The Black Sea
The Black Sea
Common Responsibility
Common Ground
Action Plan

Dr Laurence David Mee

This introductory paper examines the state of the Black Sea today and the efforts to protect it. It recognises that the environmental degradation in the Black Sea is a consequence of a larger problem, that of how humans perceive and value nature. This problem is certainly not limited to the countries around the Black Sea, though the many years of totalitarian regimes in most Black Sea countries have left a particularly challenging social and environmental legacy.

The crisis in the Black Sea is part of a crisis of values which may be planetary. Indeed our use of terms such as 'environmental crisis' provides a shield against the reality that the problems are of human origin and the solution is in our hands. Deepening our understanding of this crisis of values offers hope for sustaining our presence on this planet.

The situation in the Black Sea, Europe's most isolated marine area and its most degraded, is not hopeless. The current economic and social changes in Central and Eastern European countries open opportunities to introduce sustainable practices in order to overcome major problems such as eutrophication, overfishing, landscape and habitat destruction or pollution with solid waste and sewage. However, it is apparent that the driving force for such change must come from an understanding and empowered public as well as better informed and able state and private sectors. How can the change be made?

A casebook of symptoms of environmental degradation

It does not require a profound knowledge of oceanography to appreciate the unique nature of the Black Sea. Any physical map of Europe is sufficient to reveal its basic characteristics: its comparable surface area to the Baltic or North Seas; its huge drainage basin covering over one third of Europe and including major portions of seventeen countries; its great depth, over two kilometres in places; and its isolation. The map also shows the connection to the Mediterranean through the narrow, twisting Bosphorus, 700 metres wide and less than 60 metres deep in places, and through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. It does not reveal however, that the Bosphorus annually carries 600 cubic kilometers of surface water flowing from the Black Sea and 300 cubic kilometers of deep water replacing it from the Mediterranean. It also carries some 50,000 cargo ships (including 1,500 tankers) annually,(2) and flows through the middle of megalopolis Istanbul.

The Black Sea is also one of Europe's newest seas. It was formed a mere seven or eight thousand years ago when sea level rise caused Mediterranean water to break through the Bosphorus valley refilling a vast freshwater lake tens of metres below the prevailing sea level. The salty water sank to the bottom of the lake, filling it from below and forming a strong density gradient (known as a pycnocline) between the Mediterranean water on the bottom and the freshwater mixed with some seawater near the surface. The depth of this natural density barrier depended (and still depends) upon the supply of fresh water from rivers and rain, and the energy available from the wind and the sun for mixing it with the underlying seawater. The oxygen in the incoming water was quickly exhausted by the demands of bacteria associated with decaying biota and terrestrial organic material falling through the density gradient into the bottom water. Within a few hundred years, the Sea, below some 100 - 200 metres depth, became depleted of oxygen. The bacterial population switched to organisms capable of obtaining their oxygen by reducing dissolved sulphate to toxic hydrogen sulphide and the resulting water body became the largest volume of anoxic water on our planet.

For several thousand years therefore, only the surface waters, down to the 'liquid bottom' pycnocline, have been capable of supporting higher life forms. Though not very biologically diverse compared with open seas at similar latitudes, the Black Sea developed remarkable and unique ecosystems, particularly in its expansive north-western shelf where the sea is relatively shallow. The seabed in this part of the Black Sea was well oxygenated since it is well above the pycnocline. This area, and the adjacent shallow Sea of Azov, also receives the inflow of Europe's second, third and fourth rivers, the Danube, Dnieper and Don. A particularly unique ecosystem developed based on the 'keystone' benthic (bottom living) red algae, Phyllophora sp., which formed a vast bed with a total area equivalent to that of Belgium and The Netherlands. The term 'keystone' is not used lightly: like the keystone in the middle of a stone bridge, its removal causes the entire structure to collapse in a precipitous manner. This particular keystone was also a place of great beauty, vast underwater fields of red algae, home to a myriad of dependent animals, linked together in a complex web of life.

