Week 1 – Under the surface!
Week 1 focused on the environmental impacts on marine life in the Baltic Sea. Our group collaborated with a community organization in Norra Dragsviken to sample the water, sediment, and plant and animal life to determine the health of the area, which has degraded significantly over time. Read more about Saving Norra Dragsviken!
What’s on your plate? Protein?
No fish. No oxygen. No life.
It is a dead zone.
The Baltic Sea is suffering due to its polluted water. Unbeknownst to the majority of the European population, their lifestyle influences the quality of the water right down to their diet. A high consumption of protein can increase the eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. Consequently, this water is becoming the site of dead zones where there is a lack of oxygen and marine life is unable to survive in these harsh conditions.
such as fertilizers, manure from farms and the plowing of the lands. This runoff can reach the Baltic Sea.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are a source of energy for phytoplankton and when these nutrients are present in large quantities, they can increase the proliferation of phytoplankton. Once they die, they fall down to the bottom of the sea where bacteria use oxygen as means to decompose the phytoplankton. The high quantities of phytoplankton decomposing are causing the decrease of oxygen in those areas.
Protein and a higher concentration of these nutrients are linked. It has been observed that since 1970, there has been an increase in the consumption of animal protein by the Swedish community. In fact, that consumption has increased by 55%. This is significant because Swedes are over consuming protein. Swedes are eating on average 50g of protein more than what is required for a healthy diet. The Marine Environmental Research Institute found that if the Swedes bordering the Baltic Sea could decrease the amount of protein they consume on a daily basis, this could potentially cut the phosphorus emission by 40% and the nitrogen emission by 50%. That is simply by consuming the amount necessary that the body requires to be healthy. By reducing the intake of protein, this would facilitate reaching the goal set by the Baltic Sea Action Plan for 2021.
Something that needs to be highlighted is that the increase in protein influencing the eutrophication in the Baltic Sea does not only concern meat lovers. Vegetarians are not spared from impacting the Baltic Sea. Beans and other plants high in protein create almost the same amount of nitrogen and phosphorus emissions due to the large fields required to grow these plants. There can still be runoff from these areas reaching the Baltic Sea.
An example of water under eutrophication threat are the bays of Norra Dragsviken. Their water contains high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus caused by local emissions. The residents are concerned and measures need to be taken to protect and maintain these waters. If protein had a smaller presence in their diet, this could potentially be an additional factor to help sustain the water in those bays.
However, there is not only one solution. Clear regulations must be set in place to try and stop the runoff coming from these farms and sewers. It will take a collective act with various components to ensure the protection and sustainability of the Baltic Sea. Regulations can be put into place but it is still possible for everyone to do their own small part. The state of the Baltic Sea concerns everyone and its waters are vulnerable. There are more than 85 million people living on the bordering countries of the Baltic Sea. Think about the amount of protein consumed by these people. Think about the amount of protein being over consumed by these people. Think about what could be possible, if these people decreased their protein intake and did their part.
It’s your meal. It’s your choice. But it’s our planet.
Why clean up the Baltic Sea? Economy? Health?
-Chak Bon Lau
When we start to think what are the factors that may attract people around the world would go travel to the Baltic sea. Marine litters? waters with oil spill? Or water full of algae. These are definitely not the answer! With the fame of the youngest sea on earth, the Baltic Sea region is responsible for 7% of the world’s tourism and 13% of the tourism in Europe, which was measured by international arrivals. The statistics indicate the importance of tourism industry among the Baltic Sea region.
Apart from tourism, fishing and farming are also the crucial industries for Baltic Sea region mentioned by Mattias Rust, who is an ocean expert from World Wildlife Fund.
Fishing industry and farming are also closely related especially for Baltic Sea region, where eutrophication occurs due to nutrient runoff from the land especially the agricultures. Eutrophication is the sign of imbalance of the nutrient cycle as well as unhealthy to marine ecology. We attempt to maximize the productivity of agricultural products, meanwhile, destroying the fishing industries.
A consulting report, published by the World Wildlife Fund, has estimated the economic benefits in Sweden that may gain from the cleanup action in the Baltic sea. Not only the Swedish gain approximately $4 billion annually and offering 70,000 new job post, but also enhancing quality of life for the citizen.
People may also concern the cleanup price whether the initial cost can compensate by the future benefits. Another study from Boston Consulting Group gives a shot in an arm by claiming that in a long-run, the investment can yield a huge value by cleaning the Baltic Sea.
Climate change also act on Baltic sea ecology by urging the algal blooms comes earlier compared to the previous years. Early algal blooms may toxify the aquatic organism by releasing unknown toxic substances to the Baltic Sea, especially at the spawning time of the organism such as fish larvae. And therefore, confining them to sustain their population.
