8. In the context of the examination of the question concerning the construction of a waterway across the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, a new Presidential Decree was issued on 10 June 2003, on the improvement of the functioning of the DBR. Besides the subject of the location of the waterway, it addresses the following issues: the improvement of the zonation of the DBR and the necessity to create additional reserves, the maintenance of traditional forms of land use by local inhabitants, the need to make local development compatible with national and international commitments, the need to reinforce legal measures in view to implement the Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves (cf. www.unesco.org/mab/docs/stry-5.htm), and the need to set up a monitoring programme in view of potential environmental impacts of the waterway.
9. The maps of the DBR do not yet show a zonation as required for a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which specifies a core zone (existing, the Dunaiskie Plavni Nature Reserve), a surrounding buffer zone (not yet delimited), and a transition area (not clearly identified). They show, however, the strictly protected zone (apparently corresponding with the "core zone" in MaB terminology) and some maps also show areas of economic use or zone of anthropogenic landscapes (probably corresponding with the "transition zone"), located predominantly in the surroundings of Vilkovo and along the Ochakivsky branch towards Ust'-Dunaisk. The remaining part of the DBR is identified as its buffer zone or zone of regulated protection regime: it may thus be regarded as the "buffer zone" sensu MaB (see the attached map, Figure 1 [above]). Scientists from Odesa Mechnikov National University pointed out the biodiversity values to be found in the NW part of the DBR (Stensovskye Plavni), mainly composed of freshwater ponds and lakes surrounded by extensive reedbeds, cut through by the irrigation canal bringing Danube freshwater to Sasyk Lake. With regard to the requirements of the Presidential Decree of June 2003, it is suggested that i) the core zone be expanded to include all priority areas for biodiversity (thus providing a full gradient from saline coastal marine habitats to inland freshwater habitats, as suggested by scientists of Odesa Mechnikov National University), ii) a buffer zone be delimited adjacent to the core zone to help protect it, and iii) the economic use area be identified including indications on land uses acceptable in accordance with the Biosphere Reserve principles.
10. The Ramsar Convention has elaborated guidelines for management planning for Ramsar Sites and other wetlands (Resolution VIII.14), on wetland restoration (Resolution VIII.16), and for establishing and strengthening local communities' participation in the management of wetlands (Resolution VII.8). They are accessible at www.ramsar.org/index_key_docs.htm#res. It is suggested that they be consulted when modifying and implementing the management plan for the Biosphere Reserve.
11. In the context of the sustainable management of the Biosphere Reserve, the future of the, currently derelict, Ust'-Dunaysk port facilities in Zhebryanskaya bay is of importance. The mission recognizes the socio-economic importance of these facilities in terms of prerogatives for local development. However, it is essential that any industrial infrastructure of this size does not have negative environmental impacts on the core zone of the Biosphere Reserve. A consequence of the re-opening of a waterway through the Ukrainian Danube delta will be the renewed need for port facilities. A Strategic Environmental Assessment plan for the entire Danube delta region should therefore evaluate alternative locations for Danube port facilities, preferably outside the Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Site (e.g., a location upstream near Kyliya was mentioned by Delta Pilot).
12. With the opening of a waterway through the DBR, the need to monitor key environmental indicators will arise. The elaboration of a monitoring programme and its implementation should be prepared in close cooperation between the navigation authorities (supposedly Delta Pilot) and the DBR management experts in Vilkovo.
13. The opening of a visitors' center for the DBR in Vilkovo with support from WWF was noted with satisfaction, as well as the joint projects under way between the DBR and Flevoland Province in the Netherlands. However, the development of environmentally friendly forms of nature tourism, as a source for local income, remains a socio-economic priority for the benefit of local people in Vilkovo (in terms of providing accommodation, food, transport, guidance, etc. to paying visitors) and should be seriously planned. The unique beauty and setting of Vilkovo, the "Venice of the East", merits more attention than it currently receives.
