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Danube Delta Florin Feneru


The Danube Delta

by Florin Feneru

The Danube Delta is one of the best placesin Europe for birds yet still most West European birders haven't been there.

Indeed, the Danube delta along with the lagoon system and plains south of it host massive numbers of bird species and individuals that make this region a birding Eldorado for the visitors.

The 580,000 hectares of the Danube Delta Biosphere's Reserve includes the largest reed surface in the world, interrupted by lakes and channels, where thousands of pelicans, all the herons, ibis, ducks, warblers and other birds breed.

Birds like White-Tailed Eagle/Seeadler (Haliaeetus albicilla), Paddyfield Warbler/Feldrohrsänger (Acrocephalus agricola), Pied Wheatear/Nonnensteinschmätzer (Oenanthe pleschanka) and Dalmatian Pelican/Krauskopfpelikan (Pelecanus crispus) may be of interest for list keepers, but the main attraction here is the great show of nature, with huge wild areas reachable only by rowing boat, and all the birds seen at close range.

South of the delta Histria is a reserve where, stopping the car anywhere on a road near a lake, you can see thousands of water birds including 60 species of waders, terns, ducks, gulls, geese, cormorants/Kormoran (Phalacrocorax carbo), pelicans, herons, and egrets. And in the reeds a few meters from the road, Paddyfield Warblers/Feldrohrsänger (Acrocephalus agricola), Bearded tits Bartmeise (Panurus biarmicus). Or, in the steppes just one kilometer away, you can easily see Calandra Larks/Kalanderlerche (Melanocorypha calandra).

The mountains are even less well known to birders and we heartily recommend a visit to Piatra Craiului and Retezat mountains, or to the large Bicaz Gorges, and again not just for the easy ticking of Wallcreeper/Mauerläufer (Tichodroma muraria) and other alpine species, but also for the large areas that are still wild and untouched by human influence, they can offer a spectacular birding. In Romania, birding is a new and developing hobby. The Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR) / BirdLife Romania only has about 5000 members. For a guided birdwatching trip one can contact Ibis Tours or amateur guides from the SOR. These are also two good sources of useful information on birding in Romania.


Not just Baia Mare
Reports by David Conlin - German Birdnet
Local Comment by Florin Feneru - Romanian Ornithological Society


500 tonnes of dead fish / EU plans to send team of experts to investigate

According to the Hungarian biologist Karoly Gyore, 500 tonnes of dead fish have been recovered from the River Thiess in Hungary following the environmental disaster at the Baia Mare gold mining works in Romania, where poisonous cyanide sludge overflowed into the river. The estimated fish stocks for this stretch of the river before the disaster are estimated as 4000 tonnes. The poisonous flood has now reached Bulgaria where the first 50 dead fish have been recovered from the River Danube. In this instance it is unclear whether these fish were poisoned or dynamited. The latest analyses show that the cyanide content in the Danube has risen but, according to the official Bulgarian radio station, still remains under the acceptable value of 0.1 milligram/litre.

In the meantime the Rumanian authorities have taken steps to prepare for the return of the cyanide to their country – in the biologically important habitat of the Danube Delta. In the port of Constanta on the Black Sea, and its surroundings, the water supply from the Danube has been cut off. Consideration is also being given to closing the Danube-Black Sea Canal. The uptake of drinking water from the Rivers Thiess and Danube is once again officially permitted in Serbia. The Ministry for Agriculture, Forest and Waterways announced on Friday that cyanide and heavy metal levels had fallen well below the permitted levels.

Cyanide levels in the Ukrainian stretch of the River Thiess give no cause for concern according to the local authorities and up until now no dead fish have been discovered. The Ukraine had stated a few days ago that an acute threat to the species-rich Danube Delta could be excluded. The Danube Delta is still ecologically intact and, after the Amazon Delta, one of the most important internationally. The Rumanian part of the Danube Delta was declared a Biosphere Reserve 10 years ago.

The EU Environment commissar Margot Wallstroem, who visited the area this week, has announced that a team of experts will be sent to the affected region of the Rivers Somes, Thiess and Danube to clearly establish the cause of the disaster. She demanded that the Rumanian authorities make efforts to explain the consequences of the situation to the local people. The latest analysis had shown that the cyanide values were 800-3000 times above the acceptable limit.

Although Esmeralda Exportations, an Australian company, owns 50 % or more of the joint venture gold mine, the affected southeast European countries can expect no help from the Australian government. The Australian Minister for the Environment stated on Friday in Canberra: "I don't believe that we have a moral obligation…this is a private matter for the company involved." Brett Montgomery, chairman of Esmeralda, once again emphasised that there was no evidence of a connection between the environmental disaster and the poisonous overspill from the mine. [A previous statement by a company spokesman had suggested that the fish had died because of shortage of oxygen in the partly ice-covered river!]

In the words of the chairman of the Romanian environmental agencies, Marcian Bleahu, a catastrophe on the scale of Baia Mare cannot occur again. "What happened was a combination of unusual circumstances." Melting snow and heavy rain had raised the level in the filter basin so quickly that a prompt pumping out in order to avoid the dam breaking was impossible.

Comment: The full consequences of the disaster will be known only after a period of careful monitoring of the complete course of the affected rivers and of the Danube Delta. This will be a costly and time-consuming operation, the burden of which will undoubtedly fall on the member states of the European Union. This is understandable as the affected countries are probably short of expertise and certainly of the necessary finance. Nevertheless, it is difficult to accept that the Australian government has no moral obligations in the matter. Besides the fact that the company involved is Australian, it is hard to believe that a joint venture with a former communist state could be set up without any assistance by, or knowledge of, the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry. In either event, and bearing in mind similar past accidents in the 'gold-tailing' industry in Australia, some technical advice or supervision on a governmental level could have been expected. At the very least the outrageous statements by company representatives on the spot and in Australia, might be considered to be disadvantageous to Australia's image abroad. Of concern is also the attitude of the local environmental agencies to a repeat of the tragedy. Such statements often reflect an unwillingness or inability to tackle the roots of this and similar problems. Here again the European states can perhaps offer their expertise and experience. Before this problem finally goes away we must regrettably await the arrival of the cyanide and other substances at the end of the food chain (birds – and humans!).


