The Baltic Sea shares its rich resources with us, gives us the oxygen we breathe, contributes to climate regulation. Sunset by the sea is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful views in Poland. How do we humans repay our sea?
Because of us, the Baltic is ill. We are reviving the growing dead zones, completely devoid of oxygen, we are catching stocks of Baltic fish to the limits of our strength and throwing more and more plastic into the sea.
On Baltic Sea Protection Day, which falls on 22 March, we draw attention to three serious diseases that the Baltic Sea is fighting against today.
Cyanobacteria is an annual nuisance for tourists relaxing on the Baltic Sea. Water blossoms appear so often that we get used to them and treat them as something natural for our sea. We do not wonder what causes them. The answer is unfortunately predictable: human. The Baltic Sea drainage area, the area from which surface and underground waters flow into the sea, is four times bigger than the sea itself. It covers 14 countries and over 85 million inhabitants. Therefore, activities on land, such as agricultural and industrial production, have a huge impact on the sea.
Huge quantities of nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, flow into the Baltic Sea. This leads to eutrophication, i.e. survival of the sea. Too large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds in the water create ideal conditions for algae and cyanobacterial blooms. The dying algae fall to the bottom of the tank, where they decompose. The oxygen accumulated in the bottom water layers is used for this process. When oxygen is lacking, the number of anaerobic bacteria increases, which continue to decompose and at the same time produce hydrogen sulphide, which is harmful to marine organisms. This creates areas with reduced oxygen or total oxygen deserts (dead zones) where all life dies. The area of dead zones in the Baltic Sea has increased 10 times in the last 120 years and occupies about 17% of the sea surface.
Where are the nitrogen and phosphorus in the water from?
The source of nitrogen and phosphorus, which goes to the sea by rivers, is mainly agricultural activity (as much as 50%). Unfortunately, too much fertilizer is still used and animal faeces are not stored properly. The situation is also worsened by inadequate treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater.
Forecasts for the coming years indicate that agricultural production will continue to grow, so in order to minimize the harmful effects of eutrophication, the most important thing is to educate farmers and apply agricultural practices aimed at retaining nutrients on the farm so that they do not end up in rivers and then in the Baltic Sea. To this end, the WWF is organizing a competition “The Farmer of the Year of the Baltic Sea Region” aimed at farmers who apply environmentally friendly practices on their farms.
Fewer and fewer fish in the Baltic Sea
The modern fishing fleet gives us the opportunity to catch huge amounts of fish, and catch limits are often set too high, contrary to the clear recommendations of scientists. Overfishing threatens the stability of the Baltic fish populations and can lead to significant declines in their numbers. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and frequent failure to comply with the obligation to land catches in ports are also significant problems.
We are already observing the effects of the failure to adjust catch limits to the strength of the Baltic Sea ecosystems in previous years – these include the total ban on directional fishing in the eastern Baltic cod stock, as well as the state of the Western Baltic herring stock at risk.
In order to preserve the fish populations of the Baltic Sea, not only for us but also for future generations, it is necessary to move towards sustainable fisheries, i.e. fisheries that can be defined as fishing for appropriate fish species and other marine organisms at an acceptable level, respecting official scientific advice and applying sustainable fishing techniques. For years, WWF Poland has been striving to set annual catch limits in line with scientific recommendations, to effectively control fishing units, and to make new investments in more selective and environmentally friendly fishing techniques.
Each of us can also support responsible management of Baltic fish resources on a daily basis. It is enough to have our WWF Fish Guide with you and buy fish from sustainable sources.
The Baltic Sea is sinking in the nets
1/3 of all plastic waste goes to the environment – a significant part to the seas and oceans. As a fairly shallow sea, with an average depth of 54 metres (compared to an average depth of about 1500 metres in the Mediterranean) and almost completely enclosed, the Baltic is particularly vulnerable to waste. Lost or lost fishing nets, so-called “spectral nets”, are a huge problem.
It is estimated that as a result of storms, collisions, or catching on wrecks underwater, Baltic fishermen lose between 5,000 and 10,000 pieces of nets per year. In the Polish part of the Baltic Sea, such nets can be as high as several hundred tonnes.
Lost nets still do what they were designed to do – they fish. Their fishing capacity remains at the level of 20% for the first six months after being lost, falling to 6% in the following months. With annual catch limits set at the highest possible level, this additional 6% of by-catch can significantly disturb the balance of fish stocks. Spectral nets are also an invisible, deadly trap for marine mammals and birds that dive for food and get entangled in nets.
To illustrate the scale of the problem, the WWF made a documentary film “The Spectrum of the Baltic”. It is a summary of the Marelitt Baltic project, lasting from 2016 to 2019, which aimed to find systemic solutions to the problem of lost fishing nets in the Baltic Sea. Thanks to the joint work of partners from Poland, Sweden, Germany and Estonia, such solutions were created. Their summary, in the form of recommendations for implementation, was collected in the manual “The Baltic Sea Blueprint – A comprehensive action plan for lost fishing nets”.
So far, the WWF Foundation has caught as much as 300 tons of the nets.
Does the Baltic Sea have a chance to recover?
The year 2020 was to be decisive for the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, European Union countries have not achieved any of the goals related to the protection of marine ecosystems, which were legally binding on us until 2020. And yet, the EU is more water than land. As one of the main economic forces, we should be a model for action to preserve marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, the opposite is true! We have forgotten that our lives depend on their condition. Let us remember that we have the right and we should demand that those in power protect our precious Baltic ecosystem. We have no time! For a healthy Baltic we must act now!
Source: WWF Poland