27 January 1998
Sustainable development in the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins
Committee on Science and Technology
Rapporteur: Mr Ivan Ivanov, Bulgaria, Group of the European People’s Party
The fact that sustainable development in the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins is being considered by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at the beginning of 1998, the year designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Oceans, shows the importance the Assembly attaches to solving problems linked to the recovery, conservation and development of this region.
Three main elements characterise this debate and illustrate its importance:
- it is the first time that the problems of the whole Mediterranean ecosystem – from Gibraltar to the Caucasus, including the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea – have been considered along with ways of solving them;
- there is a desire to consider the whole range of problems affecting this vast basin: political, economic, social and ecological;
- the approach to seeking solutions is based on encouraging regional and international action, which can not only help solve a practical problem but also strengthen a spirit of co-operation and mutual trust.
The problems which are common to these seas and to all the countries of this huge basin are environmental. Studying them in order to find suitable solutions involves science and technology, which therefore form the main focus of this Opinion.
I. The unique and specific nature of the Black Sea
1. The Black Sea has the largest basin in the world (2,500,000 km2), covering most of the territory of the countries which border directly on it (Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine) as well as large areas of Moldova, Belarus, Slovenia, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany. Hence a population covering a third of Europe discharges its waste-water either directly or indirectly into the Black Sea. Since its basin is six times the size of its own surface area, the Black Sea’s self-purification capacity is insufficient to cope with such huge quantities of polluted water.
2. The Black Sea’s link with the Mediterranean is very weak because, originally a freshwater basin, it was formed by an inflow of salt water through the Bosphorus more than 5,000 years ago.
3. The Black Sea has specific hydrological and hydrochemical characteristics. It has two layers: an upper layer with low salinity and a lower layer where salinity is higher. The upper layer is fed by fresh water from rivers and rain, while the lower layer receives the very polluted water of the Mediterranean Basin, which flows through the lower current of the Bosphorus. Vertical exchange between the two layers is much slower than in the world ocean. Because it is difficult for oxygen to penetrate depths of more than 150-180 m, a stable zone without oxygen has formed, with high concentrations of sulphides and hydrogen sulphide. Accounting for 87% of the sea’s total volume, this is the world’s largest “anoxic” basin.
4. The Black Sea’s particular hydrological and hydrochemical characteristics (salinity, hydrogen sulphide, little vertical flow) also limits biodiversity to around 3,000 species, compared with 15,000 in the Mediterranean.
5. The total rotation of the Black Sea’s aquatic mass takes 480-600 years, while that of the upper layer (upto 100 m depth) takes 50 years. This explains the sea's low resistance to dense pollution.
6. The Black Sea was formed in a depression zone with high levels of seismic activity. The continental shelf in the north-west part of the sea is up to 300-400 km wide in places, while in the east it is only a few kilometres wide, with numerous fissures.
Because of all these characteristics, the Black Sea’s ecosystem is very sensitive and fragile.
II. Pollution of the Black Sea and its impact on the ecosystem
Human beings influence the Black Sea by causing the following problems:
1. Eutrophication. This is the most harmful in terms of both its extent and its consequences. It is the intensification of biological processes resulting from the inflow of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter which come from domestic, industrial and agricultural waste found in rivers, sewage and the atmosphere. This causes a huge, uncontrollable proliferation of organic matter which the self-purification process cannot assimilate. Oxygen in the deeper layers of water and sediment is replaced by hydrogen sulphide, killing many organisms, including fish, living on or near the seabed. The sea’s biodiversity is reduced dramatically while the food structure of marine ecosystems deteriorates. Species hostile to the system (gelatinous organisms) develop, destroying the zooplankton which is the main diet of many fish. This is the main reason why the number of species of fish with significant populations is now five times smaller than it was previously (5 instead of 26).
2. Oil and petrochemical pollution. According to 1997 estimates, around 110,000 tonnes of oil and petrochemical pollution comes from rivers each year, half of which is discharged by the Danube. This is due to inefficient water purification and incorrect treatment of petrochemical by-products by land-based installations.
This estimate does not include occasional acts of illegal pollution caused by shipping traffic, which result in just as much damage as is produced by all the other sources of oil pollution.
Plans to transport large quantities of oil and gas across the Black Sea are serious causes for concern. Experience all over the world shows that the use of oil-tankers to transport oil and the process of loading and unloading them at the terminals result in significant pollution of the marine environment.
The construction of oil and gas pipelines across the Black Sea brings another danger which is even more serious for two main reasons: firstly, the Black Sea is a seismic region with complex tectonics and active fissures, and secondly the high concentration of hydrogen sulphide multiplies many times the hostility of the environment and speed of corrosion. Damage to the pipelines would have severe consequences for the Black Sea’s ecosystems.
3. Chemical pollution. This is present near the main industrial areas on the coast. Specific examples of this kind of pollution are heavy metals and pesticides used in agriculture which cause bioaccumulation in the food chain.
4. Radioactive pollution. The Black Sea’s sediments do not accumulate the dangerous radionuclides Strontium 90 and Caesium 137, whose concentration in the shallow waters of the north and north-west parts of the sea increased by 25-30 times after the accident at Chernobyl (1986). Five years later (1991), these levels were still 1.5-5 times higher than normal. Other sources of radioactive pollution are the nuclear power stations found in some coastal states (Ukraine, Armenia, Bulgaria).
