The Danube Delta is the best-preserved river delta in Europe and the largest in size after the Volga Delta. Over 80% of its surface area is spread over Romania, in the Tulcea County, while the rest is located in Ukraine. The Romanian part of the Danube Delta was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1991, and approximately 80% of its surface is strictly protected.
This unique ecosystem has become a refuge for numerous species of birds, fish, and amphibians. In the paradise of the Delta, the splash of oars pushed by fishermen with long beards and sun-withered faces is one of the few man-made sounds disrupting the silence of this untamed place, of this green island populated by thousands of wildlife species.
Formation & history
The Danube River is Europe’s second-longest river, and it springs from the Black Forest in Germany. It flows through 10 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine), and it spills into the Black Sea, mostly in the territory of Romania. The Danube Delta began forming roughly 6,000 years ago, in 4,000 BCE, in one of the bays of the Black Sea, when a barrier of sand generated by the rising level of the sea blocked the bay of the Danube River. Over time, the bay was filled with sediment, and the delta started advancing towards the Black Sea, building numerous successive branches (the St. George I Branch, the Sulina Branch, the St. George II branch, and the Chilia/Kilia Branch).
Recorded history states that the Danube Delta was inhabited by the Dacians until the Romans conquered the area, and it was later invaded by the Goths. The Danube Delta became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and in 1812 the borders of the Ottoman and Russian Empires were set by the Branches of the delta. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, in 1878, the Delta was split between Romania and Russia, and it was included in UNESCO’s Patrimony in 1991. In 1998, UNESCO’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere included the whole Danube Delta as a biosphere reserve shared by both Romania and Ukraine.
The Danube Delta is part of the Pannonian steppe ecosystem of Eastern Europe, but the Delta itself hosts 23 natural ecosystems. Due to the vast amounts of wetlands, the aquatic environment dominates much of its surface, with terrestrial environments being present only on a couple of higher grounds.
Being situated on one of the major migratory routes, the Danube Delta provides perfect nesting and hatching conditions, and is thus a magnet for birds from six major ecoregions of the world, including the Mongolian, Arctic, and Siberian.
During summer, the Delta is home to over 320 species of birds including the largest colony of pelicans, and over one million individual specimens winter here, including swans, wild ducks, and coots. This is also one of the last remaining places in Europe where wild horses roam free, in the Letea Forest.
Besides the numerous species of animals, the Danube Delta is also inhabited by around 20,000 people, out of which almost 5,000 live in the port-town of Sulina. The rest of the inhabitants are scattered among 27 villages, of which only 3 are inhabited by more than 500 people. This accounts for an average density of 2 inhabitants per square km.
Amidst the expanse of reeds, the fishermen have built villages, inhabited to this day by people who have learned to live with meager resources, surrounded by waters. For them, fish is a staple diet, but it is prepared in dozens of ways, capable of delighting the most sophisticated of connoisseurs.
Out of the ten countries crossed by the Danube, Romania is by far the most privileged one, as it hosts Europe’s last natural paradise: a delta formed at the meeting point of three tributaries, just before the river flows into the Black Sea. The entire area boasts an astonishing diversity in terms of wildlife and landscapes of unmatched beauty.
Thanks to our Delta, Romania’s tourist and scientific potential is enhanced. In fact, since 1991 the Danube Delta Biosphere and the reserve has been listed as a world heritage site.
What makes the Danube Delta one of a kind?
- The forests of Letea and Caraorman are the only areas in Europe where we still encounter tropical creepers. Moreover, the seeds of exotic plants brought by migratory birds all the way from Africa have added an exotic touch to the landscape, the lush vegetation looks like a small-scale jungle.
- The richness of the Danube Delta area doesn’t strictly refer to its natural richness, but also to the historical heritage. Numerous archaeological sites existing today (Roman forts and ruins of Greek, Byzantine or Getic fortresses) give this realm a legendary dimension.
- The Danube Delta is the largest and most compact reed area on Earth.
- One of the strangest plants from Danube Delta is ”Noctiluca miliaris”. An aquatic plant whose fluorescent color conveys the effect of magical water, this is why people call it the “sea-candle”.