Although we, human, like to separate each other by different race, there is only one earth. Being united is the only way to solve problems no matter in the Baltic Sea and the world.
Eye on the Arctic (14 July 2014). Baltic Sea studies: Cleanup would benefit region’s economy; algal blooms arriving earlier.
Confederation of Danish industry (n.d.). Tourism in the Baltic Sea region. Retrieved from http://news.algaeworld.org/2014/07/baltic-sea-studies-cleanup-benefit-regions-economy-algal-blooms-arriving-earlier/
Thirteen European countries plus Russia share one body of water for fishing, shipping, industry, housing, tourism, energy production and so much more.
Together over one hundred million people have a tie to the Baltic Sea. It was not until 2010 that the European Union decided to invest on a large scale for a joint research program, BONUS, to produce knowledge and innovative solutions for the preservation of the Baltic Sea.
As a start you may wonder what issues does the Baltic face? Well the Baltic Sea is a particularly still body of water with a long retention period. This means whatever goes into the water will likely remain for an extended period if not indefinitely. So just imagine the potential damage from an oil tanker spill leaving Russia coast!
The largest issue faced by the water today would be the excessive nutrient buildup from all the different countries run off. The resulting dead zones and massive growths of algal blooms and vegetation have left the Baltic in a spiraling change. As well as the excessive nutrients, invasive species are dispersed throughout the sea from boats dumping their ballast waters.
Research on the Baltic in itself is not a new concept, yet as far as joint research this will be the first. For decades each of these countries nationally funded institutions have researched the Baltic independently. The overlap of exploration and gaps in research created the need for a more holistic effort.
Without collaboration on research you may wonder if these countries have discussed the Baltic Sea together at all? Just over forty years ago these countries who share the Baltic acknowledge the need for a transboundary administration. The Signing of the Helsinki Convention (HELCOM) in 1974 became the first move toward a cleaner and more sustainable Baltic. These same countries involved in HELCOM devised a “Baltic Seas Action Plan” which designates how much each individual country needs to reduce its discharge of nutrients into the Baltic Sea.
Through the creation and funding of BONUS, these fourteen countries hope to supply evidence and knowledge for policymakers to protect the Baltic. The funding of this program is a huge leap in the right direction, as the EU has finally decided to step forth to ensure the fragile Baltic receives proper care and treatment.
It is time for change and the EU has joined the force. Starting back in 2002 the push for funding by the European Union arose. One third of the money raised for the sixteen projects was covered by the EU, while the remainder was met by the countries surrounding the Baltic. But best of all is the combination of researchers from several countries tied to each of these projects. These problems faced are far too big to be tackled alone and we are beginning to make steps in the correct direction.
“ABOUT BONUS.” About Us – Bonus EEIG, Baltic Organisations’ Network For Funding
Science, 2010, http://www.bonusportal.org/about_us.
Nohrstedt, Hans-Orjan. “Bonus for Baltic Sea Research.” Journal From The Swedish Research
Council, Sustainability, 20 Nov. 2010, 2:40.
Drugs altering fish behavior.
-by Isha Karle
Have you ever wondered about how the drugs that are excreted from the body could be affecting aquatic wildlife? A new study has found that anxiety-moderating drugs such as oxazepam that are released into the sewage system are inducing shifts in behaviors of some fish. For example, the wild European perch is a fish that is shy in nature and is group orientated therefore prefers to travel in schools. However, after consuming oxazepam Perch become aggressive, show fearlessness by splitting away from their group and develop an increase in appetite. Not only do these drugs in the waterways affect fish, it can also cause algae blooms.
According to the food chain, Perch feed on zooplankton and zooplankton feed on algae. As per the effect of the drug, as the Perch begin to consume more zooplankton, the number of algae start to increase.
The best solution to this problem is not to stop medicating ill people but to find a way for sewage treatments to capture the hazardous drugs before they are released into the waterways. Unfortunately, this method would be too expense cost money, but a realistic alternative would be to target drugs that are doing the most harm to wildlife and prevent their release into the environment.
The Round Goby Invades the Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea has a dynamic environment that is not necessarily suited to all organisms. However, varying levels of pH, salinity differences, and rising temperate have not been a detriment to the increasing and spreading of the species Neogobius melanostomus, also known as the round goby. The goby is a non-native and invasive species, originally found in the waters of the Caspian and Black Sea (“Increased Spread Rate of the Fish Round Goby in the Baltic Sea”).
Many ships and boats contain a compartment for water to enter and exit in order to maintain stability. The goby is thought to have spread through entering the ballast of a ship at port somewhere the species was originally native, then exiting the ballast when the ship arrives at its destination port – for example, the Baltic Sea. This invasive species has also disrupted Poland and parts of North America, including all five Great Lakes. An invasive species can be any organism that is not native to a specific ecosystem and causes it harm. This can threaten other species, especially any endangered species.
