Stage 11: Tulcea / Danube Delta

From Germany, the Danube flows once across Central and Eastern Europe and flows into the Black Sea in the tri-border area of Romania-Ukraine-Moldova. The area is the second largest delta in Europe with a unique network of over 30 ecosystems. Here you can discover the largest reed area in the world and numerous bird species – including the pink pelican. The heaviest flying bird is native nowhere else in Europe.

A natural paradise that was already on the verge of destruction – and is still acutely threatened today. Thus, starting in the 1960s, large parts of the delta were drained in communist Romania. Among other things, because Elena Ceaușescu, the wife of the former dictator, wanted to grow rice here – but it didn’t work. The artificially altered landscape and with it the animals and plants died anyway.

Only the fall of the regime in Romania and the disintegration of state socialism in Central and Eastern Europe saved the natural paradise from extensive destruction. Today, the Danube Delta is the largest transboundary protected area in Europe, involving Romania,Bulgaria,the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine are involved. Today, scientists from all over Europe work in the former vacation villa of Nicolae Ceaușescus, conducting research on the conservation of the natural paradise.

The unemployment rate in the region is between 30 and 40 percent. Combined with the problem of poaching, which acutely threatens the ecological balance – such as electrofishing and the illegal export of wild horses – the need for socio-ecological change becomes clear. Only when social ills are addressed can ecological balance be ensured.

Tourism poses another threat to the delta. More and more operators are sailing speedboats across the sensitive waterways, bringing people even to small settlements where new guesthouses and bars are being built all the time. In one of them – Milan 23, a village with about 200 inhabitants of the Russian minority – we talk to Ionel. In the 1980s he was a captain on a large merchant ship with a crew of more than 100. After the system collapsed, he became unemployed. At the end of the 1990s, Ionel founded his own family business, bringing tourists to the delta and introducing them to flora and fauna. The business is doing well. Today he is a successful entrepreneur and winner of the transformation. The ecosystem in the Danube Delta, on the other hand, will be increasingly damaged by the growing success of his industry.

Text & Photos: Christian Faludi