Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation
The Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation is the third-richest biosphere reservation in the world in terms of biodiversity, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. It is home to more than 7,000 known species of plants and animals known and, scientists believe, still more as yet unknown.
This feature of the Danube River is the only delta in the world with biosphere reservation status. Its area accounts for 2.5% of Romania’s surface, and is the third largest delta in Europe, after those of the Volga and the Kuban, and it is the 22nd largest in the world. It shelters the largest compact area of reed beds on the planet and supports 30 types of ecosystem. Thanks to all these factors, the Danube Delta is a unique treasure of the planet’s natural heritage.
Its natural wonders afford the delta triple status. It is, since 1990, part of the international network of biosphere reservations recognised by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme, has been declared by the RAMSAR Convention of 1991 a wetlands area of international importance for its habitats for water birds, and it has been included on UNESCO’s World Culture and Natural Heritage List as of December 1990.
Besides the actual delta’s 3510 km2, Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation’s other remarkable features includes the Razim – Sinoe complex of lakes (1145 km2), the Black Sea beach strip (1030 km2), the Danube riverbank between Cotul Pisicii and Isaccea (13 km2) and the Danube flood-meadow between Isaccea and Tulcea (102 km2 ).
The Delta is exceptional not just for its biodiversity, but also for the large population sizes of many species. The mosaic of habitats here is the most varied in Romania, with the number of plant species recently estimated at 2,994, and the number of animal species at 4,262. Approximately 70% of the Delta’s vegetation is dominated by various reeds and rushes, some of which form the floating islands locally known as ‘plauri’.
The mighty Danube River flows 1,788 miles from its springs in Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea. Just before reaching the sea it forms the second largest and best preserved of Europe’s deltas: 2,200 square miles of rivers, canals, marshes, tree-fringed lakes and reed islands. The Danube Delta is a wildlife enthusiast’s (especially a bird watcher’s) paradise.
Danube DeltaTravelers can spend three or more days exploring its passages, teaming with the highest concentration of bird colonies in all of Europe. The maze of canals bordered by thatch, willows and oaks entangled in lianas, offers the perfect breeding ground for countless species of birds, some of them from as far away as China and Africa. Millions of Egyptian white pelicans arrive here every spring to raise their young, while equal numbers of Arctic geese come here to escape the harsh winters of Northern Europe.
Some 300 species of birds make Danube’s Delta their home, including cormorants, white tailed eagles and glossy ibises. The bird watching season lasts from early spring to late summer. Birds are not the only inhabitants of the Delta. There is also a rich community of fish and animals; from wildcats, foxes and wolves, to even an occasional boar or deer. Altogether, 3,450 animal species can be seen here, as well as 1,700 plant species.
Danube Delta Pelicans
» The Danube River is the most international river on the planet – its course runs across — or forms a part of the borders of several countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and four capitals: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.
» Formed over a period of more than 10,000 years, the Danube Delta continues to grow due to the 67 million tons of alluvia deposited every year by the Danube River.
» The Delta is formed around the three main channels of the Danube, named after their respective ports: Chilia (in the north), Sulina (in the middle), and Sfantu Gheorghe (in the south).
» The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve has the third largest biodiversity in the world, exceeded only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Archipelago in Ecuador.
» The Delta is exceptional not just for its biodiversity, but also for the large population sizes of many species. The mosaic of habitats here is the most varied in Romania, with the number of plant species recently estimated at 2,994, and the number of animal species at 4,262. Approximately 70% of the Delta’s vegetation is dominated by various reeds and rushes, some of which form the floating islands locally known as ‘plauri’.
» The Danube Delta is home to over 60% of the world’s population of pygmy cormorants (phalacrocorax pygmeus), 50% of red-breasted geese (branta ruficollis) and the largest number of white pelicans (pelecanus onocrotalus) and Dalmatian pelicans (pelecanus crispus) in Europe.
» It also is home to the world’s largest reed bed expanse
– 625, 000 acres / 240,000 ha.
» Some 15,000 people inhabit the Delta area, living in 28 villages and one city (Sulina).
» The area was first attested by Herodot of Halicarnas (484 – 425 B.C.).
» More then half of the Delta Biosphere Reserve is virtually intact.