Despite its uniquely fragile natural physical and chemical characteristics, the Black Sea ecosystem appears to have been relatively stable. During the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps until three decades ago, there was little evidence of human impact on the Sea or on its flora and fauna. Some changes had occurred however, and these were precursors of much worse events to come. Sensitive monk seal populations, for example, began to decline from the late nineteenth century, driven from their breeding grounds by human activities. Nowadays the rarely sighted miniscule population of these seals seems certainly doomed. Indeed, there is no certainty that any of these animals remain in the Black Sea. Another early change was through the introduction of a number of exotic animal species, introduced by accident from the hulls, bilges or ballast tanks of ships, and which flourished to the detriment of the Black Sea's characteristic fauna. The voracious predatory sea snail Rapana thomasiana, for example, arrived from waters around Japan in the mid-1940s and devastated beds of the Black Sea genotype of the common oyster, Ostrea edulus. It is one of a list of some 26 species introduced through human activity (accidentally or intentionally) since the beginning of the century and which have profoundly altered the Black Sea ecosystem.(3)

Another gradual change was taking place on the coastlands of the Black Sea. Urban construction occurred in an unplanned and haphazard manner. The Black Sea was an increasingly popular tourist venue, particularly for the peoples of the former Soviet Union and the other Eastern and Central European COMECON countries. This, together with competing demands for space from shipping, industry and coastal settlements (mostly with inadequate waste disposal), placed increasing demands on coastal landscapes. The damming of many rivers brought hydrological changes, particularly through the decrease in sediment flux to the coast, a phenomenon that led to major problems of erosion.(4) This, in turn, was often ineffectively combated by the construction of a very large number of structures to protect beaches (groynes). These further degraded the landscape and exacerbated pollution problems. In the competition for coastal space, the natural environment was the seemingly inevitable loser. The human population has continuously encroached on the ecosystem that it is part of and upon which it depends.

From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, events occurred in the Black Sea that can objectively be considered as an environmental catastrophe.(5) The strongest single symptom of the catastrophe was the virtual elimination of the Phyllophora ecosystem from the Black Sea's north-western shelf in a matter of some ten years. The chain of events leading to the decline of this ecosystem started with an increase in nutrient flux down the major rivers, particularly in the late 1960s when fertiliser use increased markedly as a result of the 'Green Revolution'. This brought about a decrease in light penetration in the sea due to the increased intensity of phytoplankton blooms (eutrophication). Deprived of light, the red algae and other photosynthetic bottom dwelling (benthic) species quickly died. Their function was lost as a source of oxygen to the bottom waters of the shelf seas and as a habitat for a wide variety of organisms. The bottom waters of the north-western shelf became seasonally hypoxic (very low oxygen) and even anoxic (no measurable oxygen). Thousands of tons of benthic plants and animals were washed up on the shores of Romania and Ukraine and the seabed became a barren area with a very low biological diversity.

The loss of the north-western shelf ecosystem had an impact on the entire Black Sea. It also coincided with a period of expansion in the fisheries industry and the application of high technology fish-finding hydroacoustics and more efficient, though unregulated and destructive, purse seining and bottom trawling gear. The consequence was a decrease in the diversity of commercially exploitable fish species from some 26 to six, in less than two decades. As eutrophication advanced in the Black Sea, the smaller fish species such as anchovies and sprat were favoured since they depend upon the phytoplankton-driven pelagic ecosystem, rather than the benthic one. Furthermore, their predators had often been removed by overfishing or habitat loss. As a consequence, fishing effort switched to these lower value species. Annual catches of anchovy for example, rose from 225,000 tons in 1975 to some 450,000 tons a decade later.(6)

In the mid-1980s, another exotic species arrived in ships' ballast waters, the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, sometimes known as the comb jelly.(7) This species was brought from the eastern seaboard of America and, without predators, flourished in the eutrophic Black Sea environment where it consumes zooplankton including fish larvae. Perhaps the word 'flourished' is an understatement. At its peak in 199-90, it is claimed to have reached a total biomass of about one billion tons (1,000,000,000 tons wet weight) in the Black Sea, more than the world annual fish harvest! This massive population explosion had an enormous impact on the Black Sea's ecosystems and commercial fish stocks. The loss of zooplankton allowed huge populations of phytoplankton to develop in a series of blooms that reduced the mean Secchi depth (the maximum depth to which a white disk lowered into the sea from a ship remains visible) from the normal average of 20 metres, to only five metres. Anchovy catches plummeted in 1990 to only 60,000 tons.

