WWF calls for cross-border dialogue on shipping in fragile Danube Delta

Vienna, 21 February 2023. In response to media coverage about substantial dredging operations in the Ukrainian Danube Delta, WWF-Central and Eastern Europe is calling on Romanian and Ukrainian authorities to engage in a multi-stakeholder cross-border dialogue toward clarifying the current situation and finding solutions for increased grain transportation on the Danube in a way that leaves the fragile Danube Delta ecosystem intact.

On 20 February, the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure announced that the depth of the Bystroe Canal has increased from 3.9 to 6.5 meters as result of maintenance works. In July 2022 the so-called Danube-Black Sea Deep Navigation Channel project also appeared in the first version of Ukraine´s post-war recovery strategy. Since 2004, the Ukrainian government has been promoting this river infrastructure project on the natural deepwater canal on the Chilia and Bystroe branches of the Danube Delta to establish water depth suitable for the passage of large ships of drafts 7 m or higher.

The Danube Delta is already under heavy development pressure on both sides of the border”, says Irene Lucius, WWF-CEE´s Regional Conservation Director. “Plans to massively deepen the canal in the heart of the Ukrainian Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve would put at risk an environmentally sensitive area protected by several international agreements. This is why international cooperation is needed to find solutions that work both for nature and people, in Ukraine and Romania alike.” 

WWF calls on authorities on both sides of the border to share plans and environmental data with stakeholders as a basis for a transparent process of finding solutions that meet the needs of people and nature. A joint transparent monitoring format during the implementation of any solutions should also be agreed on, International bodies and conventions such as UNESCO, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), the Bern Convention, or the Danube Commission could play a mediating role. We are calling on the European Commission and Danube Commission to supervise the update of a hydrological and sediment model for the Danube Delta and to share the resulting data openly as basis for sound planning and decisions.


Background information

The Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta is a very dynamic ecosystem comprising 73.200 hectares of extended reed beds, small lakes of various sizes and natural river levees of gallery-like softwood forests. On the sandy dunes, a complex mosaic of hardwood floodplains forests and dry steppe vegetations alternates. The Danube Delta is the second largest wetland in Europe and the largest reedbed in the world. It is home to about 330 bird species, 70% of the world’s white pelican population and 60% of the world's pygmy cormorants. The Delta is home to a remarkable population of glossy ibis, spoonbill, different species of egrets and herons. Most of the European freshwater fish species (around 70 species) exist in the Delta. Because of its remarkable biodiversity, the Delta was listed by Ukraine under the Ramsar Convention as a Wetland of International Importance on 23 November 1995.

The ecological consequences of capital dredging or new infrastructure interventions are likely to destroy the natural dynamic of sediment transport and water discharge of the Danube Delta which drive the formation and maintenance of habitats for many endangered species such as Danube sturgeon. The reedbeds, river branches and sandbanks are critical for rare birds. The removal of a sandbar at the mouth of the canal, for instance, could directly lead to the loss of the habitat of a total of over 4000 birds including 550 common and sandwich terns, 6 pairs of spoonbill, 25 pairs of white-pelican, 3 pairs of Dalmatian pelican, 25 pairs of pygmy cormorant (globally threatened) and one pair of white– tailed Eagles according to annual counts made in April 2004.

For further information:

  • Irene Lucius, Regional Conservation Director, WWF Central and Eastern Europe - ilucius@wwfcee.org


Thumbnail image sources: Wikipedia

Danube delta

Danube delta

© Bogdan Lungu/WWF



© Wikipedia