EU reveals secrets of Black Sea

The Black Sea is among the oldest ones on the planet. Due to the low level of salinity and the relatively cold climate, it is inhabited by half as many living organisms as in the neighbouring southern seas – 5,600 species. There are more than 200 species of fish, including spiny dogfish and rays, dolphins and 30 species of jellyfish. Find out more interesting facts from the book “Secrets of the Black Sea”, which was published with the support of the EU-UNDP project “Improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea: Special Measures” (EMBLAS-Plus).

Five important facts about the Black Sea

How clean is water in the Black Sea?

The EU’s EMBLAS project examined water, the bottom, and living organisms of the Black Sea for the presence and concentration of chemical pollutants. It analyzed the substances subject to mandatory control under EU regulations: resistant organic matter, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, biocides, fire retardants, industrial chemicals and products of their decay. Out of more than 2100 known pollutants, 124 substances were found in water samples. These pollutants included petroleum products from marine transport, water repellants used to manufacture paper cups and packaging, and also, mercury and dioxins. The examiners also found pesticides and insecticides, for example, fipronil, which is especially toxic for bees. The highest concentrations of pesticides were found near the coast of Georgia.

The seawater also contained traces of pharmaceutical drugs against arrhythmia and hypertension, as well as chemicals contained in plastic bottles and sunscreen creams and harmful for marine organisms.

The compounds of harmful organophosphates, contained in almost all products we use every day, such as textiles, furniture, computers, etc., were recorded at every monitoring station. On aggregate, the largest quantities of these substances were found in the Danube Delta, the Dniester, and in Georgian waters. If the concentration of chemicals exceeds a certain level, they become deadly for every living organism, disrupting the cycles of development and reproduction of marine habitants. For example, substantial concentrations of chlorine-containing pesticides, toxic dioxins and mercury were found in the tissue of dead dolphins. A toxicity threshold is set for all these substances, and if this threshold is exceeded, these substances must be taken out of manufacture, treatment of wastewater must be improved, or the use of these substances in manufacture must be legislatively prohibited.

According to data by EMBLAS, the process of restoring the plant and animal species – indicators of good environmental conditions, for example, phyllophora, a genus of red algae – is presently underway. Crabs, shrimps and seahorses can again be found in the coastal area to the joy of vacationers.

To learn more interesting facts about the Black Sea, read the book Secrets of the Black Sea.

Is there any fish left in the Black Sea?

The Black Sea is populated by over 200 fish species, including 30 commercially valuable species, such as the European anchovy, sprats, herring and goby. The largest Black Sea fish is beluga, one of the seven sturgeon species living in the Black Sea.

Some fish species become rare and near-extinct. For example, the exotic image of the seahorse became the reason for its near-extinction. Tens of thousands of these creatures were caught every year and dried to make souvenirs for tourists, and therefore, the seahorse has virtually disappeared from the resort areas. After the seahorse was included to the Red Book of Ukraine and its catching was forbidden, its population began to grow.

Overfishing (mostly poaching) also dealt a heavy blow to sturgeons, because its meat and especially black caviar are considered especially valuable delicatessen. Not surprisingly, therefore, that all seven sturgeon species of the Black Sea became endangered and were included to the Red Books of all Black Sea countries. A research by EMBLAS has discovered DNA of European sturgeon and beluga in many water samples taken across the entire Black Sea, which means that a certain quantity of these unique fish species still lives in the Black Sea.

Large quantities of fish are being caught in the Black Sea every year, with Turkey responsible for the half of the entire harvest. The basis of commercial fishing comprises European anchovy, mugil, so-iuy mullet, and rapa whelk (a predator mollusk). Overfishing made tuna and mackerel nonexistent in the Black Sea, while sturgeons are on the verge of extinction: their harvesting is forbidden in all Black Sea countries, but poachers constantly violate this ban. The reserves of flounders, Black Sea turbot and spiny dogfish are rapidly diminishing, and these species are also included to the Red Books of the Black Sea countries.

The Black Sea has the total of almost 5600 species of living organisms, which is almost twice as little as in the neighboring seas. The reason for that is low salinity and cold climate.

The Black Sea has spiny dogfish, rays, dolphins, and 30 jellyfish species. The largest jellyfish include widely found moon jellyfish, or Aurelia, and Rhizostomae. Aurelia sometimes causes light burns that could be over in an hour, while the larger Rhizostomae may inflict painful, but not life-threatening, skin damage which would disappear in a few days.


How can global warming affect the sea and coastal cities?

