gheorghe branch; completion of the works to protect the coastline in the zone of Sinoe; completion of the works to protect the coastline in the zone of Portita-Sf Georghe-Sulina; navigation and bank protection of the Sulina branch; and maintenance of existing reclamations at Pardina, Sireasa, Fortuna, Rusco, Grindul Island, Chilia and Sulina. The completion of reclamation work at Pardina and Sireasca were allowed under Decree 103 on the understanding that no chemicals were to be applied. Previous work along the Sf Gheorghe (a relatively untouched river landscape) led to the bypassing of river meanders and the reduction in use of lateral channels, as well as the increase in pollution load deposition. The maintenance of agricultural activities in the polder areas is likely to result in soil degradation. It has been reported that many of these 'necessary works' have also subsequently been halted.

The embankment and canalization have increased the rate of desiccation of the lakes in the delta as well as resulting in the drying up of the depressions between the dunes in Letea Forest, where the water table has dropped by 50 to 60 centimeters (cm) below summer levels. Saplings have died and older trees stunted, soil erosion has increased and trees have been attacked by parasites. Water quality in the Delta is very much determined by the water flowing down the Danube. This was previously filtered by a network of wet grasslands along the lower Danube. Some 435,000ha, or four-fifths of the total, have now been lost.

The Decree required the Minister of Water, Forestry and Environment together with the Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry to prepare a study detailing the future economic uses of the Delta by 31 December 1990. A report for Decree 103 was produced in May 1991 and provided guidelines by sector (e.g. forestry, agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc.) for the future use of the Delta Authority. This has been accepted by the Minister of Environment. Exceptions to the activities mentioned in the decree are thought to have come about as a result of pressure from the Centrala Deltei Dunarii, the Institute of Study and Design for Land Reclamation (ISPIF) and the Soil Research Institute (ICPA), fearing the loss of employment by staff if all previous activities were to cease immediately. They have argued that abandoning all activities would result in squandering the investment of over 16 Billion lei (the equivalent of US$ 1 billion). To counter this, it is estimated that direct annual losses due to agricultural operations in the Delta amount to 18 million lei, in addition to which the engineering institutes had invested 5B lei in infrastructures. Overall economic losses were estimated at 300 million lei per annum.

In 1990 the authorities invited the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) to assist them in the restructuring of 3.5 million ha of agricultural land in the delta and the lower Danube. It is likely that the first stage of the program will be an environmental assessment plan for the area to be carried out in 1991. This program may provide the opportunity to restore previous wetland areas in the delta and the lower Danube. Some measures are already being taken to restore seriously degraded sites in the empoldered areas including flooding to restore a water regime with a low intensity fishing regime.

A number of authorities are having an input to the preparation of the management program. These include: Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Tourism and Commerce, Ministry of Education and Science, Romanian Academy (NGO), Ecological Society of Romania (NGO), Brailia Institute (Romanian Academy of Sciences), Iasi University, Institute of Tourism Research.

Management Constraints

Degradation was reaching serious proportions through engineering works and inappropriate land-uses. These have now been stopped. A very detailed summary of the history of the reclamation and water engineering works in the Delta is given by Pons and Pons-Ghitulescu.

