Nature conservation and shipping in the Danube Delta and Biosphere Reserve (Ukraine): weighing ecological values against economic interests.
Conservation and protection of river reaches, where high ecological status still has been preserved, is economically much more reasonable than rehabilitation of heavily modified ones. The Danube Delta represents a unique wetland with rich biodiversity and relatively natural conditions. In Ukraine the ecologically most valuable part of this wetland has been protected within the Danube Biosphere Reserve (DBR), which is approved by UNESCO. The functional zoning of DBR and its management plan were officially approved. During the 20th century more than 10 variants for a shipping canal from the Danube to the Black Sea have been proposed for the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta. In this paper these alternatives are summarized for their navigational advantages, economic expedience and ecological impact. The Ukrainian Ministry of Transport decided to construct a deep shipping lane along the Bystre Branch of the Danube, i. e. through the strictly protected zone of DBR. The Bystre Branch shipping lane project contradicted national law and international commitments of Ukraine and was assessed by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine as very harmful for the Danube Delta and the Black Sea ecosystems. In spite of all objections and active resistance of numerous environmental and scientific organizations, the Ukrainian government approved this variant in 2003, where after in 2004 the President declared changing the boundaries and zoning of DBR. The construction started in May 2004. Its implementation will jeopardize all or most long-term management objectives envisaged for DBR, and the feasibility of ecological rehabilitation of DBR ecosystems will considerably be restricted. Creating a precedent of destroying a reserve with the highest protective status in the country, the Ukrainian government undermines the future of nature conservation in Ukraine.