The situation in the Black Sea was mirrored by another environmental stress on its coasts. The economic decline of the Black Sea coastal countries and the political upheaval of transition to a market economy led to a lack of maintenance of waste treatment facilities for domestic sewage and industrial waste. Of course, many cities had never had effective sewage treatment but the general decline was evidenced by an increased frequency of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and frequent beach closures due to unsanitary conditions. In Ukraine, for example, 44% of bathing water samples taken in 1995 did not meet the national microbiological standards.(8) This environmental problem, coupled with the decline in standards of tourism infrastructure and limited spending power of people in the region, also led to a sharp decline in tourist numbers and in the local economies.(9)

The state of the environment in the Black Sea in the early 1990s gave little reason for optimism. The economic crisis did however give some respite for pollution. Farmers were often unable to apply the quantity of fertilisers used in the former centrally planned economies. Many large energy-inefficient and polluting industries were forced to close. By 1996 there was already some evidence of recovery of benthic ecosystems on the north-western shelf of the Black Sea, albeit small. Furthermore, Mnemiopsis populations started to decline and the anchovy fisheries recovered, almost to their mid-1980s level. Most local economists and ecologists agree however, the pressure on the environment will return as the economies recover, unless urgent measures are taken to limit the environmental impact of renewed growth. Furthermore, new environmental pressures are emerging as a result of the rapid increase in the use of the Black Sea as a maritime transport route, particularly for the shipment of oil en route from the newly opened Caspian oil fields.

The response of people around the Black Sea to the deterioration in its ecosystem and to the environmental crisis around its shores needs to be considered at two levels - that of governments with or without the backing of the international community, and that of the local communities around the Black Sea itself.

International action for protecting the Black Sea

Perestroika sparked an openness which allowed more freedom to discuss environmental problems within the communist countries of central and eastern Europe. The spark kindled a fire which flickered and smouldered but never blazed. The change however, had profound consequences in the Black Sea region, and at the initiative of the USSR, the coastal countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and the USSR), met together in October 1986 to discuss a new convention to protect the Black Sea, along the lines of the Barcelona Convention in the Mediterranean, signed and ratified a decade earlier. Negotiations were slow because political events gradually overtook the negotiation process and with the break-up of the Soviet Union, Georgia and Ukraine joined the table as four countries became six. To their credit, the officials involved maintained a tenacious resolve to continue and the Convention to Protect the Black Sea Against Pollution (the Bucharest Convention) was signed in April 1992 and ratified by the six legislative assemblies within two years. Unfortunately it is still not being implemented.

In the meantime, another event had focused world attention on the need for new approaches to environmental protection. This was the 1992 Rio de Janeiro 'Earth Summit', the UN Conference on Environment and Development which approved the ambitious but under-funded 'Agenda 21', the agenda for sustainable development in the twenty-first century. In mid-1991, during one of the sessions of the working group charged with the task of developing Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 (the chapter on coastal and ocean areas), the idea emerged that the Black Sea might be one of the first regions to benefit from the application of some of the newer 'holistic' concepts of marine environmental protection. A mission to the countries of the region confirmed the interest of the governments of Black Sea countries in following this approach. It was evident that there was a strong need for a joint declaration of common policy goals - the Bucharest Convention provided a legal framework but it did not specify what was to be achieved and by when.

