II. JUSTIFYING LISTING
This astonishing realm of waters is home for three hundred bird species and numerous fish species - over 45 -, from sturgeons to carps and perches, while the 1150 plant species range from lianas creeping on tree trunks in oak forests to water lilies. It is no wonder that UNESCO designated the Danube Delta as a "Biosphere Reservation". The Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation holds a triple international protection status: Biosphere Reservation, internationally nominated by the UNESCO Committee "Man and the Biosphere", International Wet Area nominated by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, and World Natural Heritage Site recognised by UNESCO. The Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation was awarded also the European Diploma by the Council of Europe (according to the Government Decision 230 in the Official Gazette of Romania from 26th of March 2003 on the delimitation of biosphere reservations, national parks and natural parks).
Considered to be second largest in Europe (3,446 sq. km) the Danube Delta - biosphere reservation - is justly called "Paradise of Birds". Letea top of bank ridge, the bird colonies of Perishor - Zatoane, Uzlina-Crishana, Golovitza and Sacalin Islands are unique spots, each year attracting tourists from the remotest corners of the world. Few are aware that the Danube Delta is the youngest dry land of Europe, expanding by 40 km each year. It is the third largest Delta in Europe (next to the Volga and Kuban deltas) and the 22nd in the world. Its surface, together with the Razim-Sinoe lagoon complex is 5,050 km, 732 of which belong to the Ukraine. The Delta itself stretches over 2,540 km, expanding 40 m annually, due to the 67 million tons alluvia deposited by the river. The Danube Delta is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and original corners in the country. Many consider it to be a unique spot in Europe, both due to its geographical position and its extension.
Modern works in the nominated area were few, which meets the authenticity criterion. In 1989, after 45 years of planned economy, the communist regime was overturned, hence a change also for the Danube Delta became possible. In 1980 they had begun reclaiming about 400 delta lakes for agriculture. This project was interrupted in 1994. The farming land was flooded again, and the major works upset the environmental balance. The current provisions allow only minimum changes in the area, without altering the authenticity aspect. At present, the environmental protection in this region with such an astounding flora and fauna has become a priority.
The Danube Delta was nominated for the World Heritage List because it meets the conditions 3, 4, item 24 in "Guidelines". It was listed by UNESCO with two requests:
With help from UNESCO, but also from the famous sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, in August 1991, the entire Delta was declared "Biosphere Reservation" by government decree. The efforts for the "Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation" were rewarded, in 1995, by the great prize "Eurosite", the symbol of UNESCO environmental recognition.
"Rivers with fame that are navigable when coming from the sea include
the Istrum" - wrote Herodotus from Halicarnasus in "Histories" (484 -
425 BC), the oldest description of the Lower Danube lands; Publius Ovidius
Naso (about 10 - 15 AD) also remarked that "The Danube is the largest/It
would not be lesser than the Nile". The second European river and the
twentieth six in the world, almost 2,900 km long, over 800,000 km2,
the size of the populated basin of about 80,000,000 inhabitants from eight
countries - here is a short presentation of the generous waterway flowing
from immemorial time, sailed by Phoenician boats, Greek triremes,
Roman galleys, Byzantine, Genoan, Venetian, Cossack, Turkish ships, tugs,
barges and motorships in recent times.
"Istros" in the language of the Argonauts and the Egyptian mythology, "Phisos" with the Phoenicians, "Danare" - "Donaris" with the Thraco-Getians, "Istrum" - "Histr" - "Danubius" with the Romans, "Rio Divino" at the court of Charles V and "Le roi des fleuves de l'Europe" in Napoleon's opinion, Danube's last 1,075 km flow on Romanian territory ending in the Delta - the most representative on the old continent and one of the most complex in the world.
As it enters this country through a monument of nature, the Cazane Gorge, the Danube leaves it through the huge, sumptuous, dream-like fan of the Delta. It is an original, unique spot: the youngest land of Europe, neighbouring one of the oldest mountains of the planet (Macin, a Hercynian massif, about 400,000,000 years) - land and water in an endless fight, each time different, web of channels, bank ridges, streams, tropical life forests, river and sea dunes in an encompassing ceaseless metamorphosis.