5. Overexploitation of biological resources (fish, mussels, etc). Some species of fish have been overexploited, leading to a dramatic reduction in catches, which in Turkey, for example, fell from 338,000 t (1985) to 15,000 t (1989). Dragnet fishing, banned in some countries but still used to catch fish and shellfish, has a particularly devastating effect on biodiversity, leading to the destruction of deep-sea ecosystems.
6. Dumping of dangerous substances. This is banned by the Black Sea Convention, which does not cover the specific issue of dumping dredged sediments. These come from ports, waterways and river mouths and contain toxic substances which usually cause serious pollution to ecosystems and affect humans through seafood.
7. Appearance of foreign species hostile to the Black Sea ecosystem. This is usually a result of shipping traffic, caused especially when ships clean their tanks. The species concerned eat the same food as fish and their larva.
Since 1990, there has been a slow improvement in the ecosystem, linked to the following factors:
- reduced industrial activity in the region, leading to a smaller quantity of pollutants. This is only the temporary result of an industrial decline in nearby countries undergoing the transition to a market economy;
- a reduction in pollution from the Danube, as a result of measures already taken.
However, in 1996 and 1997 there has unfortunately been an increase in eutrophication and a fall in the biodiversity of deep-sea communities, especially zooplankton. This is due to increased pollution in the rivers of the Black Sea basin, particularly the Danube, and illustrates the lack of consistent improvement in the conservation of Black Sea ecosystems.
III. The problems of the Mediterranean basin
The Mediterranean is one of the most polluted seas in the world. Most of the above-mentioned causes of pollution in the Black Sea (eutrophication, oil and petrochemical pollution, chemical pollution and dumping of dangerous substances) also affect the Mediterranean.
As far as the Mediterranean’s coastal regions are concerned, there are two other major problems:
1. Management of water resources. The chronic water shortage in some regions is due to the outdated, worn out water distribution systems. Frequently up to 30-40% of water is lost on the way to its destination. Most cities, especially those on the south shores of the Mediterranean, have no water purification system, so the sea becomes polluted by organic substances and eutrophication increases.
2. Coastal pine forests in the Mediterranean countries are disappearing, mainly because of aerosols and the large quantities of pollutants being discharged into the sea. This is known as the boomerang effect because harmful substances in the sea are damaging the coast. The flora of the coastal forests is also seriously threatened by forest fires, the destruction of forests due to heavy construction near the coast and drought in the region.
Amendments proposed on behalf of the Committee on Science and Technology
I. Draft resolution
Amendment 1 : To add a new paragraph after point 10 iv as follows:
“ v. asks the joint group mentioned above to study the possibility that the 5th Conference of Mediterranean regions might adopt a Charter on the management of the Mediterranean-Black Sea system in the form of a socio-economic and environmental development plan.”
Amendment 2 : To add a new paragraph after paragraph 10 as follows:
“11. The Assembly invites the member States of the Council of Europe and of the European Union:
i. to develop, in conjunction with the countries on the south shores of the Mediterranean, joint forest and water resource management projects;
ii. to encourage research into more efficient shipping systems in terms of energy consumption, environmental protection, speed, and operational reliability, while supporting the renewal of the port infrastructure and of related installations in the region;
iii. to support research into marine biodiversity and biotechnologies with a view to producing transgenic species which are more resistant to viruses and to hostile foreign species ;
iv. to encourage research into renewable forms of marine energy (wind, currents, tides), which are important for the sustainable development of the basin countries, and to support the implementation of practical applications thereof ;
v. to support research into the desalination of sea water so it can be used in industry, agriculture and everyday life;
vi. to support the drawing up and implementation of measures and plans as part of a global approach in close collaboration with the Programme for the protection of the Danube, which is the biggest polluter of the Black Sea ;
vii. to support the drawing up of action plans for the Kerch Strait, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, bearing in mind that the deeper waters of the Bosphorus (below 50 m) discharge the sewage of Istanbul (a city with 11 million inhabitants) into the Black Sea;
viii. to examine the feasibility of setting up an International Ecological Fund for the Mediterranean and Black Seas in order to help implement various environmental programmes;
ix. to support environmental education programmes in the countries of the Mediterranean-Black Sea system because the guarantee of a favourable evolution regarding the protection of the environment depends on the relevant training of the younger generations;
x. to demand that international experts assess the environmental impact of all projects for transporting oil and gas (using pipelines or oil tankers) across the Black Sea;
xi. to encourage coastal states to ban dragnet fishing over the continental shelf in order to preserve deep sea ecosystems and not to harm the self-purification process;
xii. to study the possibility of limiting night-time shipping traffic through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles in order to make it easier for fish to cross from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and vice versa;
xiii. to examine the feasibility of including all member States of the Council of Europe forming part of the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins in the European Union’s programmes on the development of institutions, infrastructures and tourism.
II. Draft recommendation
Amendment 1: to insert the following at the beginning of paragraph 9, before the words “it expresses the wish”:
“Bearing in mind that the ecological problems of the Black Sea are the result of pollution from 17 basin countries as well as from the ships of other countries,”.
Reporting committee: Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities (Doc. 7977)
Committee for opinion: Committee on Science and Technology
Reference to committee: Doc. 6618, Reference No. 1789
Opinion approved by the committee on 27 January 1998
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Lervik, Mr Torcatoriu