Odessa, Ukraine:

A significant quarrel between Ukraines Transport Ministry and ecological , scientific activists was resolved in May. Their differences concerned a ship channel, that Ukrainian transport officials decided to build through the Danube Delta, Kilia Branch, from the Black Sea to the town of Vilcovo.

The proposed project could damage the unique Danube Biosphere Reserve, which achieved UNESCO status in 1999 and is protected by the Ramsar site. Thats why representatives of the International Socio-Ecological Union in Ukraine, the NGO "Mama-86," protested against the state decision. But the ship channel has been under construction since May 11. The Ukrainian government plans to finish channel construction by the end of the coming September.

It was assumed that the Prorva Channel, built in 1958, could be used as an alternative to the Sulin Channel, situated in the Romanian part of the Danube Delta many years ago. But the Prorva channel became impassable because of incomplete reconstruction and a lack of adequate funding. The Ukrainian government decided to improve navigational conditions and provide access to the Black Sea in another way.

"Ukrainian state investment experts considered 8 options concerning deep-water navigable channels from the Danube to the Black Sea," Vilemir Zizak, director of the Ukrainian firm Project-Hydro-Building says. They chose one of them - the Bystroe channel in the lower part of the Kilia branch of the Danube. Experts contend that if this project is completed the Danube Biosphere Reserve will be partially cut off. Over 1,500 hectars of land may be lost.

"Our firm suggested another project," Solomonovo branch Zhebriana Bay, "an alternative way for building of a channel, "and predicted lower maintenance costs and less environmental damage than that of the Bystroe channel. But the Transport Ministry ignored our plan. I think that the Bystroe channel is more suitable for Transport officials , because it needs a high amount of funding during construction. Somebody wants to get a good fee."

The Vilcovo local government, the Ministry of Ecology, and the Academy of Sciences all approved the Solomonovo branch Zhebriana bay option and expressed concern with the Bystroe channel project. Many famous scientists appealed to Ukrainian President L. Kuchma with declarations concerning problems with the Bystroe Channel option. L. Kuchma issued a decree in 2002 that the chosen project must meet the requirements of international law. But the Transport Ministry still supported the Bystroe Channel project.

So, the former Transport Minister V. Pustovoytenko said, "Its necessary to choose: either we will be proud of the Biosphere Reserve, or we get a profitable access to the Black Sea". Deputy Chief of the firm Delta-Lotzman, K. Sizov proposed to change Ukrainian laws that are hindering the modern needs.

To respond to officials actions , ecological activists of Ukraine continue to fight for the Danube Biosphere Reserve. Some academicians such as U. Zaytzev , Dm. Grotzinsky, and V. Romanenko had addressed the Ukrainian government and made public the following statement.

"We remember titanic projects , made in the former Soviet times - its written in the statement. One of them is an irrigation system , built in Middle Asia and led to disappearance of the Aral Sea. That was a one-sided project like many others. Also the project of the Bystroe channel didnt take into account serious environmental aspects. The channel will go through a zone of strict protection of the Danube Biosphere Reserve , where more than 4000 species of animals, plants, rare birds live, and the fishing industry is well established."

According to the opinion of specialists , 90 metric tons of herring will be lost in the case of dredging for the Bystroe channel. A big part of the forest will also have to be cut.

Its known that the Danube river drifts about 65 millions of mud per year into the Danube. This causes the blocking of channels. So, the Sulin Channel has the same problems. It was as deep as necessary only in 57 years. A huge dredging, made every year, protects the Sulin channel from being blocked up. A similar situation can occur with the Bystroe channel in the Danube Delta.

"Thats why we support an alternative option such as the Solomonovo branch-Zhebriana bay," advised the specialists analyzing these plans.

Transport officials refused the option. And now the German firm "Mobius" is beginning dredging works in the Danube Delta. Several international branches pronounced their negative views regarding this destructive project. So, the State Department of the USA , and the Embassies of Germany and Romania appealed to the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers with a request to protect the Danube Biosphere Reserve."

The Ukrainian Socio-ecological Union presented arguments for support of the Reserve. Olga Berlova , press-secretary of this Union said:

"988 anchors and 154 depth bombs now at the bottom of the sea were deposited during the Second World War in the north-western part of the Black Sea , according to "Maps about bombs security in the north-western part of the Black Sea". 514 bombs were pulled out and disarmed. The other 628 are staying on the bottom. After the First World War more than 1000 bombs have been left in the sea bottom and are dangerous. We found some facts about it. So, in 1986 one bomb , saved form the war times, rose to the surface of the Ismail port, near the Danube delta. It collided with working tap and explored . It can happen during current channel building or future exploitation. These materials were sent to government bodies and the transport officials, because before dredging in the Danube delta the sea bottom wasnt investigated to find the potentially very dangerous bombs."