Due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the safety of sea, food, biodiversity and environment in the Black Sea are in danger. TUDAV suggests a regional monitoring program in order to examine the present and future negative effects of the war on marine environment.

Photo: GCaptain.com

In the Russia/Ukraine war that has been going on right next to us for more than a month, depressing human drama and cruelty of the war are being seen every day. Unfortunately, the damage and negative effects of the war on nature are not being discussed as much as they deserve. In fact, a war occurring in a semi-closed sea like the Black Sea affects the wildlife negatively in many ways. This sea is already a place where overfishing is evident, negative effects of climate change especially due to non-indigenous species are seen, land-based pollutants and eutrophication (food increase in seawater) occur. After all these experiences, there is a war now and now we shall unfortunately witness a crisis in biodiversity.

Rare and endangered animal and plant species and changing of the water budget of the Black Sea due to “Bystroe Canal” (120 meters wide and 8 meters deep) which is made by Ukraine in the Danube River can be added to all of these ecological disasters.

Wetlands and biosphere reserves in the Sea of Azov, Danube Delta and Gulf of Odessa are where the biodiversity is most fragile. These regions reside within the migration destinations of birds. Endangering of species that choose these regions for breeding, feeding, migrating and laying eggs where bombings and gunshots occur daily is inevitable. On the other hand, the Gulf of Odessa where tens of military ships reside, manoeuvre, get set on fire and ballistic missiles drop in is a feeding ground for coastal fish species as well as dolphins. Besides, destruction of endangered red algae (Phyllophora) which provide living grounds for many marine species in this region and decrease rapidly in the Black Sea is a source of concern for biodiversity.

The amount of petrol leaked from the sunken ships which were hit by a missile and sunk at Mariupol offshore and the level of planning for immediate intervention are unknown. The poisonous gasses released to the atmosphere due to these ships will later reach the land or sea again by rainfall.

The Dnieper River which is being used as a front line during the war is a major source for agricultural irrigation and drinking water in the region. It is impossible for this source not to be polluted by the gasses and toxic chemicals released from the ammunition used in the war. According to what is reflected to the public, a “hydraulic war” is being mentioned. This means a strong water flow by altering the riverbed is claimed to be used as an obstacle against the attackers. This indicates the expansion of the pollutants to a larger area. The effects of this will come to the light in time.

Nobody knows the definite number of mines dropped, broke off or dragged to the Black Sea due to the war. Magnitude of the damage on the marine ecosystem and species during the detonation of the mines found in Turkey and Romania is unknown. How many individuals of which species got killed and the existence of an environmental standard during the detonation of these are also unknown.

There are contradictory explanations even on who deployed these mines and whether they are new or not. There are also mines in the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait according to the Russian sources. If this is true, the danger is in not only in the western Black Sea, maritime transportation and trading routes in the eastern Black Sea are also in danger. Both countries must share correct information with international establishments like International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) along with riparian states.

Banning of night fishing from Igneada to Kefken due to the fear and danger caused by mines is also another result of the war. Fishing has been banned for the people who make their living by catching fish because of the danger. This is an understandable situation during a war. However, it is necessary to establish a commission before too late to compensate for the losses of the Turkish fishermen due to the damage done because of the war. If this ban is expanded to other regions in the future if mines are increased or the war is prolonged, it can destroy economy downright. In the Black Sea, the fishing stock of Turkey is like the grain stock of Ukraine. More than 60 % of fish catch of Turkey is from the Black Sea.

The destruction done and will be done to the ecosystem by flammable, caustic, toxic, radioactive and explosive ammunition used in this war which got mixed with soil, water and then sea resulting from frequent bombings. Because of this, TUDAV suggests that the Black Sea countries and relevant specialist establishments of the United Nations should examine the situation in terms of the environmental destruction by the war in a joint commission and inform the public before it is too late.

Along with marine pollution, ship noise and low frequency sonars are known to be a serious threat to the marine species, especially to dolphins, which utilize underwater sounds actively to feed and navigate.

It should also not be forgotten that the water layer below 150 m of this sea contains 92% hydrogen sulphide, which is a poisonous gas. The only connection of the Black Sea to the ocean is by the Turkish Straits System.

An explanation or sharing of information on any of the subjects has not yet seen from “Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution” whose headquarter is in Istanbul and duty is the protection of the Black Sea. However, this regional unit established in accordance with the Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea, which was accepted in 1994 and known as the Bucharest Convention, should not be completely dysfunctional. TUDAV calls this establishment to continue carrying out their mission.

Finally, TUDAV suggests the initiation of a regional monitoring program in order to thoroughly study the effects of war on the marine, atmospheric and earth systems and living life. Marine, environmental and food safety in the Black Sea are in danger due to the war. It would be very appropriate for Turkey to take an initiative in this subject without any delay. On the other hand, if bombing of religious buildings, hospitals, archaeological sites, etc. must be avoided according to the laws of war; emerges the necessity of adding at least sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands.