THE FATE of a controversial ship canal being constructed in the environmentally sensitive Danube delta is hanging in the balance this week as the Ukrainian political crisis continues.
Work began on the £24M Bystroye Canal project earlier this year, despite huge protests from environmental groups.
More than 3km of existing river channel has already been deep dredged, and another 17km is due to be completed this year.
The project has the backing of Viktor Yanukovych, official winner of the recent disputed presidential poll, but environmentalists believe opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko would cancel the project in response to EU pressure.
Merchant shipping from the Black Sea can bypass the shallow waters of the Danube delta by taking the 100 year old Sulina canal through Romania. But Ukraine claims the tolls charged are extortionate, and that the new canal project will help economic regeneration in the region.
The Danube delta was classed as a World Heritage site in 1991.
It is home to more than 300 species of birds and 90 species of fish and also contains the Letea tropical forest, unique in Europe. Dredging the new canal would drain sensitive areas and starve them of essential water, environmentalists claim.
Geologists have also warned that increased water flows down the new canal would disrupt current flow patterns in the delta and increase pollution and coastal erosion in the Black Sea.
Romania has promised to launch its own mitigation plans to counter such effects.