I was born and currently live in Gdynia - one of the cities in nine littoral states and home to around 90 million people living in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea. People are generally more concerned about the oceans, horrified by the pictures of floating plastic islands or the amount of trash gathering at the coastlines. The Baltic Sea pollution, however, poses a threat on its own, though not easily seen on the surface but rather hidden in its depths. This lack of visual evidence makes it harder for the people to take a problem seriously and understand the many reasons of the poor state of the Baltic Sea marine environment. Some of the main ones include:
Geographical location. The Baltic Sea is surrounded by land. There is only one narrow entrance located between Sweden and Denmark that connects it to the North Sea. This means that water in the Baltic Sea can be exchanged only every 25-30 years which has an adverse effect on its ability to 'clean' itself from the accumulated pollutants.
Shallowness. The Baltic Sea with its average depth of 55 meters is relatively shallow compared to the Mediterranean Sea’s average depth of 1500 meters. This makes it more vulnerable to the external load of pollutants and nutrients runoff compared to other, deeper areas. Shallow and icy waters also increase the chances for major shipping incidents resulting in the outflow of large volumes of oil into the sea.
Human activity. High population density, industrial waste and agriculture production result in large inputs of nutrients much of which is lost to water (nitrates and phosphates) and air (ammonia and nitrogen oxides). Due to a slow water exchange these nutrients accumulate as the sea bottom and contribute to the accelerated process of eutrophication (see definition to the right).
Oil shipments. The marine traffic on the Baltic Sea has increased with the development of Russia's policy to export oil and gas directly from its land and not through the pipelines of transit countries. The risk of accidents resulting in oil spills, however, is very high due to the low temperature of the Baltic Sea for the substantial part of the year and the ice sheets floating on its surface.
Together with unsustainable fishing practices (overfishing; illegal fishing) , marine litter and poor wastewater management (ex. waste water from passenger ships), the above factors make Baltic Sea one of the most threatened marine areas in the world.
Undoubtedly, a strong leadership and genuine commitment from the joint countries is of vital importance in saving this marine ecosystem. However, the future of the Baltic Sea lies not only in the hand of politicians. We have a lot to say too.
You may think 'I would like to help but hey, I cannot change the geographical characteristics of the sea, influence the governments to decrease marine traffic or stop the oil spills from happening'. And you are right. Directly you cannot. But thinking outside the box, connecting causes to the effects and abstract ideas to tangible actions open the door for a whole new way of thinking. And so using detergents without phosphates (one of the two main pollutants in the Baltic Sea), taking your disposable cutlery, plates and barbecue with you after leaving the beach, buying local and seasonal fruits and vegetables (decrease the demand for food transportation) and eating fish that is sustainable fished (not endangered species and not from illegal/untrusted resources) can all improve the state of the Baltic Sea.
In the summer season in my city, people across the country come to enjoy the weather on one of the many beaches spreading along the northern border of Poland. Warned about highly-toxic blue-green algae present in the water they either come into the water despite the warnings or are angry that someone spoils the summer fun. Whatever the case, it both shows the ignorance some still carry in their hearts. Not only with regard to ther health and safety but also the environment. The occurrence of blue-green algae is a direct consequence of the eutrophication and of a changing marine ecosystem. When we start to look at things through the prism of our daily encounters, we reach the true meaning and depth of an issue. And tough sometimes we might not be an ease with that, we need to confront and be ready for the truth that ultimately can save our future.