The previous regime had decided to use the area to economic advantage and in 1983 it was decided that agriculture should become the "principal economic activity" with plans to triple productivity by 1990. In total, 97,000 ha were earmarked for agriculture (with some 50,000 ha converted to irrigated croplands by 1987 by the construction of polders). Of an area of 42,000 ha cultivated with maize, only 17,000 ha were considered productive with yields of between 500-800kg/ha. By the end of 1987, cereals covered 24,120 ha, other crops 650 ha, and vegetables 200ha, with 300ha planned as orchards and 280ha as vineyards. Further plans envisaged ground nut production. A particularly damaging construction was the Sireasa polder covering 7,500ha, which destroyed the eastern levees and riverine forest areas. A further 32,469 ha were to be devoted to fish farming (although some reports gave the final area of the fish-farms to be 244,000ha, of which 63,000ha had been created). A total of 12,838 ha was given over to forestry (replacement of native species with hybrid poplars and cypresses), but here again production was less than expected due to the salination of groundwater. Increased reed production (for the paper industry which has exploited the area since 1956) has been tried, as well as rice cultivation in former salt marshes. Reed production fell catastrophically from 200-300,000 tons per annum in 1960 to less than 50,000 tons per annum in the late 1980s. The reeds were harvested by heavy mechanised caterpillar equipment and processed at a cellulose factory specially constructed at Tulcea. In 1990 only 8% of the total reed surface was harvested. The burning of reed beds is also practiced. The additional 47,000 ha was still to be reclaimed, much of it from the central, most ecologically and most important parts of the delta. This was to have been the 23,000 ha Uzlina-Gorgova polder. In total, almost one third of the Delta was to be transformed. By December 1989 one third of the targets had been achieved. A further 66,185 ha in the northern parts bordering onto the USSR had become damaged by inefficient clearing of reeds (apparently by hard labour prisoners in the 1950s). Past drainage has caused the loss of much wetland and, although some of the damage has been compensated by the creation of fish ponds, these are not suitable for breeding species. Reed exploitation, water regulation and drainage have been linked to the population decreases in 20 bird species over the past decades. The deliberate destruction of colonially-nesting birds which has occurred in the past is now thought to be uncommon. Certain species (pelican and birds of prey) are at risk from collision with the many kilometers of electricity power lines present in the delta. The wintering Branta ruficollis is dependent on the agricultural lands to the immediate south of the delta and changing practices may be important for their future.

Other projects included the re-routing of the River Sfintu-Gheorghe by cutting a straight canal through the numerous meanders, which would speed up the flow of water and radically alter the pattern of alluvial deposition, and the exploitation of quartziferous sand from the sand dunes in particular on the Grindul-Caraorman barrier and exploitation of zircon and titan at Grindul Saraturile. The latter never came to fruition and lies abandoned. The site is due to reconstruction according to the biosphere reserve management plan. Several new roads were to be built, seven industrial plants, a new harbor and a marked development of the tourism industry (4,000 beds, hydro-buses and pleasure boats). There is some evidence that illegal hunting expeditions were organized by an Italian company. Others have noted the increase in intensive hunting tourism. A pig farm (for 25,000 animals) with slaughter facilities was apparently constructed and plans were put forward for airport construction.

The local fishing industry has also suffered with catches halved since 1980. Extensive fish farming using Chinese carp has resulted in the virtual extinction of wild carp. In 1984 the number of indigenous fish caught fell by two-thirds, the farmed fish catches doubled. The increase in fish farming activities has caused some conflict with bird colonies, especially of pelicans and cormorants (e.g. at Maliuc on the Sulina waterway). Reports suggest that fish production in the fish ponds is very low. There is a thriving poaching industry based on the Delta villages, which tends to make some official fish catch figures inaccurate.

Pollution carried downstream in the Danube is a greater threat with high levels of toxic pesticides (including DDT), herbicides and fertilizers. The resulting algal blooms threaten fish life. The polluted waters have apparently drastically reduced the numbers of migratory fish (sturgeons, hausen, ship sturgeon, and Russian sturgeon). The salt content has increased from 150 milligrams per liter (mg/l) to 350 mg/l and locally to 800mg/l. Nitrogen, potassium and chlorine contents are increasing strongly. Downstream of Tulcea, the water contains high concentrations of Hg and heavy metals. The connecting of Lake Razelm with the Danube has resulted in the pollution of the lake waters with a centimeter thick algal layer on the surface in the summer. Channels cut from Lake Fortunato to the main Sulina waterway caused the water level in the lake to fall from 2.5 m to 1 m. This apparently caused the pelican colony to be abandoned. Other sources of pollution include a bauxite smelter and ferrous metals plant at Tulcea, and a sulfur factory in the Soviet border town of Izmail. In 1988 a political scandal broke with the reporting of the dumping of 4,000 tons of toxic waste (including dioxine) at Sulina.

Heavy soil erosion and depositionerosion of the littoral and the river banks of the Danube, caused by the construction of the Iron Gates hydroelectric facility on the Romanian-Yugoslavian border, has resulted in "the coastline regressing between 20 and 30 m a year, and in some cases even 70 m a year". Of a total Romanian coastline of 288 km, some 100 km are showing active erosion. Of these, 70 km are situated in the Delta. The worst affected sections lie between Sulina and Sf Gheorghe and Sf Gheorghe and Partita and also along the Sinoe Lake area. The coastline has been strengthened and protected in part, and further construction aimed at reducing erosion includes the building of a 32 km canal (35 m wide and 6-7 m deep, with a dam at its eastern end to stop sea surges) connecting Sulina and Sf Gheorghe which will transport delta water into the sea at Cherhana Rosulet. Some degradation can be attributed to water regulation through canal, dyke and channel realignment and agricultural intensification within empoldered areas. Nearly 80% of the lower Danube floodplain has been drained and converted to agricultural land resulting in the virtual elimination of floods within the delta itself.

