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Bystroye Canal and the Danube River Delta An

Anderson S.
GBER Vol. 4 No.2 pp 7- 10
Bystroye Canal and the Danube River Delta
An International Controversy
Sean Anderson
Department of Environmental Health, San Diego, USA*
Background Information about the Danube Delta
The Danube River, Europe’s second largest river, flows through 9 countries,
4 capitals, and 1,777 miles (2,860 km) from the Black Forest in Southern
Germany to the Black Sea. As the river approaches, Tulcea, Romania, the
Danube divides into three main channels: Chilia (north), Sulina (center), and
Sfautu Gheorghe, (South), thus forming the Danube Delta. The Delta covers
1,613,600 acres (626,000 hectares) of land and is controlled by two countries:
Romania and Ukraine, with Romania controlling 90 percent of the territory.
(Teodorescu, 2004)
The Delta consist of 25 different types of natural ecosystems and the home of 1,150 plant
species, 1,525 insect species, 75 species of freshwater fish, 70 species of snails, and mussels, 16
species or reptiles, 8 species of frogs and 300 species of birds (STOPPOL Project DL OR, 2002).
Since the Delta is half way between the North Pole and the Equator, the Danube Delta is a major
migration hub for thousands of birds from Europe, Africa, and Asia (including Southern Asia).
The terrestrial and coastal ecosystems in the Delta are internationally recognized and protected
by the United Nations and Ramsar Convention of Wetlands. The United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed the Delta as a Biosphere Reserve in 1979
and extended the reserve in 1992. Then in 1998, a Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve was created
to include the Ukrainian Port of Dunainsky. In 1991, UNESCO listed Romanian section of the
Delta as a World Heritage Site. Furthermore, the Delta is listed on Ramsar Convention of
Wetlands (Romanian section, 1991 and Kyliisky Mouth, Ukraine, 1995)(Unesco, 2004).
Proposed Canal in the Danube Delta
In early 2001, the public learned about plans to construct deep water Danube-Black Sea Canal
through the Ukrainian section of the Delta. The Ukrainian government supports the Bystroye
canal because it will revitalize the old port of Ust Danaysk (Berlova, 2003). Currently, all major
shipping is going through the Romanian controlled, Sulina Channel. In the past, shipping vessels
used the Bystroye and Prorvo waterways. In 1959, the Bystroye and in 1994 Prorvo waterways
were closed due to siltation (Christl & Erjomin, 2004). The Ukrainian Authorities believe this
new canal would attract a large portion of the cargo ships to use Ukraine as the “Gateway to
Europe” because the canal would be deeper and wider than the other waterways. (Berlova,
*Environmental Health Specialist II, Registered Environmental Health Specialist, County of San Diego, Department
of Environmental Health Hazardous Materials Division Email: [email protected]
Anderson S.
GBER Vol. 4 No.2 pp 7- 10
According to Ukrainian Ministry of Transportation, the new canal would travel through the
Bystroye Estuary of the Danube Delta. This area is a specially protected by international
agreements. In order for the canal construction to proceed, the Ministry of Transportation of
Ukraine issued a decree, signed by the President to withdraw the Bystroye Estuary from the
Reserve(Berlova, 2003). This decree was necessary to allow development of the canal.
Impacts of the Canal in the Danube Delta
The proposed Bystroye Canal in the Delta will have numerous negative impacts in the region.
The following is a summary of the impacts from a Russian organization, The Newsletter of
Socio-Ecological Union A Center for Coordination and Information:
Ukrainian experts conclude the canal through the Bystroye Estuary will result in the following
consequences (Zabelin & Berlova , 2002):
1. The construction and operation of the canal will change the hydrological balance of the
2. The operation of the canal will lead to oil and oil related pollution in the estuary.
3. The construction and operation of the canal will negatively affect the feeding and
breeding habitat of various fish species, including endangered species, in the area. Many
of these species are listed on European and Ukrainian Red Book of Endangered Species.
4. The construction and operation of the canal will increase erosion in the Estuary.
5. The construction and operation of the canal will negatively impact the feeding, resting,
and breeding habitat of birds. Many of these birds are listed in the European and
Ukrainian Red Book of Endangered Species.
6. The construction and operation of the canal will negatively impact the plant community
by erosion and allow non-native plant species to enter the Delta. In addition the change in
the hydrological cycle will cause euthrophication of inner water ponds, and destroy
smaller estuaries.
7. Noise pollution will increase in 3-mile (5 km) zone around the canal.
8. The canal will affect the local population and may threaten to destroy the traditional way
of life for many people in the Delta.