» With so much of its surface covered by water, the Danube Delta is the least populous area in Romania, with less than 3.5 inhabitants per km2. Settlements border various of the Danube’s channels and are small in size. So as best to conserve the natural riches found here, the delta has been divided into 18 habitat types. These include strictly protected habitats with access only for researchers and covering 8.7% of the reservation’s area, buffer habitats around the protected areas to cushion the environmental impacts on them and accounting for 38.5%, and economic habitats where agriculture, fishing and forestry are practised, and settlements are allowed.
» A further special category has been created, adding areas designated for ecological reconstruction. Here, the Reservation Authority harnesses the most cutting edge knowledge and technology to develop activities designed to restore degraded areas’ ecological balance.
The Danube Delta is comprised of an intricate network of waterways and lakes divided between the three main estuary channels of the Danube. This area of floating reed islands, forests, pastures and sand dunes covers 3,000 square miles and is home to a fascinating mix of cultures and people as well as a vast array of wildlife. Located at the tip of the three channels, Tulcea makes a great starting point for exploring the Danube Delta.
Chilia Arm (Bratul Chilia)
Tulcea – Chilia Veche – Periprava
Access: Scheduled boat service between Tulcea and Periprava with stops in Ceatalchioi, Plaur, Pardina, Tatanir, Chilia Veche
The youngest arm of the Danube Delta stretches for some 72 miles along the border with Ukraine and has the greatest flow of water (approximately 60%) of the three arms. Its shores are home to several scattered villages – Patlagean, Ceatalchioi, Pardina, Tatanir – and Chilia Veche, a settlement with a long history (initially a Greek colony called Achillea).
Visit the Danube DeltaCenturies ago, Chilia was a port on the Black Sea, a vital link between Europe and the Orient. In time, the alluvium deposited by the Danube has extended the land ever further into the Black Sea. Today, Chilia stands more than 25 miles from the sea. First documented in 1241 in the works of the Persian chronicler, Rashid al-Din, Chilia Veche was the site of a battle between the armies of Mahomed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, and forces led by Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler). A town on the Ukrainian side of the Danube, known as Novo Kilia (Chilia Noua, or ‘Newer Chilia,’ in Romanian) was founded by Stephen the Great of Moldavia in the 15th century in order to counteract the Ottoman Empire.
Periprava, downstream from Chilia Veche, is the last site served by passenger boats on the Chilia arm. South of Periprava, you can explore the impressive Letea Reserve (Padurea Letea) with trees more than 500 years old. Oak, black poplar, elm, ash and thorny shrubs are smothered in the tropical creeper named periploca, a Mediterranean plant with reddish-brown bark and simple, glossy leaves, giving the Letea Forest its tropical looks. Here, you may encounter black-bellied foxes, wild horses, boars, falcons and white-tailed eagles. The surrounding sand dunes are home to tortoises and lizards.
Note: Access to Letea Forest is permitted only with a guide (warden) on the designated route.
You can find accommodations in nearby Letea Village and spend a few days touring the surrounding waterways.
Sulina Arm (Bratul Sulina)
Tulcea – Crisan – Sulina
Access: Scheduled boat service between Tulcea and Sulina with stops in:
Partizani, Maliuc, Crisan
The Sulina Arm, shortest of the three, stretches some 42 miles from Tulcea to Sulina. Although it only carries 18% of the total water flow, Sulina is the main navigation route for passenger and commercial traffic. Between 1880 and 1902, a canal was dug to facilitate river traffic, shortening the natural course of the Sulina arm and allowing for easier access to villages in the Delta.
Maliuc (15 miles east of Tulcea)
Maliuc is one of the Delta’s youngest settlements. Lake Furtuna, one of the region’s largest lakes, lies just to the north of Maliuc. Pairs of swans and numerous moor hens and wild ducks mingle with other species while white pelicans often gather in huge numbers to feed and roost around this lake.
Crisan (28 miles east of Tulcea)
Crisan is the main stepping-off point between Tulcea and Sulina.A fishermen’s village with a few houses spreading over the right bank and a fishery on the opposite shore, it makes an excellent base for exploring the surrounding lakes and canals. Private guestrooms and B&Bs are available. From here, you can rent a boat, or lotca, from the locals, and travel on the Old Danube Canal to Mila 23 or to Caraorman (Black Forest in Turkish) village and Caraorman Forest, a strictly protected reserve with brown oak trees, white and black poplars, white willows and fluffy ash surrounded by sandbanks. Owls, white-tailed eagles, falcons, wildcats, boars and wolves, as well as many rare plants, thrive in the area.