It is no wonder that historical information differ: the same Herodotus thought that the Danube divides into five branches where it empties, an account maintained by Eratostenes from Alexandria and the Greek Polybius (272 - 120 BC), contradicted at the beginning of the 1st millennium AD by the geographer Strabon from Pontus who numbered seven branches, by the Roman Pliny the Elder, convinced there were six, by the Egyptian Claudius Ptolemy (about 90-168 AD) mentioning seven branches where the Danube empties into the Black Sea, including "Gura Sfanta" (the Saint Mouth).
The maps from the Middle Ages are no better, the Danube empties into Marmara, or Dardanelles, and if it is accounted that it empties into the Black Sea, it has one, two branches, or five, six, one of which it is drawn in the port of Constantza. As late as 1856 the English captain Spratt drew a more realistic map; but still far from the truth, as today the lighthouses installed by the seaside in 1802 (Sulina) and 1865 (St. George) stand two-three kilometres behind the seaside! We shall understand, if we take into account the "delta" peak - the triangle similar to the Greek letter that inspired it - where the first bifurcation of the branches occurs, the average flow rate of the river is about 6,300 m3/second, which means that in two minutes flows a sufficient amount of water for one day consumption of a town with over 1,000,000 inhabitants; a water carrying about two tons of alluvia in suspension each second.
A natural paradise stretches where the Danube empties into the Black Sea, where the river ends its 2,860 km (1,788 miles) long journey from its source in the Black Forest Mountains in Germany. For centuries on end, the surface of the Delta expanded due to the loam brought by the river, thus making up a network of channels, lakes, islands covered by reedbeds, tropical forests, pastures, and dunes that now stretch over a surface of almost 5,640 km2 (2,200 square miles). This astonishing realm of waters is home for three hundred bird species and numerous fish species - over 45 -, from sturgeons to carps and perches, while the 1150 plant species range from lianas creeping on tree trunks in oak forests to water lilies. It is no wonder that UNESCO designated the Danube Delta as a "Biosphere Reservation".
The Danube, rising in Germany, joined by tributaries from ten countries and crossing four capitals, after a 2,860 km flow, forms a delta in the spot where it empties into the Black Sea.
The Danube flows slowly in one direction, so that here its stream is no longer felt. The river waters, that before the first difluence ("ceatal" in the local dialect, after a Turkish word) from west of Tulcea, have an annual flow rate of about 6,300 m3/s, divide into three main branches: over 60% Kilia, about 18% Sulina and about 20% St. George. Between its numerous branches - Kilia, Sulina and St. George - there are lots of islands and isles covered by reedbeds. The swamps and mysterious wild forests reveal the largest swamp land that the Danube, before emptying into the Black Sea, crosses by many channels. A low swampy land of almost 6,800 km2, this realm of waters, "the country beyond the mackerel sky", as Sadoveanu would call it, is a wonderland. The dazzling vegetal world of reeds forming forests 4-5 m high, or floating tops of bank ridges that gather and break up while carried by the waves or the wind, or the beautiful water lilies, water mint and the other lake species, all make up the organic loam.
Nowadays in the Delta there are 18 strictly protected zones, because of the need for conserving the natural evolution process, the specific fauna and flora. It is worth mentioning: Roshca-Buhaiova (near Lake Roshca there is a large pelican colony in Europe), Letea - a tropical like forest, at the highest height - and Sacalin-Zătoane (near St. George), stretching over 21,000 hectares, representing one of the rarest places where the crimp pelican can be met.
For thousands of years, a small community lived in a perfect harmony with the extraordinary ecosystem of the Delta, making a living by fishing, animal breeding and reed picking. The villages, where the only access paths are the channels pervading them, seem to be timeless. As a visitor, we can explore by boat this astounding natural retreat perfectly silent and calm. That experience could make one imagine to have entered the pages of a National Geographic documentary.
