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Green Planet

The Black sea protection initiative: What should we remember?

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Authors:Dr. Dmytro Cheberkus and Sophia Zherebchuk

In XXI century everyone in our planet become to understand how fragile the ecosystem is. The key words in every ecosystem description tie with equilibrium and stable balance. This equilibrium or stable balance could be destroyed due to the invasion of new species, the death of existing species, natural disasters or man-made causes. Advocates of an environmental ethic consider that the best way for protect ecosystem is to leave it alone, not interfere, and let nature follow its own course. Certainly, there are many cases of appropriate human interference. But the qualified assessment should be the obligatory component in every case, especially within the EU instruments or projects.

The Black sea basin is most contradicting regarding political and security issues and the most polluted sea basin in EU. Today, the Black sea has serious problems with eutrophication, pollution and colossal impact of the biota invaders of rapana, mnemiopsis and other species. Besides the Black sea suffers from exosystemic harm caused by human interference. In this regards, the Ukrainian authorities should take all necessary protection measures. 

But without deep scientific assessment any activity could become a disaster for the Black sea, like many years ago the human impact caused the death of Aral Sea.

If we are talking about case study, we need to put the stress on several projects that implement without any social and ecological assessment and in the same time could cause ecological disaster.

In the end of 2020, near Mykolaiv on the Kinburn spit on top of the allegedly existing natural mussel field “artificial reef” was created. Shells of imported oysters from the garbage heap of a restaurant selling live imported oysters in plastic bags have become one of the materials for this reef. But such a “unique” solution is extremely dangerous for the Black Sea ecosystem. Organisms, larvae and their eggs, as well as infectious diseases that live in the overgrowth of shells and oyster meat are alien to the local fauna and may become new harmful invaders – aliens for the Black Sea.

Besides 2.5 tons of oyster shells the project participants also dropped into sea the plastic bags and other garbage like rusty metal, which during decomposition will also pollute the Black Sea with extremely dangerous microplastics.

Thousands of Black sea mussels caused by this experiment are just died under the garbage bags that were placed over them. Thus, part of mussels that could cleanse the sea by filtering the water were blocked and became victims of rapana. 100 bags of garbage lay on the “carpet” of mussels and a pyramid on top of each other around the rusty pipes, blocking the possibility of filtering water on the mussels and leading to their partial death.

Also the plastic bags with a fine mesh were used for reef’s construction. No need to remind what is the ecologists opinion about the fact that abandoned (forgotten, lost) in water plastic fishing nets for years (until they collapse) continue to catch and destroy fish, crabs and other inhabitants of the sea, who become entangled in them and perish. Thousands aquatic organisms like crabs, shrimps, fish may be, and will be in this trap and die when will not be able to leave. This is not about biodiversity increasing of the Kinburn Spit.

At the same time, many unsuccessful construction attempts of reefs from unnatural materials are known: car tires, plastic waste etc. These reefs were destroyed and polluted the coast and sea-ocean. The material for sprouting (the plastic bag) is on the surface, the oyster’s shells are inside and they not sprout.

Also, we should remember that there is currently no oyster nursery in Ukraine; landing material (spat or grown juvenile oysters) is imported either from Europe (France, Spain, Ireland, England, etc.), or from the Far East (Sakhalin). Import to Black Sea associated with the risks of bringing dangerous infections into this region. It is known that state and industrial control over dangerous diseases of oysters is ineffective.

Oysters, like many other bivalve molluscs, are susceptible to various diseases. The causative agents of oyster diseases can be viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa, and also various types of worms and crustaceans. The degree of knowledge of diseases of different the types of oysters are significantly different. Usually oyster diseases are most commonfound in places of their mass concentration (oyster banks) and areas cultivation of molluscs. Mycoses are a serious danger to oysters, caused by parasitic fungi. The most dangerous and widespread disease of oysters of fungal etiology is shell disease, caused by the fungus (Ostracoblaba implexa).

Shell disease in the Black Sea for the first time registered in 1975, was found on all the largest oysters in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. Given the high degree of oyster infestation (up to 99 %) it, apparently, was one of the reasons for the mass degradation of natural populations of this species in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. Currently European oyster in the Black Sea is on the verge of extinction, listed in the Red book of Ukraine.

Other possible reasons for the decline in the number of European oysters in Black the sea is considered to be cumulative toxicosis caused by pollution of marine areas, deterioration of hydrochemical (oxygen) and hydrobiological (feed) conditions habitats due to the eutrophication of offshore areas, as well as a wide distribution in the Black Sea of ​​a predatory introduced species – the gastropod mollusk rapana (Rapana venosa).

