By Megan Wander
There are 530 aquatic dead zones around the world, taking up approximately 950,000 square miles. This problem demands attention, yet not many people are aware of it. For decades, human and industrial waste has found its way into the Baltic Sea. This waste includes fertilizers and sewage, which are high in nitrogen and phosphorous. With unlimited nutrient resources, plants and algae growth flourishes. This process is known as eutrophication. However, these plants and algae die, sink to the bottom, and decay, which is a process that requires oxygen. The levels of dissolved oxygen levels drop dramatically and marine life suffers the consequence. The Baltic Sea is the world’s largest man-made dead zone. Because it is largely enclosed, nutrients are pollutants are trapped and take a long time to be washed out.
Recent attempts to reduce the waste that is entering the Baltic Sea has been unsuccessful in halting the growth of the dead zone. Scientists in Sweden have a new idea- pump oxygen into the water. Perhaps in a lake or pond this solution may have a chance. However, when dealing with an area one and a half times the size of Denmark, how realistic is the implementation and success of such a strategy?
This project, known as the Baltic Deepwater Oxygenation (Box) project would require 100 pumping stations. Oxygen-rich water would be pumped deep underwater in attempt to restore the dead zone, which currently contains very little to no dissolved oxygen. There are many critics who believe this to be a dangerous quick-fix with unforeseen consequences. For example, the Box project could cause the release of old contaminants underground as well as interfere with fish reproductive successes. The idea of deep water oxygenation can work in smaller bodies of water, but not in one so massive. Current studied show that that, in theory, this method should restore dead zones. The issue is this project continues to remain theoretical with no physical conclusions, most likely due to the fact that it is so difficult to implement.
In addition, this method would have to be continued for several decades and cost millions of dollars. Money and time would be better spent limiting nutrients entering the Baltic from sources. However, with so many rivers in so many countries leading to the Baltic Sea, it is extremely difficult to regulate the nutrient waste being deposited. Dead zones are harmful to the environment, the fishing industry, the economy, and essentially to the entire world. Something must be done to restore life to these dead ecosystems. So this leads us to the question- what now?