14. The objective to re-establish a waterway through the Ukrainian part of the Danube delta was accepted by all parties. Delta Pilot assured the mission that state-of-the-art technology and safety standards would be applied to the waterway and its operation to avoid unnecessary damage to the natural environment and to prevent accidents by large scale vessel navigation, as demonstrated by their operations (and supporting infrastructure) in the Dnipro and Yuzhny Bug estuary. In this particular area, near Ochakov, the waterway through the Dnipro-Bug Liman is clearly separated from the Chornomorsky Biosphere Reserve and Tendrivska Bay Ramsar Site situated further south; although the waterway crosses further upstream right through the Dnipro River Delta Ramsar Site.
15. The geographical separation of the waterway from areas with important biodiversity would indeed provide the ideal solution. Unfortunately, such a solution is not really possible in the case of the Ukrainian Danube delta. The construction of a potential navigation canal connecting the Kyliiske Danube branch with the Black Sea, avoiding built up areas and those important for biodiversity (including the DBR and the Sasyk Lake Ramsar Site), seems to be prohibitively complicated and expensive. Therefore, the remaining waterway choices for the Ukrainian Danube delta will affect existing protected areas in some way. By proposing to separate the waterway from the dynamic part of the delta area, choice C (to construct a sluiced canal from the Solomonov Danube branch to Zhebryanskaya bay), comes close to this ideal goal of separating the waterway from the areas important for biodiversity.
16. Choice C is criticized because of its cutting through the only intact geomorphological area of former coastal dunes in the Ukrainian part of the Danube delta (there are more extensive areas on the Romanian side). These ancient dunes are now planted in their largest part with non indigenous black pines, currently starting to form a closed canopy, interspersed with remaining open areas and dune slacks. This provides appreciated leisure and picnic areas for the local population (mainly from Vilkovo), especially during the hot summer months. Some scientists are concerned about the possible impacts of the canal construction on rare species (mainly plants and insects) dependent on and restricted to these particular dune habitats. If Choice C were to be chosen, a specific study would need to assess the environmental impact of the canal construction on these species. Independent of a possible canal construction or not, management prerogatives should be elaborated for this area (as part of an overall management plan for the Biosphere Reserve), providing guidance for forest management with regard to the closing of the pine canopy, and its negative impact on the specific dune biodiversity.
17. Furthermore, this sluiced canal would cut in its northern part through valuable fens and the shallow Zhebryanskaya bay that is constantly silting up. Some scientists fear that the construction of the canal would isolate the Solonyi Kut lake from Zhebryanskaya bay (currently connected to the shallow bay) and seriously alter underground water flows in the delta area.
18. By their very nature, river deltas are dynamic and unstable in geo- and hydromorphological terms. Processes of sedimentation (mainly carried downstream by the river, but also provoked by coastal currents) and of erosion (mainly through marine currents, wave action and subsidence) are making navigation a difficult task in these areas. The best long-term option is to avoid dynamic delta areas when planning waterways. The core zone of the DBR and its surroundings represent the most dynamic part of the Danube delta as a whole (including the larger Romanian part) and should therefore, in principle, be avoided when planning a waterway.
19. With regard to the constraints evoked above (paragraph 15), choice C comes closest to the goal to avoid the most dynamic part of the Ukrainian Danube delta. The long-term efforts needed for dredging the waterway to maintain the required depth for large scale vessels are clearly minimal for the proposed constructed canal, except at its entrance to the Zhebryanskaya bay. In this case, low dredging costs in the long term are an economic trade-off for the heavy initial investment needed for the construction of the canal. Any waterway using a natural river arm would need continuous dredging on a significant scale. Delta Pilot presented hydrological river models demonstrating that the dredging effort for choice A (Bystre) would be less than for choice B (Ochakivsky).
20. The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) obliges Contracting Parties to "designate suitable wetlands within [their] territories for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance" (Article 2.1). "The inclusion of a wetland in the List does not prejudice the exclusive sovereign rights of the Contracting Party in whose territory the wetland is situated." (Article 2.3). "Any Contracting Party shall have the right . because of its urgent national interests, to delete or restrict the boundaries of wetlands already included by it in the List ." (Article 2.5). "Where a Contracting Party in its urgent national interest, deletes or restricts the boundaries of a wetland included in the List, it should as far as possible compensate for any loss of wetland resources, and in particular it should create additional nature reserves for waterfowl and for the protection, either in the same area or elsewhere, of an adequate portion of the original habitat." (Article 4.2). General guidance for interpreting "urgent national interests" under Article 2.5 and considering compensation under Article 4.2 is provided in Resolution VIII.20, adopted by COP8 in 2002 (accessible under www.ramsar.org/key_res_viii_index_e.htm).
