Restored Danube Delta wetland area could be turned back into agricultural area (organisation)

A restored wetland area in the Danube Delta risks being transformed, once again, into agricultural area as a result of a court decision in favour of agricultural companies, WWF-Romania environmental activists report.

“The controversy began in June last year, when the swollen waters of the Danube breached the dike surrounding an area near Mahmudia, which had been restored eight years earlier on EU funds and had become a thriving and biodiverse wetland, which significantly stimulated tourism. More than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded, and they became a typical deltaic ecosystem again. The newly flooded wetland was well received by the community: 97% of the locals prefer it in its current state and do not want it to be dried up and used again for agricultural purposes, according to a WWF-Romania survey. However, agricultural lessees in the area won in court – in the first instance – to reconvert the area into agricultural area – a decision that threatens also to destroy the entire wetland area, including the area restored on EU funds,” the organisation said in a press statement released on Friday.

WWF-Romania says that on World Wetlands Day, they are requesting that the Mahmudia wetland be designated by the Government an “ecological reconstruction area of national interest” in order to protect its natural benefits and allow the community to develop based on them.

“WWF stands with the people of Mahmudia because they know how much these restored wetlands benefit their lives and livelihoods. Wetland restoration is essential to reverse the loss of nature and increase resilience to climate change,” WWF-Romania Director Orieta Hulea is quoted as saying in the statement.

According to WWF Romania, between 2012 and 2016 the organisation in collaboration with the Mahmudia local council and the Administration of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve managed to reconstruct 924 hectares of wetlands in the Carasuhat agricultural area.

“The restored deltaic ecosystem rapidly improved water quality and resulted in increased populations of fish and other wildlife in the area, benefitting local fishermen and tourism operators as the site became a magnet for visitors. The number of tourist lodges doubled after the restoration – investors in accommodation establishments considering on the one hand the reconstructed area as a potential tourist attraction and on the other hand taking advantage of the availability of European funds.”

Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Musonda Mumba is quoted as saying that in 2024, we cannot afford to lose more wetlands.

Given the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for increased protection and restoration of nature, as well as the Danube Wild Island Habitat Corridor, there is an opportunity for wetland conservation. Restored wetlands provide immense ecosystem services that contribute to a nature-based economy, such as sustainable tourism.

That aligns with the World Wetlands Day theme of human well-being. Ecological restoration has the potential to stimulate conservation and regional development strategies in floodplains and wetlands.

The Danube Delta has lost significant areas over the years through damming, drainage and the transformation of wetlands into agricultural land during the communist period, which affected the means of local livelihoods, especially fishing, and led to dramatic losses of nature, according to WWF Romania data.

The Danube Delta, the second largest river delta in Europe, is one of the most valuable wetland fauna habitats on the continent. Currently, agricultural land is making up almost 13% of the Danube Delta’s area most of it being leased out for a period of up to 30 years to large commercial agricultural companies.