Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve
After passing through several countries and absorbing countless lesser waterways, the Danube empties into the Black Sea just south of the Ukrainian border. The Danube Delta, included on Unesco’s World Heritage list, is one of Romania’s leading tourist attractions. At Tulcea, the river splits into three separate channels: the Chilia, Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe arms, creating a constantly evolving 4187-sq-km wetland of marshes, floating reed islets and sandbars.
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.
The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve has the third largest biodiversity in the world (over 5,500 flora and fauna species), exceeded only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Archipelago in Ecuador. It 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.
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 is the youngest arm of the Danube Delta stretching for some 72 miles along the border with Ukraine and having the greatest flow of water (approximately 60%) of the three arms. Centuries ago, Chilia was a port on the Black Sea, a vital link between Europe and the Orient. Lake Rosca, a strictly protected reserve located between Chilia Veche and Periprava, is home to Europe’s largest white pelican colony; the area also harbors geese, egrets and storks.
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. Lake Furtuna is one of the region’s largest lakes. 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.
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.Murighiol, 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. First mentioned in 1318, the fishing village of Sfantu Gheorghe is well-known for its traditional cooking, including the famous black caviar.
Birdwatching A 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.
Fishing The Delta’s waters teem with some 160 species of fresh- and salt-water fish:pike, pike pearch, carp, cat fish.