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More about the danube biosphere reserve and the problem

Ukraine is planning to construct a deep-water navigation canal "The Danube - The Black Sea". The Ministry of Transport of Ukraine insists on pursuing a variant which passes through an the Bystroye Estuary of the Danube Delta, which is located within the specially protected area of the Danube Biosphere Reserve.

The Danube Reserve is part of the UNESCO bilateral biosphere reserve "Delta of the Danube". According to Ukrainian national legislation, law prohibits such activity in a specially protected area of a biosphere reserve. Recently, it came to light that the Ministry of Transport of Ukraine is going to issue a Decree signed by the President to withdraw the Bystroye Estuary from the Danube Biosphere Reserve.

The Bystroye Estuary is not deep enough for the planned canal; therefore it is planned to deepen the estuary. Since the Danube transfers on average 65 millions tons of firm particles per year, the appropriate depth of the canal should be maintained artificially, by continuous removal of sediment from the bed of the canal. In addition, it is planned to cover the banks with concrete. The canal will make the stream stronger and quicker, resulting in the washing out to sea of the sandbank in front of the estuary.

According to the conclusions of Ukrainian experts, the construction of the canal through the Bystroye Estuary will result in the following consequences:

  1. The construction and operation of the canal will change the hydrological balance of the delta - it will enhance the run-off in Bystroe estuary and make it less for other estuaries - which will lead to harmful consequences both for natural ecosystems and for town Vilkovo water supply regime.
  2. Canal operation will lead to oil and oil product pollution of the estuary.
  3. The construction works and operation of the canal will cause damage to the habitat and feeding base of the majority of the fish species dwelling in this area, including 7 species which are listed in the European Red List and the 16 listed in Red Book of Ukraine. Also, as the result of feeding ground damage, the annual freshwater fish catch will go down for 19 tonns, and marine fish catch - for 80 tonns.
  4. The spawning migration of the Danube herring (Alosa pontica (Eichwald) passes through the Bystroye Estuary. The construction and operation of the canal will destroy the natural course of breeding of this fish that will reduce its industrial catch by 90 tons, and will also threaten its life.
  5. The waves caused by ships passing through canal will lead to the fish, including danube herring, youth death.
  6. Deepening of the canal bottom and permanent works to sustain its condition will lead to death for the youth of valuable trade and rare fish: Acipenseridae, Gymnocephalus schraetser, Zingel zingel and Z. streber streber.
  7. Construction of embankments on the banks of the Bystroye Estuary will spoil the spawning conditions of many fish species.
  8. The sandbank in front of the Bystroye is the foraging area of many commercially fished species. The construction and operation of the canal, and also the subsequent washing away of the sandbank will destroy the feeding conditions.
  9. In the Danube Biosphere Reserve, 257 kinds of birds are present, 9 of them are on European Red List, 42 of them are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine. It is a habitat for thousands of wetland-dwelling birds. It is nesting ground for 1000 couples of Phalacrocorax pygamaeus, 3 couples of Haliaeetus albicilla. During the seasonal accumulation upto 2.500 Pelecanus onocrotalus and up to 80 Pelecanus crispus are found. Up to 800 Phalacrocorax pygamaeus, up to 900 Rufibrenta ruficollis and up to 35 of Haliaeetus albicilla are wintering within the Ukrainian part of the Danube reserve. Withing the direct impact zone of the ship course, mainly sandbank area, 223 bird species are found, 5 of them from European Red list, 31 from the Red Book of Ukraine. The construction and operation of the canal will result in losses to their mass nesting area; breeding conditions of the birds will be worsened, and the places of rest, feed and wintering will be lost. Thus, the construction of the canal through the Bystroye Estuary threatens the very existence of "The Danube Delta", part of the Ramsar Reserve in Ukraine.
  10. The reserve vascular plant community encounters 950 species, 3 of which are on the European Red List, 16 - in the Red Book of Ukraine. Within the proposed canal construction area half of the species is growing, there are almost no immigrant species. The plaint community of the reserve is significantly different from plat communties of other deltas of north-west Black Sea coast. It has majorly water and wetland communities inhabiting up to 80% fo the area. The construction work impact on the plant community will be two-sided: the ship waves impact will cause to change in plant communities - many species, including rare, will vanish. On the other hand, permanent ship communication will bring invasive species (some of them quarantine) in. Changes in hidrological regime of Kilian Delta of Danube will lead to speeded euthrophication of the inner water ponds, disappearance of small estuaries, general turning of wetlands into meadows. This will also negatively influence one of the most important ecological functions of the Danube Delta - biofiltration.
  11. The proposed canal will break the core zone of the biosphere reserve and will result in increased noise pollution in 5 km zone around canal, and negative influences on the fauna of the reserve. The reserve territory is a constant or temporary habitat for rare and endangered insects, amphibia and reptiles, many of which are on European red list or in the Red book of the Ukraine. The habitation of the majority of mentioned vulnerable species are intolerant to any similar activity.

The livelihoods in the area near the mouth of the Danube are based mainly on fishery. The construction of the canal threatens to undermine this branch of trade, and may destroy the traditional system of management in the region. Therefore, not only scientific and environmental organizations, but also local residents and authorities oppose building the canal through Bystroye.

Construction of the navigation canal "the Danube - the Black Sea" through Bystroye Estuary will cause degradation of natural communities in the Danube Delta, as well as destroy traditional forms of nature management, and can result in the worsening of social and economic conditions in the region. In other words, realization of this project will violate the principles of management of biosphere reserves defined by UNESCO in its "The Man and Biosphere" Program.

And as a result, the building of the canal through the Bystroye Estuary threatens the very existence of Danube Biosphere Reserve and Ukrainian Ramsar lands "The Danube Delta".

We do not oppose navigation in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta in principle. The canal should be built. Nevertheless, the construction works should be carried out in such a manner as to cause a minimal amount of harm to the unique natural biosphere of the delta. It should be constructed outside of the biosphere reserve. Alternative variants of conducting of the canal were developed, however Ukrainian authorities persistently do not consider them.

Ukrainian scientific and public organizations have been campaigning against the "cutting" of the Danube reserve since the end of 2001. About 30 appeals have been sent to the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine, about 1000 signatures in defence of the reserve have been collected, and press conferences and demonstrations have been conducted. The Vilkov Municipal Council (local authority) also opposes this variant of the canal, confirmed by its resolution of November 22, 2001. However, Ukrainian authorities ignore public opinion and the position of the local authorities.

Therefore, we are extremely apprehensive that the authorities of Ukraine, violating national legislation and international obligations, will make the decision to build the canal through Bystroye Estuary. Besides posing a threat to the Danube Reserve, such a decision can create a dangerous precedent of altering borders of many other Ukrainian reserves. We address to you, as representative of the international community, a request to make all possible efforts to prevent the construction of the canal "the Danube - the Black sea" through the Danube Biosphere Reserve.

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