The starting point for a Delta adventure is usually Tulcea, a town almost
as old as Rome, near the place where the Danube divides into three main
branches, that is where the meadow starts.
In Tulcea you will find modern hotels and natural sciences museums of the Delta. The town lies at 71 km (45 miles) distance from Sulina, almost as old itself, lying at the other end of the Sulina branch. Between these two locations tourists can cruise, and admire from comfortable ship docks, the flora, fauna and villages of the Delta.
Eighteen protected reservations and "buffer" zones lie all over the Delta. You can reach them through narrow channels, passing by floating reed islets and by forests, in the places where pelicans and cormorants gathering to catch fish. If you wish to explore that wild land peacefully, rent a boat and sail on the small channels. To this end you will need an authorisation issued by the Biosphere reservation.
If you stop in a village on the water bank, you will discover fishermen cooking their own version of a Russian traditional soup in open air Those who have refined tastes may try the Danube herring, beluga croquets or fried sturgeon, together with the savoury local wines Muscat and Merlot in Tulcea or Sulina restaurants. This wild land of waters will reveal for you an astonishing reality. A trip to the Delta will remain an unforgettable memory from all points of view.
The Danube Delta is home to 98% of the European water fauna - over 3,400
species, many unique in the world. The Delta has 300 bird species, many
declared monuments of nature and protected by law - the common pelican
and crimp pelican, the cormorant, the large and small egret, the white
egret, the spoon bill, the swan, the Gruidae, the wild goose, the winter
duck. Large pelican colonies can be encountered south of the St. George
branch: Uzlina, Maliuc, those on the lakes Fortuna and Matita.
About 160 fish species (the sturgeon, the grey mullet, the herring, the pike, the salmon, the pike perch, the barbell, the perch, the crucian) are the delight of fishermen. Fishing in the Delta was mentioned by the father of history, Herodotus. Fishing can be practised all through the year, except for 60 days starting with April, when the fish spawn. The Delta mammals include the otter, the vison - all of the precious fur family -, the fox, the wild cat, the wolf, the bear, the wild boar, the polecat, the hare. The sands hide turtles, the adder, and snake colonies.
The 1,150 plant species are the great asset of the Delta flora. Here are several plant types: with floating leaves (the white water lily, the yellow water lily, the pond weed, the small water lily, the water thistle, the aldrovanda, a rare carnivorous plant), riverside or on floating islands (the reed, the club rush, the water fern, the sorrel, the water mint, the water cumin) and land ones (the white willow, the poplar, the alder, the wild cherry, the ash tree).
In the Delta there are three forests declared monuments of nature: Letea (to the NE, the most impressive, as the traveller has the impression of being in the tropical jungle), Caraorman and Erenciuc, all of oak-trees, willows and black poplars. The exotic aspect comes from the many lianas and crawling plants. It is an exotic land with over 1,200 tree and plant species, with the richest bird fauna on the continent (over 300 species, including unique pelican colonies) and fish one represented by about 100 species, including the Danube herring and the sturgeons, source of the caviar, the Danube Delta is the largest wet reservation of Europe. It stretches over 2,681 km2.
In 1991 UNESCO included the Danube Delta, the newest form of relief in Romania, a stranger to the "industrialisation process", among the biosphere reservations. In the Danube Delta prevails the swamp reed vegetation that covers about 78% of the whole surface. The main species are the reed, the club rush, the sedge, together with the small willow and many other species. The salt vegetation covers 6% of the whole surface, as it grows on salt soils and in the sea.
