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Delta is a land in constant motion. But maps can bring this process to a standstill just enough for you to embark on a visual journey and explore its ecological dynamism and cultural richness.

Danube Delta in South-Eastern Europe

The Danube river ends its mighty voyage in South-Eastern Europe, in a corner of Romania nestled between the Black Sea and the vast plains stretching west. It forms one of the lesser known but better preserved Deltas in the world, and certainly in Europe.

From both a naturalistic and cultural perspective this corner is one of the continent’s best kept secrets. Though remote, it rewards travellers that brave the distance.

See here for how to get to the Delta, and explore the maps below for more on this fantastic area.

Danube Delta: always on the move

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The labyrinth that you see in this map is an extraordinary example of natural might and human hubris and creativity. The Danube Delta is a dynamic environment whose formation is far from over. The sediments carried by the Danube are deposited in semicircle-like formations that have historically advanced the territory of the Delta into the sea.

Nowadays, despite sea-level rise and the damming of the Danube across its flow, new land still appears in the sea. Find in the southernmost tip on the map Sahalin island and witness the sand-bar running roughly parallel to the Black Sea shore.

Similarly, sediments are deposited inside the Delta, modifying the lay-out of channels and lakes, creating new lakes out of old channels, and making some parts hard to navigate. The geological dynamism specific of the area is at odds with the engineering mentality that has cut straight channels and built straight dikes throughout the swamp. More or less any straight line you see is human made.

Though a Biosphere Reserve, the Delta is quite far from ‘natural’: it is also a human ecological creation.

Human Delta

Different types of human-induced environments in the Danube Delta - by Stefan Constantinescu, baseline data Gastescu and Stiuca, 2008

When shown altogether, the human influences on the Delta are staggering. Though the area is considered an example of a natural wetland, this map shows just how much of it has been developed by natural and human forces working together. This view of the Delta as a human as much as a natural environment is also visible in the ways in which locals live in their environment, making use of human made and natural made structures in order to survive.

Taken together, the strictly protected (red) and buffer (light yellow) areas are a big part of the current Delta. These are constantly changing, so what was yesterday a fishing ground can tomorrow become strictly protected. Notice the proximity of some villages, for example Sfântu Gheorgheat the end of the southernmost branch of the Delta to natural areas, planted forests, and strictly protected areas.

Life in the Delta is a delicate dance between natural and human forces.