On track to restore rivers and wetlands in 6 Danube countries
On the eve of Danube Day, 29 June, WWF, The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River take stock of progress of their 7-year partnership for rivers and wetlands in the Danube basin.
The partnership is on track by 2020 to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km²), and has helped leverage nearly €20 million for wetland conservation and restoration.
River and wetland restoration projects are already completed at three sites in Austria, Serbia and Bulgaria, with another six are in various stages of development. Despite some delays, the current pipeline of projects is on track to deliver (according to preliminary estimates) 12.85 million m3 of water replenished by 2021 (versus 12 million m3 target) and 6,829 hectares of wetlands restored (versus 5,327 ha target). Through the Living Danube Tour travelling exhibition, the Partnership has already reached more than 75,250 people directly, and over 9 million people indirectly, via traditional and social media.
The Living Danube Partnership has also helped raise nearly €20 million for wetland conservation and restoration, including €7.65 million directly, by co-financing EU-funded projects; and over €11.33 million indirectly, by providing for example staff time and support for development of further initiatives.
“Interventions by the Living Danube Partnership in the Persina and Kalimok wetlands in northern Bulgaria will restore an area over 37 km² and lead to replenishment of more than 7 million m³ of water. Together, they are expected to bring the largest benefits in terms of water retention of the Living Danube Partnership,” said Andreas Beckmann, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.
The wetlands are located in and by Persina Nature Park on the Danube island of the same name which is a hotspot for biodiversity, including colonies of pelicans, but also notorious as the site of a Stalinist-era concentration camp and prison.
"Our partnership with WWF on the Living Danube project over the past years has resulted in both wetland revitalization and development of sustainable tourism and wellbeing of local communities. Through the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Living Danube Partnership is focused on achieving our global objective of replenishing all the water we use for our products and return it back to nature,” said Sofia Kilifi, Sustainability and Community Manager, Coca-Cola Central & Eastern Europe.
“Wetlands are a lot more than just a source of natural beauty and a recreational destination for locals. They also serve a wide variety of other important roles and functions that may not be obvious at first glance. Beyond their tremendous ecological value for the preservation of biodiversity in our basin, wetlands also are also indispensable for the protection of populations in the event of floods," said ICPDR Executive Secretary Ivan Zavadsky.
Wetlands are hotspots of biodiversity and provide a myriad of benefits and services, including flood protection, drinking water, nutrient removal, wood/fiber, biomass, tourism and recreation, food, fish and fowl. Despite this, the Danube and its tributaries have seen 80% of their floodplains and wetlands disappear over the past 150 years. The effects have been wide-ranging and include plummeting fish and wildlife populations, decreases in water quality and damage to wetlands, which are no longer able to provide much needed biodiversity hotspots or to act as buffers to floods.
The Living Danube Partnership has already led to benefits for nature and people:
- By installing a system of sluices, the level of groundwater has been raised, preventing some of the rare soda lakes in Neusiedler See National Park, Austria, from drying out. The project has inspired local stakeholders to save other soda lakes in the area and thus support unusual wildlife, including seabirds many kilometres from the sea.
- In Široki Rit, Serbia, widening and deepening of an existing supply channel and slightly dredging a lake has given the area the possibility to fulfil its primary ecological function as a breeding and spawning area for waterfowl, fish and amphibians and a stopover for migrating birds.
- In Russenski Lom Nature Park, Bulgaria, co-financing has been provided to an EU-funded project that has removed two barriers and constructed a new fish pass thus permitting the free movement of fish and restoring protected fish populations.
- The Living Danube Tour with its traveling educational tools has already made almost 60 stops in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia raising awareness around freshwater conservation.
In the coming years – apart from the Persina and Kalimok wetlands in Bulgaria - the Living Danube Partnership will support restoration work in Barcs Old-Drava oxbow in Hungary, in the Lankoc floodplain forest in Hungary, Drava River side-arms in Croatia and at Garla Mare and Cetate in Romania.