The round goby is a small, bottom-dwelling, black and brown fish. They are aggressive feeders that eat a variety of organisms (“Round Goby – Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program”). Additionally, younger generations have been shown to possess a higher risk tolerance as well as more asocial attitudes. This leads to an increased ability to find food in unfamiliar situations, increased aggression, and a higher dispersal tendency, all of which are undesirable traits in an invasive species (“Increased Spread Rate of the Fish Round Goby in the Baltic Sea”).
(“Round Goby – Neogobius Melanostomus.”)
“Increased Spread Rate of the Fish Round Goby in the Baltic Sea.” Phys.org – News and Articles
on Science and Technology, Phys.org, 15 Dec. 2015, phys.org/news/2015-12-fish-goby-baltic-sea.html.
“Round Goby – Neogobius Melanostomus.” Sea Grant Michigan.
“Round Goby – Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program.” Ontario’s Invading Species
Awareness Program, http://www.invadingspecies.com/round-goby/.
One Generation Witnesses Baltic Sea Transformation
Imagine all of the sandy shores surrounding the Baltic Sea turning into weedy wetlands. Enjoying the Sea coast would involve hiking through reeds and dealing with the nasty smell of rotten eggs. That imagination has the capability of becoming a reality, if the eutrophication levels in the Baltic Sea are not lowered.
Don’t know what eutrophication means? I’m getting there.
In the town of Norra Dragsviken, Sweden, about 40 km above Kalmar, the coast has transformed from beaches to wetlands over one generation. Local kids hear stories from their grandparents about the beautiful shores and sandy bottom while having to jump off the dock in order to swim in the now murky water. The beaches no longer exist. The clear water is now dark green and the sea floor is no longer sand, its coated with a thick, sludge that reeks.
Sludge collected in sediment sample
So what caused the stink? When too much nutrients are in the water, algae growth skyrockets creating an algae bloom. But algae are good, right? Too much algae impacts the clearness of the water which blocks sunlight from the bottom of the sea. Since not a lot of sunlight get through the algae, other plants have a difficult time growing.
Algae dies very rapidly. When dead algae sink to the bottom, it breaks down which uses up a lot of oxygen. So, while a lot of oxygen is being produced by algae, even more oxygen is being used up to break it down. This is caused by an excess richness of nutrients, otherwise known as eutrophication. When the oxygen levels in parts of the sea sink too low, dead zones are created.
Dead zones are areas in the sea that are so low on oxygen, fish die along with most of the deep-sea plants. These areas are dominated by algae, which creates a very unhealthy ecosystem.
Research is being done in the surrounding water of Norra Dragsviken to determine where the excess nutrients is coming from. Is it farming runoff? Improper sewage treatment? Pollution from cargo ships? The answer probably has many causes that have yet to be determined, but the water is already unhealthy, so is there a way to treat it?
Breakthroughs in Geoengineering show promising ways to contain the dead zones. Research shows that pumping oxygen rich surface water to deeper areas could help the suffocating sea floor breath.
So why don’t we round up a bunch of people with air compressors to start pumping air into the water? Well, because that not really how it works. The oxygen in the air cannot just bind with water that easy, and the Baltic sea is so massive that larger pumping stations are needed in order to make a difference.
A pumping station was installed at the Bornholm Basin in 2015 and has shown successful rejuvenation of the cod population. The circulation of oxygen rich water in deep parts of the sea is also expected to improve the sediment make up of phosphorus which would take out nutrients in the water that start algae blooms (Stigebrandt, et al.).
Don’t let your hopes get too high. According to CNN, it would take over 100 pumping stations to help the entire sea which would cost millions of dollars to build and even more to keep them running. The stations can also do more harm than good. Pump stations could raise water temperature and release buried contaminants that would impact water health. The pumps also have potential to disrupt fish spawning which could change the dynamics of the ecosystem.
While Geoengineering advancements continued to be made, the low oxygen levels in the Baltic sea continue to spread. Containing dead zones will be a part of the solution no doubt; however, restricting the nutrients that enters the bay will be the major key to the long restoration period that waits ahead.
Levitt, Tom. “Can Oxygen Pump Breathe Life into Ocean ‘Dead Zone?’.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 July 2012, edition.cnn.com/2012/07/17/world/europe/dead-zone-baltic-oxygen/index.html.
Stigebrandt, A, et al. “Http://Ljournal.ru/Wp-Content/Uploads/2016/08/d-2016-154.Pdf.” Consequences of Artificial Deepwater Ventilation in the Bornholm Basin for Oxygen Conditions, Cod Reproduction and Benthic Biomass – a Model Study, 21 Jan. 2015, doi:10.18411/d-2016-154.