Note: Access to Caraorman Forest is permitted only with a guide (warden) on the designated route.
English engineers measured the course of the Danube in miles, starting with mile 0 in Sulina on the Black Sea coast. Hence, 23 miles inland, you will find Mila 23, a quaint traditional fishing village. Located on a bend of the Sulina arm known as the ‘Old Danube’ (Dunarea Veche), Mila 23 is one of the main settlements of the Lipoveni, descendants of Russian refugees who fled from religious persecution in the early 18th century and who make their living from fishing, livestock breeding and reed harvesting in this vast area. As this is a good starting point for trips to the nearby waterways, many villagers rent rooms to visitors.
Sulina, the terminus point for cruise liners sailing across the Delta, was mentioned for the first time more than 1,000 years ago under the name of Selina in a work written by Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetes. This port town once bustled with traders from Europe and the Middle East, adventurers and sea pirates. The town served as headquarters for the European Danube Commission during the 19th century when the Danube was turned into a waterway suitable for commercial shipping. This huge project attracted workers from all over Europe, and the Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish tombstones in Sulina’s cemetery bear witness to this former international community.
Notice the 19th century Greek Church of Saint Nicholas on the waterfront. The 60-foot-tall lighthouse, located in the middle of town, was built in 1802 and restored in 1870 by the Danube Commission. Enjoy a stroll along the 25-mile-long fine-sand beach.
Sfantu Gheoghe Arm (Bratul Sfantu Ghoerghe)
Tulcea – Sfantu Gheorghe
Access: Scheduled boat service between Tulcea and Sulina with stops in: Balteni de Jos, Mahmudia, Murighiol
A number of interesting villages dot the banks of the Sfantu Ghoerghe arm, which stretches for some 67 miles and carries 23% of the Danube’s total water flow. Mahmudia and Dunavatu de Jos were founded either atop or near Greek, Roman and Byzantine vestiges.
Murighiol is a traditional fishing village, is home to the ruined Roman city of Halmyris, one of the most important ancient sites in Romania. The city was continuously inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 7th century AD. Although a basilica and a crypt containing the tomb of Epictet and Astion, the earliest Romanian Christian martyrs, have been discovered here, much of the ruins remain unexcavated. A visit offers the chance to see an ancient city still in the process of being uncovered.
Murighiol is the jump-off point for boats to Uzlina. Located 24 miles east of Tulcea, Uzlina is home to the offices of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Jacques Cousteau Foundation. The Cormoran Tourist Complex in Uzlina provides facilities for hiring boats and guides to venture into some of the more interesting parts of the Delta.
First mentioned in 1318, the fishing village of Sfantu Gheorghe is well-known for its traditional cooking, including the famous black caviar (icre negre). A 30-minute walk will take you to one of the longest strips of beach on the Romanian Black Sea coast.
Visit historic sites, explore the waterways in a canoe or traditional fisherman boat, catch a sunset you’ll never forget, sample wine from vineyards dating back to the Roman Empire and savor some of the finest caviar in the world, the beluga sturgeon from the Black Sea!
The profuse plantlife of the lakes and channels support species such as white and yellow water lily, water caltrop and water milfoil. Some plant types here are carnivorous, feeding on microorganisms. These include bladderwort and waterwheel plant. Common on the high riverbanks are willow forests supporting several willow species, while grey willow is found on lower banks and even on the ‘plauri’ islands.
The forests of Letea and Caraorman support very specialised ecosystems, lying in the lower and more humid areas among sand dunes. Here species of oak, ash, shrubs and climbing plants thrive, such as Virginia creeper and Greek liana. In areas where the soil is salty plants specific to the region such as frog grass, weeping alkaligrass and Rumex crispuscan be found.
Some plant species here, perfectly adapted to their environments, do without roots and simply float, among them salvinia natans, three species of duckwood, onosma arenarium and aldrovanda vesiculosa. These are has also been the site of two new species discoveries – starthistleand water grass.
» Bird Watching
Danube Delta Bird WatchingA bird-watchers’ paradise, the Danube Delta offers the opportunity to spot more than 300 species of migratory and resident birds, including eagles, egrets, vultures, geese, cranes, ibises, cormorants, swans and pelicans. Located on the 45th parallel, the Danube Delta makes for a perfect stopping-off point between the Equator and the North Pole for millions of migratory birds.
