Black Sea in danger of becoming ‘dead sea’

A boat parked at a Black Sea coast in Turkey. (PHOTO: AA)

May 06, 2012, Sunday/ 12:56:00

Marine life in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara is under serious threat. “In the near future, the Black Sea might be transferred from the ‘too dirty’ category to the ‘dead sea’ category if the necessary steps are not taken,” Tezcan Yaramancı, president of the Turkish Marine Environment Protection Association (Turmepa), has warned, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman.

Describing the plight of the Black Sea, Yaramancı said, “The amount of oxygen there has considerably decreased, and seabed fauna is seriously damaged.”

The number of fish species in the Black Sea has decreased by half, from 52 down to 26 in the last 50 years, Rahmi Koç, founding and honorary chairman of Turmepa, announced, referring to research carried out in 2008, at the First International Marmara and Black Sea Conference held in İstanbul on April 30.

The data are even worse for the Sea of Marmara, an inland sea that can’t be dealt with separately from the Black Sea as it feeds on the currents coming from its neighbor in the north. In the Sea of Marmara, which has been heavily polluted for years by the domestic and industrial waste of the towns surrounding it, the number of fish species has plummeted to four or five, down from 127 in the 1970s.

It’s not actually surprising they are highly polluted, considering the Black Sea is only one-sixth of the size of the Mediterranean, while the number of rivers -- and they are polluted -- flowing into it is four times greater than the number flowing into the Mediterranean. And besides, the Black Sea’s natural formation makes it difficult for species to flourish: There is no marine life below 150-200 meters in the Black Sea because of the toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, and 87 percent of the water in the Black Sea does not contain oxygen.

Nearly 90 percent of the pollution in the seas is caused by domestic and industrial waste. Rivers such as the Danube, Dnieper and Dniester are the main polluters of the Black Sea, with the Danube in the lead, most experts agree. “Nearly 60 percent of the water of the Black Sea comes from the Danube, around 20 percent from rivers such as the Dnieper and Dniester, while around 15 percent originates from rivers in Turkey,” Professor Cem Gazioğlu from İstanbul University’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Management has told Sunday’s Zaman, drawing attention to the dominant share European rivers have in the pollution of both the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

The Danube is considered to be the biggest polluter, responsible for 48 percent of the pollution according to Turmepa’s data, carrying many European countries’ domestic and industrial waste into the Black Sea. According to research conducted within the scope of the Black Sea Environment Program, 53 percent of decomposed nitrogen and 66 percent of the total phosphorus flowing into the Black Sea, which is polluted by 10 million tons of organic matter each year from 18 countries in the region, comes from the Danube basin.

But Turkey’s part is not negligible, either. According to Turkish Statistics Institute’s (TurkStat) data from 2010, of the 2,950 municipalities in Turkey, 715 don’t even have a sewage network. In Turkey, 1 billion cubic meters of wastewater is being discharged each year into the environment without undergoing any kind of treatment whatsoever, while a great portion of the remaining 2.25 billion cubic meters of sewage is only partly treated before being discharged.

The picture of the Sea of Marmara is not a pleasant one, either. “Pollution, and particularly chemical pollution, is increasing in the Sea of Marmara. East of the Tekirdağ-Gemlik line is really bad,” Yaramancı said. The Marmara region, which is a highly industrialized part of Turkey, hosting half of the petrochemical plants, 20 percent of the oil refineries, 24 percent of the fertilizer plants, among others, and with a population of 25 million people, is not innocent, either, of the pollution of Turkey’s inland sea.

As Recep Altepe, president of the Union of Municipalities of Marmara, disclosed at the Marmara and Black Sea Conference in İstanbul, out of the 1,257 municipalities along the coastline in Marmara, one-third don’t even have a sewage network, while the municipalities with a wastewater treatment facility make up only one-tenth of the total. And only 25 percent of the total wastewater is processed in advanced treatment systems in the region, while the remaining 75 percent goes only through a preliminary treatment and is then discharged into the Sea of Marmara.

But there are also some positive developments Altepe made mention of at the conference: Thanks to steps taken in the Bay of İzmit, a heavily industrialized area in the Marmara region, the number of fish species is on the rise. Ninety-five percent of the wastewater in İstanbul is under control and to be biologically treated, Kadir Topbaş, mayor of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, announced at the conference. Topbaş also said that out of İstanbul’s total coastline of 623 kilometers, 421 kilometers is safe to bathe in.

Yet, it’s still not all roses. “The situation has improved on İstanbul’s coasts, but we are far from calling it a day in the fight against pollution,” Professor Gazioğlu remarked. Yaramancı also has some misgivings. Although he concedes some positive steps have been taken in recent years, “it depends in terms of what type of pollution in the sea is measured. In Turkey, it’s usually in reference to the amount of Escherichia coli in seawater, and it’s true it has decreased. But it’s because Escherichia coli can not survive in the presence of chemicals,” Yaramancı noted.

Gazioğlu puts it neatly when he says as we develop, so does our capacity to pollute. Yaramancı believes Turkey should take the pollution issue in the Black Sea to the European Union platform, given that EU member countries are among the major polluters through the Danube. It’s clear Turkey should put forth greater effort to protect its seas. After all, water is life, and life comes from water.

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