Apparently, the Danube Delta is paradise

‘Saving’ the Danube Delta – much of which is Romanian territory – is one of the great causes of the day amongst the Bucharest chattering classes, many of whom support and donate money to an NGO called Asociaţia Salvaţi Dunărea şi Delta (Salvati Delta) (Save the Danube Delta Association). According to Salvati Delta, the Danube Delta is a paradise of biodiversity, a paradise that thoughtless people are in danger of destroying. ‘We are fighting against people for the good of nature,’ they claim.

This is how they like to present the Danube Delta:

Does it look wonderful? Yes. A paradise worth saving? Well, kind of.

You see, there is something missing from this lovely video.


Not wealthy people with comfortable lives who hang out in the fine cafes of Bucharest, but ordinary, bog-standard people. People who are in almost all cases dirt poor. People such as those featured in this (Romanian-language only) report, broadcast – to its eternal credit – on Romanian television channel Pro TV in 2009:

Watch it here.

The Delta doesn’t look quite so much like paradise now, does it? Which begs the question: What is it Salvati Delta want to ‘save’? Is life for people in the Danube Delta really worth saving?

Then again, we are assuming that the interests of the people who live in the Danube Delta are being placed above any others. Maybe that is where we are going wrong.

Life in paradise

We spent quite some time looking at the Salvati Delta website. We found almost no information about the people who live in the Delta. This ‘General Presentation’ of the Delta tells us how many species of insect, fish and bird live in the region, as well as informing us that there are 42 species of mammal – which might or might not include us, of course; just another mammal. There is a page devoted to flora, but the only real mention of people is in a negative context, on the pollution page.

That kind of says it all, really.

As the Pro TV reporter succinctly puts it at the end of her report: ‘as long as those responsible spend their time counting swans rather than thinking about the future of children in isolated villages, the Delta will remain a museum of backwardness, with its people condemned like Indians on a reservation to death by poverty.’

So forgive us if we do not buy into the whole ‘the Danube Delta is paradise’ thing.

  • Radu

    In any civilized country that girl Irina in the pro tv report would be placed in foster care and her parents (or at least her father) would be punished. It is unbelieveble that her dad could be so lazy. If he doesn’t have a job his house should be spotless since he has all this free time on his hands. The pro tv report was quite shocking but unfortunately a lot of reports about Romania are…

  • clau2002

    It”s no mistery,Elena Udrea is to be blamed…..or maybe Basescu?…Boc,anyone?…Need guidance Craig,…help!

    • Craig Turp

      We blame Ceausescu. Or the Russians. Or the Turks.

    • Mr Rearguard

      Ceausescu’s fault, again!

  • Ioana

    There must be specialists able to make proper studies and determine what exactly are the practices needed to be kept in the Delta, in order to preserve bio-diversity; because not all of them are: at least – no way – sending your daughter to buy you wine (as Irina, in the film).
    Ok, education, information, support are desperately needed – but who will help them in this tough battle against their own mentality and inertia?
    Fatalism and refugee in the alcohol – how to help people escape from this trap?

  • Geronimo

    But the Delta is a paradise of biodiversity. And that is worth protecting. Doesn’t mean poor people shouldn’t be helped as well (and I’d wager that a thriving well managed ecotourism trade would do just that). It’s a bit of a strange argument to say that we shouldn’t try to save animals and plant life because there are poor people there.

    • I am not arguing that. I am not arguing anything, to be perfectly honest, simply trying to highlight how the people of the Delta appear to have been forgotten amongst the dash to save the swans and suchlike.

      • Geronimo

        A lot of the time I prefer swans to people

        • anon

          Ecotourism would be a good option to assist the aims of protecting the biodiversity in the Danube, as well as bringing money into the area, but this will need capital, infrastructure and hard work to set things up. I’m sure EU money would be accessible under the remit of helping disadvantaged communities and environmental protection.
          I’ve mentioned the CLCP before to Iona, which brought in money to small remote villages in the mountains, and there is no reason a similar project couldn’t work in the delta.
          A problem when you have a beautiful natural resource, and poverty is greed though. Someone exploiting the environment to make a quick buck is going to happen, I can’t blame them. The damage this does is pretty shocking though. Look at the flooding caused by major deforestation further up the river and the direct damaged caused.
          I’m a Biologist, so you should get an idea of where I’m coming from.

          • Parmalat

            Indeed, anon is right:

            Romania has passed the point where good intentions would be enough to bring some development. Nowadays significant capital is necessary if we are to develop any part of this country, and the Danube Delta is no different.

            Personally I’m beginning to get a little tired of the stakes being raised so much in this country. I’m thinking more and more to sell whatever I have over here and board a plane to a place where 150$ / month would bring me a decent apartment in the city center.

            There are places in this world where the median salary is 50% of the Bucharest median salary but the rents for commercial spaces are 5 times lower. Why the hell would anyone still want to invest 1$ over here?! This city is being choked by its real-estate sector and everywhere in this country the stakes were raised like that. Wherever you go, you can’t do sh*t without throwing around millions. Even the bribes were inflated by real estate. 10-12 years ago even the bribes were decent, today it’s not like there are no more bribes being paid: only the stakes have been raised, tens of thousands are needed to bribe local officials. How the hell can you develop further when the situation is like that?! Go and develop the Danube Delta. You’d probably need to throw millions of $ in sponsorship for the PDL or whoever is in power.

