Ukraine Warned to Cancel Canal in Danube Wetland

CAMBRIDGE, UK, May 20, 2003 (ENS) – The Ukrainian Union for Bird Conservation, the BirdLife International Partner organization in the Ukraine, is urging the government to cancel its plans to build a deep water canal through a strictly protected zone of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve on the Black Sea coast.

In a letter sent today, the Ukrainian Union for Bird Conservation (UTOP) asked the Ukrainian government to pledge that the canal will not be built at this week’s European Environment Minister’s Summit in Kiev which opens on Wednesday.

The Danube Delta is the largest European wetland and reed bed, forming also Europe’s largest water purification system, according to the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which maintains the Man and the Biosphere program. UNESCO says that 312 important bird species are present in the Delta, which is a stopover and breeding area for many other bird species.


The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
The canal is planned to traverse the Bystroe estuary. The Ukrainian Minister of Transport Georgy Kirpa has stated the intention of his ministry to withdraw all estuaries from the reserve to further the canal project.

Transport Ministry officials say the canal is necessary because 65 percent of foreign ships have begun to travel through the Bystroye estuary instead of using Romanian channels.

Oleg Dudkin of UTOP warns, “If it goes ahead, this development will destroy the nesting and staging sites of tens of thousands of birds, including six species on the IUCN Red List of Globally Threatened Species and 38 on the Ukrainian Red List.”

“Along with the Volga Delta in Russia, this is the most important wetland site for birds in Europe," Dudkin said.

The Ukrainian Parliament's National Safety Committee meeting which will decide whether or not to route a deep water canal through the reserve has been postponed to the end of May.

Declared as both Natural World Heritage and Ramsar site in 1991, about 90 fish species, including populations of sturgeon, live in the Danube Delta reserve. Bystroye estuary is the herring fishing center of the delta.

The reserve is part of the joint Ukrainian and Romanian transborder biosphere reserve, and it has been designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. It is also one of the last refuges for the European mink, the wildcat, the freshwater otter and the globally threatened monk seal.


Dalmatian pelicans like these shelter in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. (Photo by Cuneyt Oguztuzun courtesy BirdLife International)
The reserve is inhabited by six globally threatened and near threatened species, BirdLife says - the critically endangered slender-billed curlew, the vulnerable red-breasted goose, the conservation dependent Dalmatian pelican, and the near threatened ferruginous duck, the pygmy cormorant, and the white-tailed eagle.

UTOP says there are at least six preferable alternative routes to the proposed canal including Solomonov – Zhebriyanovskaya Bay.

BirdLife International, a global alliance of national conservation nongovernmental organizations working in more than 100 countries, is going to write to the European Commission asking the EU executive not to support the proposed canal development. The bird conservationists want the Commission to lobby the Ukrainian government to cancel current plans and choose an alternative to building a canal through this wetland.

BirdLife Partners organizations in countries that include or border the River Danube are also going to write to their respective governments calling on them to pressure the Ukraine to drop the canal route through the wetland reserve.

In total, more then 20,000 pairs of waterfowl breed there, BirdLife says - terns, ducks, swans, gulls, geese, plovers, ibis, egrets, herons - a variety of increasingly rare species.


The slender-billed curlew is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as critically endangered. (Photo by Arnoud B. van den Berg courtesy BirdLife International)
In all, 115,000 birds or 10 percent of the population in the Black Sea-Mediterranean area winter there, and in certain years up to 7,000 red-breasted geese or seven percent of the world population may winter on the reserve, says the bird conservation organization.

From Russia, the Socio-Ecological Union, a nongovernmental organization, is lobbying hard to keep the canal out of the reserve. "The navigable channel intends realization of huge dredging work, during which millions of cubic meters of the taken out ground will be dumped in the Black Sea," the group says on its website. "It results in destruction of soil fauna, the food for fish, and many young fish perish, reservoir becomes polluted."

The Institute of Hydrobiology, of the Ukranian National Academy of Science, has carried out an ecological assessment of a navigable waterway from the Danube to the Black Sea. The expert team concluded that the civil engineering design and operation of the deep water ship channel through the Bystroye estuary cannot be permitted on legal and environmental grounds.