For its part, the United Nations Environment Programme agreed to host the negotiating sessions and work immediately started on consensus building. In April 1993, the Declaration was signed.(10) The resulting 'Odessa Declaration' is remarkable in two ways. The first is the spirit of consensus.(11) While negotiations were going on, Ukraine and Russia were engaged in a dangerous conflict about ownership of the Black Sea naval fleet and Georgia was suffering civil war. 'The environment has no political boundaries' explained Professor Sherbak, the then Minister for the Environment of Ukraine. The second remarkable feature was the commitment to a new approach to environmental policy making in the region, including much greater public participation and accountability. The 18 point Declaration also committed the countries to the development of a longer term 'Black Sea Action Plan' and boosted the interest and confidence of donors in supporting environmental protection in the region. The first political move had been made, and in the wake of the Earth Summit, these calls could not be ignored.

In June 1993, a three year Black Sea Environmental Programme (BSEP) was established with some US$ 14.3 million funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and collateral donors. Shortly afterwards a Programme Coordinating Unit (PCU) was established to coordinate the activities of the BSEP. In order to share the task of programme implementation between countries, each Black Sea country agreed to host a BSEP 'Activity Centre', a specialist institution which addresses one aspect of the Black Sea environment.(12) The networks of institutions enabled specialists to 'reconnect' with each other and external funding provided additional training and modern equipment. Non-governmental organisations began to play a key role in the BSEP, holding national and regional fora. The programme also included major donors, as well as organisations such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, specialised UN agencies and international NGOs. Amongst many other things it has generated an urgent investment portfolio, implemented by the World Bank and instrumental in levering almost $100 millions of new investments with environmental benefits.

In June 1996, the BSEP demonstrated the potential of its institutional network by completing a systematic analysis of the causes of environmental degradation and appropriate measures for resolving them.(13) The task involved over one hundred specialists from more than thirty institutions plus many colleagues from the West. This study became the basis for the Strategic Action Plan. The analysis clearly demonstrates that the Black Sea environment can still be restored and protected. It proposed a series of actions to address the most serious problems. It also contains proposals for a revitalisation of the Black Sea economy in an environmentally friendly manner and highlights the need for a better regulatory framework and greater public involvement.

The Black Sea Strategic Action Plan(14) is a blueprint for the restoration and protection of the Black Sea. It provides a set of achievable concrete common measures(15) for the reduction and monitoring of pollution, fisheries management, the protection of natural ecosystems and sustainable human development. It also calls on the Danube River basin to reduce nutrient loads from agriculture, industry and domestic sources. The overall aim of the Plan is to enable the population of the Black Sea region to enjoy a healthy living environment in both urban and rural areas, and to attain a biologically diverse Black Sea ecosystem with viable natural populations of higher organisms, including marine mammals and sturgeon, and which will support livelihoods based on sustainable activities such as fishing, aquaculture and tourism in all Black Sea countries. Why marine mammals and sturgeon? Apart from humans, marine mammals and sturgeons are the highest life forms sustained by the Black Sea. Their presence is more than symbolic. Both depend upon a healthy, unpolluted and diverse Black Sea ecosystem. Dolphins depend on the healthy connection of the Black Sea with the world's oceans and sturgeon depend upon clean rivers for breeding as well as a clean Black Sea. The message is a clear one - the Black Sea offers opportunities for human development in co-existence with the most sensitive ecosystems.

Has the message of the Black Sea Action Plan been heeded? At the time of preparing this text, governments were busy preparing National Black Sea Strategic Action Plans, with detailed descriptions of how they are going to implement the larger regional plan. Despite this, there are still very few actions which have been implemented. Four years after ratification of the Bucharest Convention, there is no Secretariat in place to implement it, a situation that does not bode well for other measures which have been agreed. Certainly we need to appreciate that all six countries have faced, or are facing, huge economic and political difficulties (in five cases associated with the transition from centrally planned to market economies) and are under constant pressure from creditors to cut public spending and increase revenues. Pressing economic demands make it difficult to appreciate that the limits of economic growth are set by the sustainable use of the ecosystem.