Threats to the nature reserves include illegal grazing (vegetation has been eliminated on Popina Island due to uncontrolled animal grazing), small-scale tourism, hunting and inflow of freshwater from irrigation schemes and the replacement of native woodland by plantations. Intensive grazing takes place at the biosphere reserve at Letea and at Histria and Murighiol. It is estimated that 5,500 head of cattle, some wild, are present in the Delta.

Some 20% of the Danube Delta lies within the Ukrainian SSR and to be fully protected this component needs to be included. There is a 14,851 ha zapovednik Dunajskii Plavina, situated between the Chilia River (national border) and the Black Sea.

The Danube Drainage Basin has an important influence on the Delta with a high percentage of pollution originating outside the country.


Total staff of biosphere reserve authority is 470; 100 in enforcement services. Administration is likely to number 50 (undated information).


Approximately 100M lei, comprising biosphere reserve authority 65M lei; enforcement services 8.5M lei; administration 14M lei; monitoring agency 10M lei. In addition, the hydrological has received 300M lei over three years. It is suggested that the costs to the government of the management of the Delta will probably triple in the short-term, but in the long-term these costs may be recouped through income from tourism.

IUCN Management Category

  • II (National Park)
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria iii, iv

Further Reading

  • Anon. (1987). Agrepress. 24 June.
  • Anon. (1988). The Times.
  • Anon. (1990a). Cholera breaks out in Romania. The European. 17-19 August. P. 2
  • Anon. (1990). Okologische Bausteine fur unser gemeinsames Haus Europa = Ecological Bricks for a Common Europe. München, Verlag für Politische Okologie.
  • Anon. (1990c). Eco 15.
  • Anon. (1990d). Tulcea Libera 156. 7 August.
  • Antipa, Gr. (1917) Problemele stiintifice si economice ale Deltei Dunarii. An. Inst. Geol. Rom. Bucuresti.
  • Arhire, -. (1990). Tulcea Libera 156. 7 August.
  • Busila, S.A. (1990). Tulcea Eco 9. 15 April.
  • Botnariuc, N., Vadineanu, A. (1988). Tendinte in evolutia Deltei Dunarii si posibilitati de protectie. In: Stugren, B. (ed). Probleme actuale ale ocrotirii naturii. Edit. Dacia, Cluj.
  • Botnariuc, N., Toniuc, N., Filipascu, Al. (1975). Necesitatea infiintarii parcurilor nationale in Delta Dunarii. Ocrotirera naturii. Tom 19, nr. 2, Bucuresti.
  • Carauscu, A. (1990). Eco 17. 8 June.
  • Ciochia, V. (n.d.). Overview on structure and dynamics of the avifauna of the Danube Delta and neighbouring area. Unpublished notes.
  • Cristofor, S. (1985). Structura, dinamica si productivitatea vegetatiei submerse in ecosistemele acvatice ale Deltei Dunarii. Peuce. Tulcea.
  • Curry-Lindahl, K. (1969). Conservation in the Danube Delta in Rumania. WWF Year Book 1969. P. 20 & Pp. 272-276.
  • EEN (1990). Romania - The Delta. Eastern Europe Newsletter 4(22).
  • Garnett, M.C. (n.d.). Preliminary Solutions for the Coexistence of fisheries and pelicans in the Danube Delta. Preliminary Report IUCN/WWF Project No. 3139.
  • Gistescu, P. (1971). Caractaristici morfogenetice si hidrologice ale lacurilor din Delta Dunarii. Peuce. Tulcea
  • Green, R. (1990). The ornithological importance of the Danube Delta and Lake Razelm-Sinoie. Draft prepared for international mission 1990.
  • Grimmett, R.F.A. and Jones, T.A. (1989). Important Bird Areas in Europe. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, UK. ISBN: 0946888175.
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  • IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre (1986). MAB Information System Biosphere Reserves Compilation 4, October 1986. Prepared for Unesco.
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Disclaimer: This article contains information that was originally published by the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.










M, U. (2012). Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, Romania. Retrieved from


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