Despite the extensive list of infectious diseases known in oysters we have a few experts in Ukraine regarding oysters’ diseases. Experience in oyster farming in the Black Sea has shown that some local diseases of molluscs, such as shell disease, clionosis, hexamitosis and others can also infect oysters imported into this region.

Accommodation in the water area of ​​the nature reserve fund of various types of adult oysters grown in areas remote from the Black Sea should be strictly prohibited due to the high risks of infectious diseases and harmful invaders.

Another example of harmful actions is the decision of Mykolaiv regional authority about lend sales in the Sviatoslav National Nature Park that included in the Emerald Network of Europe. In the case of the implementation of these plans the orchid field will be finally lost, millions of rare plants and animals listed in the Red Book of Ukraine will be under threat.

In this regard, the approach to the projects’ implementation should be changed on national and international level. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 already has the provisions regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment as far as marine scientific research. Ukrainian authorities should apply these provision and guarantee that every interference into Back sea ecosystem should accompany with deep scientific assessment.

The in EMBLAS project in Ukraine. With the aim of strengthen the capacities of Georgia, Russia and Ukraine for biological and chemical monitoring of water quality in the Black Sea in line with EU water-related legislation EU and UNDP established the improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea (EMBLAS) project.

The international initiatives (within EMBLAS, UNDP, World Bank, CMA etc.) are really important and could be the powerful tool for ecological monitoring and capacity building I the Black sea.

Dr.Dmytro Cheberkus, PhD in economie, representative of Ukrainian national hub within Black sea assistance mechanisme

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Green Planet

Increasing Frequency of Cyclones and Flooding Portends Worse Problems

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Sixteen years ago on August 29th, hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast causing widespread damage that was estimated at $125 billion.  This year, by a remarkable coincidence, hurricane Ida hit on the same date, again August 29th.  The weather service  holds the end of August though the beginning of September as the period with the highest likelihood of tropical cyclones hitting the Louisiana coast.  In light of this, perhaps the coincidence is not quite as uncanny.

While not as large as Katrina, hurricane Ida was more powerful with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.  That is in line with climate scientists who now believe extreme weather events will tend to increase in both severity and frequency unless something is done about global warming.

Another example has been the heat wave last June in the Pacific Northwest in which hundreds of people died.  Canada set an all-time-high temperature record of 49.6 degrees Celsius in the village of Lytton.  The chance of all this happening without human-induced global warming is about 1 in a 1000.  However, the warming makes the event 150 times more likely. 

Following Ida was hurricane Larry.  Also powerful, it formed in the Atlantic but luckily for the Atlantic coast chose a path straight north.  These recurring extreme weather events have caught the attention of scientists.  Thus Myhre from the Center for Climate Research in Norway and his coauthors find a strong increase in frequency and confirm previously established intensity.  They collected data for Europe over a three-decade period (1951-1980) and repeated the process for 1984-2013.  This historical data also allowed them to develop climate models for the future, and, as one might imagine, the future is not rosy.

Expanding their horizon, the authors note that historical and future changes in Europe follow a similar pattern.  This does not hold when including the US, Japan and Australia which are likely to experience bigger changes.  Given intensity and frequency going hand in hand and also that the study considered natural variability alone, we can only dread the inclusion of human forcing through climate drivers like greenhouse gases.

For coastal residents, sea level rise adds to the hazard.  Worse, it is now a problem for people several miles inland.  In South Florida, drainage canals are used to return water to the ocean after storm and flooding events; the difficulty now lies in rising sea levels that hinder the efficiency of the drainage canals. 

Residents as far away as 20 miles inland have noticed water coming up their driveway, a new and frightening portend of the future.  The South Florida Water Management District oversees the canals.  It raises and lowers the gates controlling flow to the ocean or vice versa.  Thus they can open the gates to release flood water from storms to the ocean. 

The problem now is that the ocean level in the Atlantic during some storms is higher than the water level inland so they cannot open the gates — that would simply bring in more water.   

All of these happenings are clearly not a happy future prospect … unless we take global warming seriously and act soon. 

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Green Planet

Human activity the common link between disasters around the world

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Disasters such as cyclones, floods, and droughts are more connected than we might think, and human activity is the common thread, a UN report released on Wednesday reveals.

The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looks at 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, and finds that, even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.

A consequence of human influence

The study builds on the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment released on 9 August, and based on improved data on historic heating, which showed that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General described the IPCC assessment as a “code red for humanity”.

Over the 2020-2021 period covered by the UN University, several record-breaking disasters took place, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a cold wave which crippled the US state of Texas, wildfires which destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and 9 heavy storms in Viet Nam – in the span of only 7 weeks.