The more we allow the environment to be destroyed, the less the scope for economic growth. If, for example, legislation for integrated coastal zone management is not agreed and imposed in many parts of the Black Sea, the coastline will become cluttered with a maze of ugly holiday homes, ports, factories and highways. The use of the sea as a repository for garbage or untreated sewage is evidence of a low societal value given to its protection. The beauty of the coast is already deteriorating in many parts and biological diversity is being lost as natural habitats are destroyed. Large stretches of the coast of Turkey, for example, are becoming dominated by rows of summer residences as people strive to own a key piece of the landscape but in so doing destroy it. Many tourists are already going elsewhere in search of a more attractive coastline and property prices are beginning to tumble. Both aesthetic and economic values are being lost. By careful planning and coexistence with nature, economic and aesthetic values can be assured and destructive impact minimised.

Environment still has a very low political profile in most countries of the world. Rather than incorporating environmental protection as an underlying principle of governance it is usually relegated into an 'environment sector' which itself often receives feeble support in the state budget. Officials in the Black Sea typically say, 'how can we support our institutions or programmes if we haven't received funds from the treasury?' The institutions which depend upon the Ministry of Environment for support often get too little too late and cannot fulfil their functions. Staff are paid salaries well below the cost of living and have to seek employment somewhere else in order to feed their families. Usually, the State Institution itself becomes the part-time job. This situation often applies to those professionals who are supposed to be providing essential data for environmental protection or the inspectors who are supposed to implement state and local legislation.

Local action for protecting the Black Sea

Until recently, in countries with a communist regime, individual or collective action on environmental issues was insignificant unless conducted within the limits defined by the government or through the channels of the communist party itself. In Turkey a stronger civil society is gradually emerging following difficult periods in the 1960s and 1970s.(16) In the entire region therefore, the 'environmental movement' is a new one. In a rather short period of time, non-governmental organisations have emerged, grown and gathered strength, though in many cases they fragmented and faded. One of their problems is that many NGOs were, and remain, small groups of specialists or enthusiasts, trying to raise funds for their projects and seeing the world through their own technical perspective. This function sometimes fills a vacuum left by weak government agencies. There are very few genuine community-based NGOs, however. Perhaps many people are still not fully aware of their democratic rights or are so preoccupied with the demands of survival in a transition economy that they have little spare time to seek other avenues to assert their rights.

The Black Sea has national NGO fora and a regional forum which have been the product of initiatives supported through outside donors. The NGOs themselves were mostly established as technical clubs rather than in response to deeply felt concerns amongst the general public. Consequently, there is little coherence between these groups, which is not to decry their usefulness and genuine intentions, but it does highlight the lack of initiative at local community level. Many donors have not understood this situation and see these NGOs as the only key to enhancing democratic processes, which is not necessarily true.

There are some recent examples of NGO action which are, however, remarkable and suggest that there is a limit to the apparent apathy shown by some local communities. In the city of Zonguldak in Turkey, a local community-based NGO, predominantly organised by local women, successfully took the Government to court over the direct discharge of fly-ash to the Black Sea from the local thermoelectric power station. The station has now been equipped with the necessary treatment facilities. Near the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, the construction of an oil terminal is planned. The Black Sea is rapidly becoming an oil superhighway, driven by the unabated demands for energy from western markets - a new cause for concern for an ecosystem which is already sick. Partly as a result of efforts by the local NGO Aquatoria, the local public was mobilised and, in a public hearing, rejected the results of an official environmental impact assessment which supported the construction on a site considered to be of great natural beauty. The stakes are very high as the terminal is a key element of Russia's oil export plans.

One element that may be missing in the efforts to find solutions is the current lack of emphasis on supporting and strengthening local communities. Well-meaning donors try to build the capacity of central government agencies or to support large national NGOs, assuming that they are similar to the movements in the West. This approach by itself is insufficient as central governments and other centralised organisations are not adept at transferring the benefits of technical assistance from capital cities to the regions and fully involving them in the decision-making process. Until recently, many local authorities remained unaware of the $20 millions already spent in international efforts to protect the Black Sea and may feel they play a role as observers rather than full participants in guiding the overall effort. The current development of National Black Sea Action Plans involving key sectors at the local level may improve this situation.