Some of the most important species include:
The White Pelican (pelecanus onocrotalus)
In March, swaths of white pelicans leave the Nile Delta and the Red Sea to come nest in the Danube Delta. The Delta is home to Europe’s largest breeding population (some 3,500 pairs).
Best seen: March to October
Dalmatian Pelican (pelecanus crispus)
After decades of decline, this species’ numbers have slowly begun to increase in the Delta. Currently, some 150 pairs have been spotted in several small colonies.
Best seen: April to October; some pairs may stay over the winter.
Small Egret (egretta garzetta)
A migratory species protected by law, the small egret lives in marshy areas and nests in small willows.
Best seen: April to October; some pairs may stay over the winter.
Pygmy Cormorant (phalacrocorax pygmeus)
Best seen: April to October; some pairs may stay over the winter.
Ferruginous Duck (aythya nyroca)
The Danube Delta may be the last place in Europe to see this declining species. In August and September, large numbers often gather at Somova Lake, just west of Tulcea.
Best seen: March to October
Red-breasted Goose (branta ruficollis)
In winter, thousands of this species – almost half of the entire world population – reside on the Razim-Sinoe lagoon and coastal plain to the south of the Delta.
Best seen: Late October to March
Glossy Ibis (plegadis falcinellus)
More than 30% of the European population nests in the reed beds of the delta.
Best seen: April to September
» Wild Life watching
The conditions created by this wide variety of land and water habitats also nurture rich animal life – the reservation currently shelters 4262 species. The largest group is of invertebrate organisms, whose species here number 3713 – warms, molluscs, spiders, insects and microscopic organisms.
To date, the inventory of mammal species in the Danube Delta counts 52 varieties, among which are animals of great significance to European conservation, such as the otter and the European mink. Predators here include mustela erminea, raccoon dogs, foxes, felis silvestris and the golden jackal – a relatively new species.
The Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation is Romania’s most important area for fish farming, and 135 species of fish are raised here. Most are freshwater varieties, but sea fish from the Black Sea also enter the delta and the river during their mating season. Among them are sturgeon, found only in the northern hemisphere and almost exclusively in the Black and Caspian Seas.
Sturgeon fishing has been prohibited for 10 years.
Explore unique and unspoiled habitat and discover hidden water pathways, sand dunes, abundant bird and wild life, local traditions by canoe or by local lotca fishing boat.
» Floating Hotels
Choose to spend your holiday, your next meeting of Board of Directors or organise your private event on floating hotels classified by National Tourism Authority. These charming floating houses meets all the EU standards of comfort and security.
Moments spent on the boat are opportunities for relaxation and culinary delights of local dishes and they provide : fishing licenses and equipments, hunting licenses, authorised guides, programs for researchers, speed boats for cruising, artistic perfomances and unforgettable memories.
Route 1: Tulcea – Mila 35 Channel – Gârla Sireasa – Gârla Şontea – Olguţa Channel – Dunărea Veche – Mila 23 village – Crişan – Maliuc – Tulcea
Route 2: Tulcea – Maliuc – Lebăda Hotel – Crişan Channel – Caraorman – Puiu Lake – Busurca Channel – Sulina – Tulcea
Route 3: Murighiol – Canalul Dunavăţ – Dranov Channel – Holbina Gulf – Razim Lake – Gura Portiţei
Route D1: Letea – C.A. Rosetti – Letea Forest – Nebunu Lake and back
Route D3: Caraorman – Caraorman Forest – Erenciuc Lake and back
Route D4: Murighiol – Sărături Lake and back
Route D7: Nuntaşi – Histria Fortress – Sinoie Lake and back
Location: south-east Romania, Tulcea and Constanţa Counties
Area: 5800 km2
By road – through (A2) Bucharest – Drajna Nouă – DN21 Slobozia – E60/DN2A Hârşova – DN22A Tulcea, ferry from Galaţi – DN22E I.C. Brătianu – Garvăn (DN22E) – Tulcea, through Brăila – Smârdan (by ferryboat) – Măcin (DN 22) – Tulcea
By train – to Tulcea
Local accommodation: 2, 3, 4 and 5-star guest houses, 3-star bungalows, 2 and 3-daisy agritourism, 4-star camping
Contact: Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation Administration : www.ddbra.ro