21. Resolution VIII.20 lists (in paragraph 3 of its Annex) twelve issues that Contracting Parties may take into account when invoking their right to restrict the boundaries of a Ramsar Site in the case of urgent national interest. Those most relevant to take into account in this case seem to be:
3.1 the national benefits of maintaining the integrity of the wetlands system and its related benefits;
3.3 whether the proposed change is consistent with national policies;
3.6 all reasonable choices to the proposed action, including the "without project" option, finding an choice location, introducing buffer zones, etc.;
3.8 the particular value of habitats harbouring endemic, threatened, rare, vulnerable or endangered species;
3.11 the choice that will best minimize harm to the site in question; and
3.12 transboundary effects."
22. Choice A to construct a waterway through the Bystre branch would need to open the river mouth towards the Black Sea and undertake substantial continued dredging in this area. The mission was told by Delta Pilot that the construction of dykes in this area would replace sediment deposition patterns towards the open sea in a way to minimize the dredging effort needed to keep the waterway functional. However, the managers of the DBR fear that this would result in substantial disturbance and loss of vital habitat for breeding and staging waterbirds using the sand banks situated in this area, as well as result in damage to the fish spawning area in the shallow coastal waters (with possibly disastrous consequences for the local fisheries). The mission was not shown substantial results of an environmental impact assessment study concerning this choice, but believes that these fears are well founded. It follows therefore that specific habitat for fish and migratory birds lost at the Bystre mouth would need to be created elsewhere in the Danube delta, possibly in front of the mouth of the Ochakivsky branch, or in Zhebryanskaya bay. In order to make this compensation valid, it would need to be accompanied by the removal of the Ust'-Dunaysk port facilities (cf. paragraph 11) and large scale habitat restoration works.
23. Such habitat compensation would need to be effective at the latest by the time the Bystre branch mouth would be damaged when starting the waterway works, in order to fulfil its compensatory role for the species affected. The creation or rehabilitation of fragile habitats in dynamic ecosystems such as these is likely to take several years. This will require quality control measures of the works undertaken, i.e. a quantitative monitoring programme of key species affected by the waterway works that would show how they would make use of the compensation habitats. Given this constraint imposed by the obligations inherent in the Convention on Wetlands, choice A does not seem to provide a rapid solution to create a waterway through the Danube delta.
24. Choice B to re-open the former waterway using the Ochakivsky branch was not considered ideal by the engineers (Delta Pilot) because of the lesser depth of this river branch compared to the Bystre. This would require more dredging efforts downstream of Vilkovo. Also, most probably works to re-design the technical canal connecting the Prorva branch with the Zhebryanskaya bay would need to be undertaken to make the waterway operational again. Given the former use of this route for navigation, large parts of the pristine delta habitats have already earlier been degraded or disturbed. Engineering works to re-open this waterway would therefore have much less environmental impact than those needed for choice A (Bystre) which would take place in a pristine natural part of the delta. Again, the mission argues that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment study should be undertaken for choice B. It should also identify possible needs and opportunities for compensation of natural ecosystems, through habitat restoration measures in this area.
25. The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve was declared a transboundary protected area in 1998 with parts in Romania and Ukraine. The Wetland of International Importance, i.e. the Ramsar Site, covers the area of the transboundary Biosphere Reserve. Article 5 of the Ramsar Convention mentions that "Contracting Parties shall consult with each other about implementing obligations arising from the Convention especially in the case of a wetland extending over the territories of more than one Contracting Party or where a water system is shared by Contracting Parties. They shall at the same time endeavour to coordinate and support present and future policies and regulations concerning the conservation of wetlands and their flora and fauna." The mission was not presented with any substantive information that such consultation, coordination and support of respective policies and regulations does indeed occur. It is therefore strongly advised that such bilateral processed be engaged and a Strategic Environmental Assessment on navigation through the different parts of the Danube Delta be undertaken (cf. paragraph 11). Bilateral consultation and coordination on these aspects is also required by other international and bilateral treaties signed by both states.