Different sectors in local settlements need to be brought together if a community spirit is to exist at all. In this respect, the institution of 'International Black Sea Day', annually celebrated throughout the Black Sea on 31 October, has been important in prompting the involvement of local authorities, donors, NGOs, business groups, schools and the media. The initiative focuses the often disperse efforts of these groups on a single common objective. The fact that practical activities are being undertaken in many towns in six countries on the same day excites the imagination and gives a sense of international solidarity which the media is quick to grasp. Unfortunately, incentives for individual or collective environmental action at the local level are virtually absent. These would help(17) to stimulate citizen initiatives and give a higher status to environmental protection in society.

If there is to be an effective improvement in environmental protection at the local level, the needs of each community require thoughtful examination so that actions can be proposed which are sensitive to the culture and which take account of the social and economic constraints of local society. Strategies such as 'Local Agenda 21' have been readily embraced and adapted by some towns but it is important not to impose a model from a totally different western culture and assume that it will work. Support is certainly needed to train all sectors of the community in environmental awareness, as well as to offer ideas for practical protective and remedial measures. These measures can be very simple; for example the provision of receptacles for used car oil, combined with public information and fines for those who throw their oil down the drain, can significantly reduce river and sea pollution and improve the efficiency of sewage treatment. Many citizens are aware of the problems, at least superficially, but expect someone else to resolve them. In some towns, the appearance of a local religious leader on television talking about the state of the environment in the community and the responsibility of each citizen, might make a significant difference at local level, especially if practical follow-up actions are proposed and taken. Protection of the environment is an issue around which a genuine community spirit could develop.

Beyond science and politics: caring for the Black Sea

Technically speaking, there is considerable evidence that the Black Sea's decline was quite sudden and intrinsically linked to the Green Revolution in agriculture in which higher levels of production were sustained by the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Before simplistically denouncing the Green Revolution as an irresponsible action, it is worth recalling that it provided a relief from famine for millions of people in the developing world, albeit in some cases a temporary relief. In many respects however, the Green Revolution has proven to be another example of the 'technological quick fix' where a problem is solved by applying the best available technology without considering its wider systematic implications. This is easily said in hindsight of course but, at the time, the vision of new technology to revolutionise food production was accompanied by euphoria and there had been few examples of the massive destruction of ecosystems comparable with those we are seeing today.

The Black Sea basin is full of evidence of the application of the technological quick fix. Industrial quotas were met at a heavy cost to the environment since the environmental laws, on paper extremely strict, were overridden through a 'law of exception' which set the production of strategic industries above protecting the environment. Agricultural quotas were met (or often not met) by massive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the application of which was sometimes made without consulting the farm managers. Huge production units for animals spilled untreated waste into rivers. Massive irrigation schemes denied vital water supplies to rivers and lakes, causing, for example, a radical change in the circulation of the Sea of Azov which virtually eliminated the stock of wild sturgeon.

Paradoxically, the centrally planned system also brought some environmental benefits. The system of National Parks and protected areas in the Soviet Union was one of the strongest in the world and these areas benefited from considerable state subsidies and rigorously enforced regulations. The management of many of these parks has now broken down as they have not found their place in the 'free market' and receive little or no state support. Furthermore local people have been segregated from these areas for years with little or no explanation regarding the real need for nature protection. The staff of the parks have become disillusioned and frustrated as they see that the nature which they protected is now regarded as natural resources to be mined or plundered. There are exceptions, like the remarkable Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, visited by the symposium, but these exceptions are few in number.

The withholding of information has been (and often remains) a much-used tool for the maintenance of power by totalitarian regimes. Information is withheld because knowledge of the true situation might result in dissent. Absence of accurate information engenders a reliance on rumours and anecdotal information or, in many cases, fuels apathy. Freedom of information, a precept of many western societies, has not yet been fully embraced in post-communist cultures. The absence of reliable information from the past makes it difficult to understand trends or to provide a basis for environmental management decisions, but programmes such as that of the Black Sea are rapidly changing this situation.

With a lack of accurate information, blame is often apportioned inappropriately. The decline of fisheries in the Black Sea led to an angry exchange of blame: Chernobyl, dolphins, Turkish fishermen and Austrian farmers have all been cited in local newspapers as 'the cause'.

