Every day the Danube washes 4 tonnes of plastics into the Black Sea. Some Danube countries have neither effective bottle recycling systems nor sound waste prevention strategies. Plastic bottles, plastic bags and microplastics are found along the banks and at the bottom of the riverbed. Microplastics is especially alarming. Like many serious types of pollution endangering the Danube, microplastics are not visible to the naked eye. Disturbingly, there are more plastic particles than fish larvae dispersed throughout the water.
In many places, swimming is inadvisable since the water is polluted to the point that it is hazardous to health. This has robbed people of the opportunity to experience the river in her full glory while the reputation of the Danube waterscape has suffered immeasurably.
In public discourses, these grievances and the sustainable conservation of the Danube as a natural habitat have not been given due attention, especially across national borders. A lack of information and educational opportunities is the reason for the dearth of motivation and skills for people to make initiatives for positive changes in their behaviour and to work towards social and political transformation.
What’s more is the lack of water analyses of every section of the Danube to determine the precise degree of pollution. Added to this is the scarcity of transfer of scientific findings to the society at large.
This is where our cleandanube project comes in. In spring 2022, Andreas Fath, Professor of Chemistry at Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences, is set to swim the entire length of the Danube – from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. He will be in the water nearly every day for 2 months and is expected to garner media attention at every stretch of the river. Mario Kümmel is leading the project for the association for wildlife protection (AWP), planning the 2,700km long tour, supporting Andreas Fath organisationally and designing the accompanying project parts on his trip. Swimming the entire stretch of the Danube is the uniqueness of our project while attracting media attention to highlight the issues of cleandanube is the aim.
AWP will accompany him on his two-month tour with a mobile knowledge workshop in order to bring visibility to and make tangible the plight of the Danube at various stations. Modularized training units will booster the competence of young people between ages 14 and 25 along the project route.
In the research part of the project, we will analyse water samples daily to put together a comprehensive overview of the degree of pollution impacting the Danube. A documentary accompanying Andreas Fath’s journey will provide additional coverage, as well as to ensure the findings continue to reverberate long after the project’s completion.
With numerous partner organisations, a variety of activities such as clean-ups, swim-alongs and paddling, receptions, lectures and information events as well as exhibitions are planned along the project route. Our partners encompass the widest spectrum of organisations – from large, well-known environmental protection agencies to medium-sized and small local NGOs, universities, educational institutions, schools, municipalities and cities, as well as supra-regional networks and public institutions.
The measures taken as a whole is intended to reach beyond the mainstream and make scientific knowledge appreciable to the population at large living in the Danube region, so as to inspire them to contribute to the protection of their environment.
The transnational project will contribute to water conservation through interlinked measures. The aim is to reduce water pollution, avoid plastic waste, recognise the dangers of microplastics and appreciate the Danube as an invaluable natural habitat.
Fath is a professor of chemistry at Furtwangen University. He has published numerous articles based on his findings on microplastics in scientific journals and textbooks. Through his athletic performance and research on water conservation, he has stirred up intense interest as the “swimming professor”.
AWP, founded in 2011, is a non-profit association based in Freiburg im Breisgau. Since 2017, we have been successfully initiating environmental educational projects in the Danube region and have built up a comprehensive and strong network with local NGOs within the framework of their activities. In 2018 and 2019, two of our international environmental educational projects along the Danube were successfully implemented under the leadership of Mario Kümmel.
Furtwanger University is a co-organiser of the project and provides organizational support with a mobile laboratory, public relations efforts and doctoral students.