The specificity comes from the species: Salicornia patula, Juncus marimus, Juncus littoralis, Plantago cornuti. Willow, ash tree, alder, poplar forests growing on river bank ridges are periodically flooded and develop on 6% of the whole surface. They are specific of the river delta, where they mark the landscape. Here are four types of such forests: those growing on low river bank ridges, flooded all year long, made up mostly of Salix alba and Salix fragilis; on higher river bank ridges there are forests of Salix alba, Populus alba, and Populus canescens; on the highest river bank ridges there are few such flooded poplar forests (Populus canescens and Populus alba), and cultivated species: the hybrid black poplar, the American maple tree and the Pennsylvania ash tree; a rarer type of such a forest is the alder tree (Alnus glutinosa prevails) growing on river bank ridges in the sea delta. The sandy steppe lawn vegetation covers 3% of the whole delta, developing above all in the sea fields Letea, Caraoman, and Sărăturile. Specific are the species Festuca bekeri, Secale sylvestris, Carex Colchica, Ephedra distachya. The vegetation of bank ridge mesophile lawns cover about 3% of the whole surface of the delta, especially on the river bank ridges periodically flooded. Glyceria maxima and Elytrigia repens prevail.
The water vegetation of lakes, ponds and backwaters covers 2% of the whole delta. The underground vegetation includes the species Ceratophyllum submersum, Myriopyllum verticillatum, Potamogeton sp., Helodea canadensis. The floating vegetation is more varied. Lemna minor, Salvinia natans, Spirodela polyrrhiza, Nymphoides peltata, Nymphaea alba, Nuphar luteum, Trapa natans prevail. The above ground vegetation includes mostly reed (Phragmites australis), club rush (Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolio), Dutch rush (Schoenolectus lacustris). The bushes grown on sea field sands or on those on the active seasides stretch on just 1% of the whole surface of the delta and Tamarix ramosissima, Elaeagnus angustifolia, Hippophae rhamnoides prevail. The sea field forests of Letea and Caraorman are forest steppe traces, locally called "hasmac", with brownish oaks, (Quercus pedunculiflora), pedunculate oaks (Q. robur), ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia), trembling poplars (Populus tremula), elms (Ulmus foliacea), and with the crawling plants Periploca graeca, Vitis silvestris, Hedra helix - are just 0.8% of the whole surface of the Danube Delta.
The formation specific of the massive reed colonies, the Floating Reed Islet is a layer about 1.6 m thick made up of an interweaving of reed rhizomes and roots of other water plants mixed with organic remains and soil. At first fastened, the Floating Reed Islet sticks out of the lake and pond bottoms, turning into floating islands of various sizes that, pushed by the wind, float on water. The Floating Reed Islet vegetation differs from the rest of the reed colonies. The reed (Phragmites australis) grows here in good conditions, as it is higher and thicker. Besides reed, there are sedge, mint, water fern (Nephrodium thelypteris), water hemlock, knot grass, small willow, as well as the crawling plants Calystegia sepium and Solanum dulcamara. On the Floating Reed Islet there are common and crimp pelican colonies, as well as wild boars, dogs, bisons, otters, minks, foxes.
Route 1: Tulcea harbour - Ceatalul Ismail - Partizani (Sulina branch) - Maliuc - Mila 14 - Crişan channel (1) - Caraoman - Caraoman channel - (a) Lake Puiu - Red Lake - (b) - Olguţa channel - Fortuna 1 channel (entrance) - Lake Fortuna - (c) Lake Băclăneşti - Şontea stream - (d) Lake Nebunu - Lake Meşter - Long Lake - Mila 35 channel - Tulcea branch - Tulcea harbour.
Route 2: Tulces - Mila 35 channel - Şireasa, Şontea streams - Olguţa channel - Dunărea Veche - Mila 23 village - Crişan - Maliuc - Tulcea.
Route 3: Tulcea - Victoria - Litcov, Crişan channels - Caraoman - Crişan - Maliuc - Tulcea.
Route 4: Tulcea - Maliuc - Crişan - Crişan channel - Caraoman - Caraoman channel - lakes Puiu, Roşu, Roşulet, - Roşu channel - Bursuca channel - Sulina - Tulcea.
Route 5: Murighiol - Dunavăţ, Dranov channels - Holbina bay - lake Razim - Gura Portiţei.