The River Danube (2860km long) ends its journey from the Black Forest, Germany in Romania’s Black Sea coast, where a natural paradise spreads out into a breathtaking delta. The Danube Delta is actually an area made up of channels, woods, reed isles, pastures and sand dunes. UNESCO declared this land a "Reservation of the Biosphere", as it shelters innumerable species of plants, birds and fishes. A small community of people makes a living out of fishing, reed harvesting and livestock breeding in some villages which seem to exist in a world of their own, untouched by time or by human modern civilization.
The larger part of the Danube Delta lies in Romania, in Tulcea county, while the Northern part is to be found on the left bank of the Chilia arm, in Ukraine, Odessa Oblast. Together with the lagoons of Razelm-Sinoe, the delta is about 5165 sq km large, out of which about 700sqkm pertain to Ukraine .
The origin of the Delta goes back to the Ice Age, about 11,000 B.C., when it began forming in the Black Sea Gulf, at the mouth of the River Danube, the sea level at that time being 50 to 60 m lower than today. The gulf got blocked by an offshore bar, forming a triangular lagoon, which later on was filled with sediments, the Danube Delta being finally a low alluvial plain, covered by wetlands and water. It is made up of marshes, channels, streamlets and lakes with an average altitude of 0.52m, with 20% of the territory below sea level, and more than half not exceeding one meter in altitude.
The Danube branched into three main arms, forming the delta, Chilia, Sulina and Sfantu’ Gheorghe.The delta is actually in a continuous expansion, since, at the mouth of each arm, alluvionary processes still take place.
The arm of Chilia, in the North, is the longest, the most newly formed, and has two secondary inner deltas and one in full growth at its mouth.
Sulina is the central and shortest branch, which is extensively used for traffic and which suffered numerous changes. At its mouth it is located the largest port and the only settlement having urban characteristics of the Romanian part of the Danube Delta. A channel progressively protruding into the sea (about 10 km in present), was built in order to protect the navigation, due to the alluvium which is brought, both by the sea and the river, and deposited.
Sfântu Gheorghe, translated as Saint George in Romanian, flows in the South, and is the oldest and less populated. The deposits brought by it led to the formation, beginning with1897, of the Sacalin islands, which today are19 km long.
The Danube Delta has a continental climate, with strong influences from the Black Sea. It is the driest and sunniest region in Romania with about 70 days with clear sky and 2500 hours of sunshine every year). The average temperature is 11°C (-1°C in January and 22°C in July). Precipitations range between 400 and 300 mm/year, diminishing from West to East. Evaporation is about 1000 mm/year, it is influenced by the strong winds; long periods of drought are usual during summer. While the northwest winds often cause storms, in spring and autumn, in the inner part of the delta there is a continental climate.
The Danube Delta has been ranged into 12 habitat types as it follows: aquatic habitats - lakes (0.80m - 2.50m depth) covered with flooded reed beds; `plaur` - flooded islets; flooded reeds and willows; riverside forest of willows and poplars; cane-fields; sandy and muddy beaches; wet meadows; dry meadows (arid); human settlements; sandy and rocky areas; steep banks; and forests on high ground.
Rare, unique landscapes can be admired in the Delta, like picturesque spots shaded by luxuriant plants or water lilies and endless areas of reed, willow, poplar and alder groves.
The Danube Delta hosts a large variety of birdlife. There are about 312 important bird species in the Delta, this area being a main stopover and breeding area for many bird species. About 90 fish species are, including populations of sturgeon, can be found in the Delta’s waters. The European mink, the wildcat, the freshwater otter and the worldwide threatened monk seal, also find their home here. All these are reasons why the biosphere reserve was declared as both Natural World Heritage and Ramsar site in 1991.
The Danube Delta is the largest European wetland and reed bed, forming also Europe’s largest water purification system. Anyway, Delta’s ecosystem is influenced by all the activities which happen in the upstream, in all nine countries through which the Danube flows. It is hoped that the creation of the trans-boundary biosphere reserve will help to preserve the ecological processes and biodiversity of the Danube Delta.