Rising sea level could be one of the dangerous consequences of global warming: firstly, glaciers begin to melt, adding more water to the World Ocean; and secondly, water begins to expand when warmed. Therefore, Odesa and other cities on the Black Sea coast could quite possibly share the fate of the flooded Olbia, although that could happen not in a year and not even in a hundred years but several centuries later.

The Black Sea has its sea level fluctuation cycles. For example, beginning from the late 1990s the level of the Black Sea has lowered by 1 cm on average. It could be caused by global climate change, for the warmer a sea the more water will evaporate from its surface. Moreover, the warmer and drier a year the less water will be discharged into a sea from the rivers emptying into it. Presently, the discharge of water from rivers into the Black Sea is much lower than 100 years ago, because a lot of water from the Dnieper, the Bug, the Dniester and the Danube was diverted for irrigation purposes. With rising temperature the consumption of water on land increases and its flow from the upper reaches of rivers decreases. The warming of water in shallow coastal areas may result in decreasing solubility of oxygen in water. The whole spots of “dead water” thus appear, where the oxygen content is too low for fish, crabs and mollusks to survive, and they are dying en masse.

With the decreasing discharge of river water into the Black Sea and rising ocean level, the salinity of the Black Sea may increase, which means that the Black Sea will become more attractive for population by habitants of the Mediterranean Sea. Every year, more and more Mediterranean species, such as barracuda and sea turtles, enter the Black Sea.

Is it true that the sea is heavily littered?

With the increasing use of plastic in the last 20 years, the quantity of litter in the World Ocean has increased several-hundredfold: every year, almost 8 million tons of plastic get into the ocean. Circular currents concentrate it in a particular place, creating “litter islands”. The Black Sea is littered twice as heavy as the Mediterranean Sea, because plastic is carried to it with water discharged by large rivers, and because the Black Sea is relatively isolated. 85% of the entire litter in the Black Sea is plastic. Light polyethylene bottles and packages flowing on the surface of water gradually decompose, under the impact from ultraviolet and temperature, into smaller fragments, which over time sink to the bottom.

Litter is a problem for marine ecosystems. Firstly, marine habitants often take it for food, swallow it, and litter clogs their digestive system. In the Black Sea, seagulls especially suffer from that. Secondly, plastic often absorbs organic pollutants, which then get inside marine habitants and poison them. Thirdly, marine creatures may get entangled, get lost or even die in litter.

It is very important that besides large pieces of litter, there are also invisible ones: micro-plastic. More than two-thirds of micro-plastic is formed from worn tires and gets washed off motor roads, and approximately a quarter more gets into sewage system after washing synthetic fabrics, from which microfibers peel off. Also, small plastic granules are often added to household chemicals and to creams, scrubs and toothpastes, which then also get into sewage system. EMBLAS researchers have already found substantial deposits of micro-plastic on the bottom of the Black Sea.

Marine habitants also suffer from noise pollution coming from container ships, tankers and trawlers. An unceasing underwater hum is present in the areas of intensive navigation, like on highways.

The greatest danger comes from the so-called impulse sounds creating a short yet extremely powerful signal, deafening and causing concussions. For example, pneumatic guns used in underwater seismic surveys of extractable raw material reserves could create impulses louder than the sound of a space rocket on the takeoff. Therefore, acoustic traumas of the inner ear sustained by whales during military drills or seismic surveys could be one of the reasons for their throwing themselves ashore – they lose the acoustic location ability and cannot distinguish the sea from a beach.

How can the Black Sea be protected?

The EU provides funding to several important initiatives helping preserve the Black Sea ecosystem. One of them is the EU-UNDP project “Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea” (EMBLAS), which studies the sea, assesses its “health”, and also, helps clear it of plastic litter, organizes environmental campaigns jointly with local activists (for example, cleaning beaches), and even processes marine litter into pavement tiles. The project’s overall goal is to improve protection of the Black Sea environment in Ukraine and Georgia.

The European Union Water Initiative is a project that helps improve management of water resources, make water in rivers cleaner and accessible for all. This program works with governments on creating an up-to-date legislative and regulatory framework, and monitors water resources, which includes creation of state-of-the-art laboratories analyzing the quality of water, procurement of equipment, technical support and personnel training.

The Black Sea Basin Cross-Border Cooperation Program is aimed to promote economic development of this region, protect the environment, mitigate the consequences of climate change, and combat the pollution of coastal areas with plastic litter.

International assistance and cooperation are surely very important, but every one of us can also contribute to preservation of the Black Sea environment. For example, we can reduce the use of plastic bags, stop throwing garbage away in places not designated for that, participate in cleaning the sea coast, and stop buying detergents and cosmetic products containing phosphates and phosphonates, which cause algal bloom.