Due to a natural phenomenon, Lake Neusiedl, a UNESCO site, is gradually disappearing. Tourist actors militate for its protection, but environmental defenders oppose it.

On the picturesque Lake Neusiedl, nestled between Austria and Hungary, the water level is so low that windsurfers are stuck in the mud. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this saline basin could dry up completely due to climate change, experts warn. But the idea of ​​feeding it through an arm of the Danube sows discord.

We can no longer navigate, just paddle, it’s a big problem “Laments Tobias Monte, co-organizer of a mobilization day in early June. ” Our lake must not die »: More than a hundred people rowed under a scorching sun to save this environment on whose banks gray geese and stilt houses thrive. The ecosystem suffers from weather disruptions, with more heat waves and rain now falling more in the summer, when the water evaporates more quickly, explains Christian Sailer, regional manager of the practice.

Wildlife in danger

Of the hundred swamps that dotted the area, nearly 60 have been lost. Alex HALADA / AFP

Already the salt pans in the region are becoming scarce: of the hundred that dotted the territory, about 60 are ” hopelessly lost “Complains Johannes Ehrenfeldner, head of the national park. With inevitable consequences for the 350 bird species surveyed around this steppe lake, the westernmost in the Eurasian area. ” With our eyes wide open, we are racing towards our own end “, He is alarmed, his binoculars nailed to an avocet, a black and white bird of the swamps.

To avoid the disaster, the authorities have come up with a solution: on the Hungarian side a canal must be dug from a tributary of the Danube, with plans to extend to Austria, to irrigate neighboring lands, or even supply the lake itself. ” The permits have been granted and the necessary land purchased by the state but, as far as I know, the project is currently stopped “, Details a source within the affected municipality of Janossomorja.

A natural drying

The shallow Neusiedl Lake naturally dries up about once a century before being filled with rainwater. Alex HALADA / AFP

This evokes the country’s economic difficulties after the war in Ukraine and the blocking of European funds linked to the failure to respect the rule of law. The idea also annoys environmentalists, who warn against interference ” in the natural cycle According to Bernard Kohler, head of WWF Austria’s biodiversity program.

The shallow Neusiedl Lake naturally dries up about once a century before being filled with rainwater. During this whole process, the algae, plankton and mud, exposed to the air, decompose and are carried away by the wind. Bringing in water from outside would dilute salt levels and cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem, Kohler points out.

If he too is concerned about the impact of climate change, he sees this project as a remedy worse than the disease. Even if the lake dries up, will reform. We just have to learn to live with it “.


This channel idea is unacceptable “, Katalin Rodics, of Greenpeace Hungary, is also being carried away. ” Draw water from a Danube that does not have it, (…) and then pour it into a lake with a totally different chemical composition “: An aberration in the eyes of this activist, also worried about” the corruption surrounding the operation.

Ecologists denounce the entrusting of the construction contract to a company belonging to the tycoon Lorinc Meszaros, childhood friend of the sovereign leader Viktor Orban. Who is simultaneously responsible for a vast 45 billion guilder (110 million euro) real estate project – luxury hotels and apartments, sports complex, marina … – on the shores of the same lake, called Fertö in Hungary.

For residents and local actors who make a living from tourism, ” letting the lake and the region disappear is not an option ”, The Austrian regional councilor Heinrich Dorner replies in the face of criticism. During the last episode of drying up dating back to 1860, historians describe an apocalyptic landscape, the carnage of fish, clouds of dust that spoil crops.

The “curse” finally broke and the water miraculously returned. But that was another time, the area has nothing to do with it “, warns Mr. Sailer, convinced that it is necessary” preserves The lake, whatever happens.

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