Five weeks after the cyanide poisoning in the rivers Tisza and Danube a new environmental catastrophe threatens. On Friday 10 March, a filter basin of the "Remin" Mine in Borsa, Romania, overflowed and deposited 20,000 tonnes of heavy metal contaminated sludge in the River Vaser. The Vaser is a tributary of the Viseu which flows into the Tisza. The authorities have issued a warning to the neighbouring countries of Hungary and Ukraine. The 10m high filter basin dike of the government-owned mine, weakened by heavy rainfall and thawing snow, collapsed over a length of 25m. Over the last 2 days 37litres of rain pro m² fell in Borsa. Last week the WWF declared the danger of poisoning over for the Danube Delta. In the rivers Tisza and Danube hundreds of tonnes of fish died and the otter population has probably been wiped out. The long-term effects of the Baia Mare and now the Borsa disasters are as yet incalculable.

Update 12. March

Today's press in Germany reports - mostly on the back page - on 'the day after' the new environmental disaster in Romania. According to the Romanian Environment Ministry, stretches of the Rivers Tisza, Vaser and Viseu are contaminated with zinc, lead and iron waste. The extent of the disaster is still unclear but the level of contamination is thankfully lower than feared.

Well that's a relief! A further 150 km of the River Tisza, spared by lying upstream from the inflow from Baia Mare, has 'only' had a minor injection of 22,000 tonnes of heavy metal sludge. A drop in the ocean compared with 100,000 tonnes of cyanide. I hope others read these figures as - t w e n t y t h o u s a n d - and - o n e h u n d r e d t h o u s a n d t o n n e s - imagine that in your local reservoir or trout-fishing stretch.

The WWF also sees the catastrophe as 'not so great' in relation to the cyanide wave. Like comparing the effects of a 10 and 100 kiloton warhead? "In the long term the heavy metal contamination could be dangerous for small organisms" in the words of a WWF spokesperson in Germany. And the bigger organisms that eat the small organisms, and the birds and mammals which... G o r d o n B e n n e t! Do they send them all to the Jamie Shea College of Elocution nowadays?

The article ends with "from the mine into the River Vasar, which 50 km downstream flows into...." Well it's all relative isn't it?

It's a long way away, and the rivers flow eastward (eventually); still I don't think we've heard the last of it - or similar disasters in Eastern Europe. It would be nice to hear from local environmentalists in the region.


Good (but not very heartening) coverage of the mining problem in Romania on German TV last night including a clip of very respectable length in the main German news.

In summary 4 main points:

1. There are 30 (!) more mines which are in a dangerous condition in respect of poisonous sludge.

2. An EU technical team is working overtime with the local authorities and government on the problem.

3. The WWF are quite aware of the long-term problems - and are very concerned (the papers did not do them justice). The local WWF head in Hungary said that the latest heavy metal sludge was potentially more dangerous than the cyanide because it left deposits on fields, insinuated itself into tributaries and side arms of the rivers - and would "be coming out of the cow's milk in years to come".

4. Simply closing the mines is not easy; neither from a technical nor from a human point of view. The local mine workers in the backwoods and their families live a dirty, dangerous, ill-paid (if at all) and generally miserable life. They scavenge the mine rubbish for scrap metal to sell for food. As one old (well he looked old) mine worker, standing next to his shack, said. "Since the revolution its got even worse. They've all deserted us; the government, the rest of the nation and even God I think." Not a very happy report but perhaps we can all in our own way ensure that the problem, and the people, do not get forgotten again so quickly. Those of us who believe he is up there somewhere might also put in a word for them with HIM before we go to bed tonight.


Comment by Florin Feneru - Romania Ornithological Society

Dear All,

It is a coincidence that the two catastrophes in Romania happened so quickly together, but don't be surprised if others follow. Romania is a very poor country, vulnerable to this type of threat.

There is no political will in the field of the environment's protection. The corruption is strong at all levels, and most of the members of the "political class" are interested only about getting rich quickly and being re-elected. People are very poor, worried about what they will eat tomorrow and not interested about the death of some fishes. They don't care (or at least don't show it) about the pollution in their towns (air and drinking water)!

Imagine a family of high-school teachers paid with 50 US$ a month each. How can they care about the poisoning of river Tisa, when they don't have a home (they live at one's parents home) and almost all money go to survival needs?

If you think these are some stupid words said at anger, is because you live in countries very different from Romania. You are impressed about these catastrophes because they affected a third part (countries like Hungary), and mass-media focused on them, but nobody talks about Copsa Mica, a small town where everything is covered in smoke since decades. And nobody worried about the cyanides arriving in the Danube Delta, one of the most important wetlands in Europe.

Who cares about Romanian forests, where bears, wolves and lynx still roam free, but are threatened with a quick death, cut for timber? This is also a natural disaster, in my opinion.

And how do you expect the Romanian officials, who live in large villas and drive luxury cars to care about the death of a river, when they don't care about millions of people dying of famine, powerless and depressed?

That's the situation today, dear friends.

I'm sorry,


Florin Feneru
Societatea Ornitologica Romana (SOR) – Bacau
Calea Marasesti 169/21 5500 Bacau ROMANIA

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