This only points to the need for clear public information on the issue. As it happens, scientists have been gathering data for some time on the inputs of dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus compounds to the Black Sea (not an easy task). To the best of their knowledge, (18) some 14% of total nitrogen is from Bulgaria, 27% from Romania, 12% from Ukraine, 10% from the Russia Federation, less than 1% from Georgia, 6% from Turkey and about 30% from the non-coastal countries (Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Hertzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Former Yugoslavia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia). In the case of phosphorus, the figures are Bulgaria 5%; Romania 23%; Ukraine 20%; Russia 13%; Georgia 1%; Turkey 12% and 26% for the remaining countries, a similar story to that of nitrogen. The importance of showing these numbers is to illustrate that nobody is 'innocent', not even the Georgians whose low percentage input reflects the current collapse in the coastal economy, probably a temporary feature.

Incidentally, the reader might wonder why the contribution of Romania is so high. Romania's entire territory drains into the Black Sea, mostly through the Danube. The industrial and agricultural practices adopted during the former political regime paid little regard to environmental protection, especially in the Green Revolution. Now that the economy of Romania is market-based, many subsidies on fertilisers have been removed and large animal production complexes are closing. The decrease in fertiliser use is beneficial to the environment but unless alternative and cost-effective agricultural practices are adopted, there will be enormous social problems of unemployed farm workers unable to compete with cheap food exports from places where cheaper production techniques are applied. A similar situation prevails in neighbouring Moldova where large animal complexes have also closed but where smallholders now have excessive numbers of animals literally in their back gardens, in very unsanitary conditions. Human health is already declining in these places and shallow wells, the main local water supplies, are polluted. There are no simplistic solutions to these problems unless consumption patterns themselves are changed - and how can countries with rampant over-consumption in the West demand changes of their poorer neighbours in the East? The renowned ecologist, Ramon Margalef commented that 'the job of the technical human in the preservation of some properties of our biosphere and the conservative management of the environment might come simultaneously with, and perhaps only second to, the need to develop forms of behaviour, within our species, less conducive to the now free running mechanisms of developing and maintaining inequality'.(19)

Understanding the root causes of environmental degradation in the Black Sea and doing something to redress them is a challenge that faces anyone who cares about the Black Sea. Terms such as 'environmental crisis' hide the reality that the problems are of human origin and the solution is in our hands. The technological quick fix represents faith in the power of humanity to dominate nature, to understand the workings of all things and to be able to manipulate them at will. Modern science has no such pretences and the probabilistic concept of uncertainty is a measure of just how categorical we can allow ourselves to be in our assertions. We attach great certainty to some observations of some physical phenomena but a much lower degree of certainty on the interrelations within the web of life. This is the basis of concepts such as the precautionary approach which accepts the current limitations of science and requires action to be taken when there is reason to suspect deleterious environmental effects of human activities, irrespective of the existence of conclusive scientific evidence.

In the Black Sea region, as with many other places in the world, people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the environment which supports them and find it difficult to relate their individual or collective actions to the visible deterioration in their own habitats. Large sections of the population feel confused by the rapid changes in the society around them, are apathetic or deeply suspicious of the actions of governmental authorities. This apathy towards individual social responsibilities is not entirely new but, in former communist times many people genuinely believed in the system, irrespective of what western society may regard as 'indoctrination' or an absence of individual freedom or democratic rights. For many of them, the system offered a feeling of personal security and provided a sufficiency of daily needs, education, health services and employment opportunities. There is no doubt that this system was economically (and politically) unsustainable and was achieved at a serious cost to the environment and was often repressive, but the person on the street was generally unaware of this situation and often remains so.

