“Mother Nature is recovering amazingly quickly”: reviving rich Ukrainian wetlands | environment

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At the edge of the degraded wetland at the heart of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, a battered old military truck and a rusty Belarusian tractor are seated. Suddenly, they deployed in desperate efforts to save the dredger from being swallowed by the grounding ground next to the obsolete Soviet dam they were trying to demolish.

In the 1970s, 11 natural dams were built on the Sarata and Kogilnik rivers as a crude alternative to footbridges to access the waterfalls of the area.

Ornithologist Maxim Yakovlev recalls that, prior to the construction of dams, local rivers slowly meandered through a rich wetland ecosystem that would hold, hold and drain water after heavy rains. “We had healthier land and vegetation in front of the dams when the ecosystem was functioning properly,” Yakovlev says, as it skirts on the edge of a mud bog near the small, ancient city of Tatarbunary on the northern edge of the reserve. , 160 miles drive (160 km) southwest of Odessa.

Excavator sinking in a degraded wetland area near the Kogilnik River within the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. It worked to remove the outdated river dam. Photo: Vincent Mundy

“My grandparents told me how different it is and how many live fish, birds and other animals lived here before the dams were formed, but the dams quickly destroyed the ecosystem,” he adds.

According to Wetlands International, about 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900 and almost 90% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Rewilding Europe strives to improve wetlands across the continent, but especially here, the largest wetland in Europe. Only 20% of the Danube Delta ecosystem is located in Ukraine, but Ukraine’s share is growing thanks to the vulnerable countries program and the modest crowdfunding grant received by Rewilding Europe in conjunction with the Europe initiative to remove dams.

“Without dams,” Yakovlev explains, “the original polders and shallow waters and reeds are being rebuilt into three new areas and nesting places for many endangered fish and birds. Upstream in Moldova, work is beginning to improve the flow of the river, so these are exciting times for us. ‘ “

Yakovlev is part of a team of biologists and nature conservationists working for Rewilding Ukraine, a local subsidiary of Rewilding Europe, overseeing the dam removal program, which is now nearing completion. “Only in the last few weeks, when the first dams were removed, have we noticed the healing of fish and otters that establish new territories,” Yakovlev says. “It’s amazing how fast Mother Nature can recover – sometimes she needs a helping hand.”

Overview of dams removed in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine. Photo: Maxim Yakovlev

On the island of Ermakov, another project Rewilding Ukraine is starting to develop about 60 kilometers from Tatarbunary, in the heart of the reserve. Biologists study how the introduction of large herbivores regulates and improves wetland ecosystems.

From a boat on the water shows the leader of restoring Ukraine Mykhailo Nesterenko to the coast. There, the fleet, we get at first sight a few dozen wild horses, the breeds of a primitive Polish horse that was introduced to the island earlier this year. “These large herbivores will play a very important role in the Ermakov ecosystem,” Nesterenko explains, “and we will soon bring more creatures to the island, including the Kulani donkeys.”

On the island, the wooden bird watching platform allows us to observe huge flocks of geese, ducks and other birds landing and taking off from the shallow waters lining the noisy frogs. “The viewing platform was built in the summer. From here you can see how much changed when we removed some dams, ”says Nesterenko.

Herd of wild horses on the island of Ermakov. Photo: Vincent Mundy

The island also has 17 water buffaloes and a recently born calf. The water buffalo is 100 meters from the house and blinks at the hay of the wooden wagon next to the building that will be open soon and will host tourists.

Nesterenko claims that they were donated by the German environmental businessman Michel Jacobi, who kept animals on his farm near Khust in the Ukrainian Carpathian region, where he makes mozzarella cheese from buffalo milk. The buffalo arrived on a boat in the summer and settled well, but at the beginning of the winter they are given another meal and closely monitored.

Even though they are tame, they are still able to live in the wild and their habits for dampening wetlands significantly improve, says Nesterenko. “These animals are one of the great engineers of nature, opening shrubs and canes, creating pools and pools that are home to many insects, amphibians and fish.”

Water buffalo released on Ermakov island by restoration of Ukraine. Photo by Andrey Nekrasov

Nesterenko hopes for a wetland in the future, but he knows that much remains to be done.

“We must learn from the Dutch, who previously suffered terrible floods. They learned everything about hydrology, the value of wetlands and large herbivores, and how to endure and prosper in the water world. And the whole world must know, otherwise we simply cannot survive. “

(brandsToTranslate) Endangered habitats