Arctic-Texas link

Whilst these disasters occurred thousands of miles apart, the study shows how they are related to one another, and can have consequences for people living in distant places.

An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced unusually high air temperatures, and the second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.

This warm air destabilized the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America, contributing to the sub-zero temperatures in Texas, during which the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.

COVID and the Cyclone

Another example of the connections between disasters included in the study and the pandemic, is Cyclone Amphan, which struck the border region of India and Bangladesh.

In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without any way to make a living, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.

When the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided the shelters and decided to weather the storm in unsecure locations. In the aftermath, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, compounding the 100 fatalities directly caused by Amphan, which also caused damage in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.

Root causes

The new report identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.

The first of these, human induced greenhouse gas emissions, is identified as one of the reasons why Texas experienced freezing temperatures, but these emissions also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan, on the other side of the world.

Insufficient disaster risk management, notes the study, was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap, and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.

The report also shows how the record rate of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat: this demand has led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down.

“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour”, says one of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor. “Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”

Solutions also linked

However, Mr. O’Connor is adamant that, just as the problems are interlinked, so are the solutions.

The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

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Green Planet

Blue sky thinking: 5 things to know about air pollution

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Around 90 per cent of people go through their daily lives breathing harmful polluted air, which has been described by the United Nations as the most important health issue of our time. To mark the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, on 7 September, UN News explains how bad it is and what is being done to tackle it.

1) Air pollution kills millions and harms the environment

It may have dropped from the top of news headlines in recent months, but air pollution remains a lethal danger to many: it precipitates conditions including heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and strokes, and is estimated to cause one in nine of all premature deaths, around seven million every year.

Air pollution is also harming also harms our natural environment. It decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, makes it harder for plants to grow, and contributes to climate change.

Yet, despite the damage it causes, there are worrying signs that air pollution is not seen as a priority in many countries: in the first ever assessment of air quality laws, released on 2 September by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that around 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution, and almost a third of them have yet to adopt legally mandated outdoor air quality standards.

2) The main causes

 Five types of human activity are responsible for most air pollution: agriculture, transport, industry, waste and households.

Agricultural processes and livestock produce methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a by-product of waste burning, which emits other polluting toxins, which end up entering the food chain. Meanwhile industries release large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and chemicals.

Transport continues to be responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, despite the global phase out of dangerous leaded fuel at the end of August. This milestone was lauded by senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, who said that it would prevent around one million premature deaths each year. However, vehicles continue to spew fine particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere; it’s estimated that treating health conditions caused by air pollution costs approximately $1 trillion per year globally.

Whilst it may not come as a great shock to learn that these activities are harmful to health and the environment, some people may be surprised to hear that households are responsible for around 4.3 million deaths each year. This is because many households burn open fires and use inefficient stoves inside homes, belching out toxic particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury.

3) This is an urgent issue

 The reason that the UN is ringing alarm bells about this issue now, is that the evidence of the effects of air pollution on humans is mounting. In recent years exposure to air pollution has been found to contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.

On top of this, we have known for years that it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Concern about this type of pollution dovetails with increased global action to tackle the climate crisis: this is an environmental issue as well as a health issue, and actions to clean up the skies would go a long way to reducing global warming. Other harmful environmental effects include depleted soil and waterways, endangered freshwater sources and lower crop yields.

4) Improving air quality is a responsibility of government and private sector

On International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the UN is calling on governments to do more to cut air pollution and improve air quality.

Specific actions they could take include implementing integrated air quality and climate change policies; phasing out petrol and diesel cars; and committing to reduce emissions from the waste sector.

Businesses can also make a difference, by pledging to reduce and eventually eliminate waste; switching to low-emission or electric vehicles for their transport fleets; and find ways to cut emissions of air pollutants from their facilities and supply chains.

5)…and it is our responsibility, as well

At an individual level, as the harmful cost of household activities shows, a lot can be achieved if we change our behaviour.

Simple actions can include using public transportation, cycling or walking; reducing household waste and composting; eating less meat by switching to a plant-based diet; and conserving energy.

The Website for the International Day contains more ideas of actions that we can take, and how we can encourage our communities and cities to make changes that would contribute to cleaner skies: these include organizing tree-planting activities, raising awareness with events and exhibitions, and committing to expanding green open spaces.

How clean is your air?

You may well be wondering exactly how clean or dirty the air around you is right now. If so, take a look at a UNEP website which shows how exposed we are to air pollution, wherever we live.

The site indicates that more than five billion people, or around 70 per cent of the global population, are breathing air that is above the pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

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