            That was a little off-topic, but since we were talking about investments and development…

          • Ioana

            Right, Anon, the greed.
            Maybe, indeed, as Craig is suggesting (at least to me), they are trying to “save” the Delta from the tourists, and from the people who’d have such initiatives as you mentioned. On the site of Save the Delta, they mention the same theory as you say, also mention 100 million euro funds for fishing, bla-bla. But somehow, looks that most of their projects got stuck in studies since 2003 onwards. Maybe they are trying to save the Delta all for themselves, keep control of everything and make it inaccessible, and keep their personal interests hidden from too many eyes. Of course I’m not able to prove it, but so what?
            After what I’ve seen in my last vacation in the Delta (camping), in August 2005, is difficult for me to trust that they really care about birds; and I don’t care that their logo is about a bandaged fish.
            I remember how different was my first vacation there, back in 1993; a very different story.

            • anon

              It’s probably a lot more simpler than that.
              If you read through the Annual reports from the CLCP, you will see that they faced many difficulties fighting their way through bureaucracy and corruption for anything to actually get done. The 2003 report mentions specifically that carefully laid plans would be thrown out of the window when a new office was elected, and they had to effectively keep starting from scratch.
              It wouldn’t surprise me if the same thing is happening at the DD.

              • Ioana

                Anon, the latest report I found was the 2002, issued in 2003 though.
                I read it. For me the tone of voice sounded still optimistic over all; sad mainly because lost track of the lynx and the wolves died or pups didn’t survive. Report was a beautiful story!
                I will keep in mind the general approach, structure and all initiatives – very useful, thank you.
                I wonder if you know why the project wasn’t considered valid out of the sudden, in 2003; I assume they couldn’t get permission to actually build the Center (around which all activities were supposed to gravitate).
                I have 2 ideas to work on, both connected with bio-diversity and responsible practices; I couldn’t find better RO value to try to export. But I’m scared of authorities and funds; also because I’m not so bold and smart with business & money. It’s slow start, modest, I’ve seen too many projects dead before starting 🙁
                I will read the 2001 report probably tomorrow. Thanks again!

                • Anon

                  Hi Ioana, glad you found it a useful read.
                  I believe it ended due to them only having a 10 year mandate, to set up the eco-tourism program, and their time was simply up.
                  I’ve been digging and digging regarding post 2003, and from what I gather things pretty much fell apart when the CLCP finished, and I don’t think the carnivore center ever saw the light of day, which is incredibly sad:(
                  I think the CLCP managed to achieve a lot in it’s short existence, showing that such models have potential, but it did highlight significant problems with trying to get anything done here.
                  If you’re able to find any more information on the post 2003 status of the CLCP I’d be very much interested to hear it. You may have more luck than I due to my lack of Romanian.

                  • Ioana

                    I was hoping they built something, after all, but maybe gave it a different name; so I browsed by keywords “bears Zarnesti” and found the bear sanctuary, called “Libearty”.
                    Maybe you already knew about it; I realized I’ve heard of it but didn’t make the connection.
                    I don’t know if the work & studies of CLCP served as foundation to build this sanctuary; maybe something extra will be added in time. It’s a bit of relief that SOMETHING happened, after all.
                    I wonder what’s your opinion: do you think compassion for tortured bears “sells” better and attracts more interest, more visitors and donations? – therefore more profitable?

                    • Not entirely on-topic, but talk of Zarnesti always brings to mind the drive from Rasnov to Fagaras: the part around Sinca Noua-Sinca Veche really is one of the most picturesque in the country. There is serious potential there.

                    • Anon

                      Hey Ioana,
                      I had a look at the sanctuary website, and I doubt it was involved with the CLCP due to the date it opened, and the differences between their mission statement and that of the CLCP’s Carnivore Center, which was supposed to be more of a tourist attraction/educational center, instead of a sanctuary.

                      As to your question, I’m not sure if tortured bears sell better than the idea of preserving the local population. Personally, given the choice I would rather money spent on preserving the wild population of bears and their ecosystem instead of trying to rehab ‘broken’ bears. I also think the center is a false economy, once those ‘broken’ bears die, that’s it, over, which is a pretty poor long term tourist attraction (although the sanctuary make it clear that visitors are not welcome to an extent.)
                      The wild populations *could* stay forever.

                    • Ioana


                      Maybe they wanted to create some sort of Monkey World, like the one in Dorset; or tiger sanctuaries; the same formula probably: cute photos, a sad story; you are impressed then you can adopt an animal, pay and get a certificate. You know there is even a cat sanctuary, in Cyprus, despite of the fact that the whole island seems one.

                      Anyway, today I searched in Romanian, as you suggested and found a similar project to CLCP, but in Vrancea canton. Similar actions: tracking with collars, electric fences for shepherds, even drawing contest for children.


                      final report 2005 – 2009, here:

                      There is HUGE amount of info, links and reports that are only in Romanian but not translated.
                      Also in Vrancea, in Focsani, there is an association, ACDB, with their site below:
                      They have some initiatives dedicated to wolves, etc. The site seems unfinished and it’s only in Romanian.

                      Also: it looks like in 2010, Vrancea canton made partnership with other 2 neighboring cantons: Harghita + Covasna, for LIFEURSUS project (as part of “carnivoremari”); they have the biggest density of bears in Europe and they have this site with English:

                      Maybe these will cheer you up a bit?

                    • Anon

                      Thanks for that Ioana, nice to know that *something* is happening, even if it’s not in the same area as the CLCP was.
                      Going to have a LOT to reading to do tonight!
                      A quick glance at the 2005-9 report though does point out two very interesting things. The budget is pathetically tiny, and most of it has came from EU funds, so at least you know projects such as this can attract EU funding.