Alternative Plans for a Canal
There are at least eight alternative routes for the proposed canal. These areas include the
following (International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, 2004)
Anderson S.
GBER Vol. 4 No.2 pp 7- 10
Chehovich Variant
Solomonov Branch-Gebriansk Bay
Danube-Sasyk Channel
Prorva Channel
Union Channel
Ochakov branch – Ust-Dunaysk Port
Zhiganka Estuary
Starostabulsk Estuary
Current Status
On 11 May 2004, the Ukrainian government began construction of the canal with a German
company as the general contractor for construction (Christl & Erjomin,2004). The construction
will occur in two phases:
1. Build the canal of 2.05 miles (3.3 km) in length, 278.87 feet (85 m) in bottom width,
25.09 feet (7.65 m) in depth and parts of the dam with the length of .96 mile (1.54 km).
2. Increase the depth of the canal up to 27.30 feet (8.32 m), expand the width of the canal
by 328.08 feet (100 m) and increase the length of the dam by 1.84 mile (3 km).
The canal construction cost is approximately 40 million US Dollars (32.3 million Euros) and is
schedule to be completed in Fall 2005(Christl & Erjomin,2004).
International opposition
United States and European Union
Both the United States and the European Commission agree that the Danube Delta is recognized
and protected by UNESCO and Ramsar Convention of Wetlands. Both governments are deeply
concerned about the Bystroye Canal and its negative impacts in the region(European
Commission, 2004 & United States Department of State, 2004). Furthermore, they request that
Ukraine conduct impartial Environmental Impact Assessment and include public hearings and
evaluation of the transboundary impact(European Commission, 2004 & United States
Department of State, 2004). However, the European Commission continued by requesting a
complete stop of construction until a full assessment is completed(European Commission, 2004).
The Romanian government called on the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) to help stop construction of the canal. Romanian lawmakers want a halt to
the construction of the canal until an international team investigates the project’s environmental
impacts(Teodorescu, 2004)
Anderson S.
GBER Vol. 4 No.2 pp 7- 10
Non-governmental organizations
The Ukrainian National Academy of Science - Danube Biosphere Reserve Section, along with
other international environmental organizations from 64 countries are opposed to the canal
Many non-governmental organizations share the view from the International Commission for the
Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). ICPDR is mandated by the Danube River Protection
Convention to ensure its implementation and cooperation of the contracting parties fulfilling
their respective obligations. ICPDR President, Catherine Day requested that Ukraine “to halt the
future stages of the construction until a proper international evaluation of environmental
consequences of the project can be undertaken.” Furthermore she said, “to continue to proceed
further with the project without completing a proper assessment and discussion of the potential
transboundary impacts is contrary to the spirit and requirements of the Danube River Protection
Convention.” (Christl & Erjomin, 2004)
The ICPDR has reviewed a limited number of available documents about the project and came to
initial conclusion that to date there is clearly insufficient information to assess the environmental
impacts (Christl & Erjomin, 2004)
Berlova, Olga 2003, The Danube Delta-an endangered biological hotspot, Danube Watch,
January 2003
Christl, Nathalia & Erjomin, Eugeni, 2004, The Bystroye Canal: dredging up many questions,
Danube Watch, February 2004
European Commission, 2004, Commission Statement on Opening of Bystroye Canal in Ukraine,
August 25, Press Statement
International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (2004), Ukrainian Presentation
on Bystroe Canal, Presentation of the Ukrainian Delegation on the Issue of the Bystroe,
(Updated16 September 2004),
Kvet, Jan & Salathe Tobias, 2003, Danube Biosphere Reserve/Kyliiske Mouth Ramsar Site,
Ramsar Advisory Mission: No. 53.
Moisi, Petruta, 2003 “Construction of Navigation Canal through the Bystroye Estuary.” Danube
Environmental Fourm Newsletter, November 2003
STOPPOL Project DL OR, 2002, The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern
Europe- Office Romania
Teodorescu, Anca, 2004, Romania’s Senate Calls on NATO and European Union to help stop
construction of Ukrainian Shipping Channel in Danube Delta,
Unesco, (2004), List of Biosphere Reserve which are wholly or partially World Heritage Sites
and Ramar wetlands.(Updated 23/02/2004)
United States Department of State, 2004, Ukraine Danube Delta Canal Project, May 17, Press
Zabelin Sviatoslav & Berlova Olga, 2002, Danube Biosphere Nature Reserve needs your help.
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