This, of course is one of the realities ignored by many western visitors, consultants and the like who have imagined themselves as 'liberators' arriving to the welcoming arms of dejected Soviet citizens. Quite the contrary, the new situation of many former Soviet or Eastern European citizens is one of great economic and psychological instability; some have been able to grasp the opportunity and 'rise' in the new social context, others, the majority, find the transition deeply disturbing and do not have the tools to adapt. Western support has focused on rebuilding the economy, opening the door to foreign investors and upgrading basic services. This is, of course, very important but much of the new economy is highly extractive, capitalising heavily on 'natural resources' in the hope of 'kick starting' productive industry (at least this is an excuse often quoted). Forests are being cut, oil and gas lines built and planeloads of hunters arrive to pursue their 'sport' from the comfort of a helicopter. Many of the investments, especially those negotiated bilaterally, feed off the continuing belief in the power of technology to solve the problems 'at the end of the pipe'. The technology itself is often inappropriate. The case comes to mind of a municipal garbage incinerator in a Black Sea coastal resort built by a foreign company using 'best available technology from western Europe'. It stands idle, two years after completion. Prior to construction, the manufacturers failed to study the different composition of local garbage from that of their own country. The incinerator was unable to reach the high temperatures needed to operate safely in an environmentally acceptable manner. Garbage with such a high organic content could have been separated and partly composted, but such techniques require new consumer practices, new attitudes by the authorities and do not result in such lucrative deals with foreign companies.

Perhaps the writer has painted an image of despair. What is being portrayed might be described as a loss of faith. Substituting one blind faith with another is a formula for spiritual disaster if not accompanied by deep reflection or enlightenment. In this process, there is a need for the individual to reassess and reassert his or her values. Much of the present book is about the reassertion of values though it may not seem immediately obvious when viewing the contents page. Environmental values which offer hope for the future integrity of our ecosystem reject the utilitarian anthropocentric vision of it as something to be exploited relentlessly for human benefit, in favour of a vision of cherishing nature for its own sake, recognising the need for humanity to make mindful use of nature without destroying its complexity and beauty.

Greater environmental awareness is certainly one key to changing basic values, but it is naive to regard awareness campaigns as being sufficient. They have to be accompanied by an understanding that there are viable options for sustaining the natural environment and human welfare. Some of those options require technological solutions. It also has to be understood that the situation requires a personal and collective commitment by all individuals in society. Understanding has to be followed by action. This is easier said than done in a society in which people are barely able to cover the material needs of their families, spend inordinate amounts of time confronting dehumanising bureaucratic obstacles, and often feel that individual action will be ignored or repressed.

The message of awareness-choice-commitment-action is one which finds most fertile ground in younger generations. The importance of environmental education should not be understated - not just formal education in the classroom but bringing children in direct contact with nature in a manner which inspires them and promotes deep feelings as well as knowledge. Children need to become aware that the litter in their parks, streets and beaches is just as important a source of environmental degradation as the factories belching fumes and toxic wastes which they may only read about in books or see on the television. This example is not trivial, values which discourage littering can also be the foundation of changing attitudes and behaviour towards more complex and difficult to understand issues such as recycling, making tourism compatible with environmental protection or eliminating waste discharges from industry or agriculture. Recently, a group of teachers from all the Black Sea countries came together to share experiences and to plan practical actions for improving environmental education in their schools. Their work is severely hampered by a lack of funding. Raising funds for environmental education is very difficult. We are reticent in recognising that much of our foreign aid is focused on improving trade and little is available for fostering the transfer of knowledge and wisdom to a new generation of citizens who will have to tackle the legacy of our current very unsustainable lifestyles.

The Black Sea symposium made an important contribution towards sharing individual feelings about the environment as well as technical knowledge. It recognised that the wisdom needed for protecting the environment involves the spirituality of human contact with nature as well as scientific knowledge. It reminded us, each from our own perspective, that there is no room for arrogance: we are part of the complexity of nature and not its ruler. The crisis of values in the Black Sea is part of a planetary crisis which manifests itself in many different ways under the circumstances of every individual and every community. Spirituality lies deeply within every human being, sometimes unrecognised. If we allow ourselves spiritual contact with nature, we are surely bound to love and protect it. Few of us can stroll along the Black Sea coast on a summer evening, bathed by the glow of sunset and the fragrance of seaweed and magnolias, without pausing to gaze out to sea at the setting sun - not out of curiosity but with a deep sense of awe that can be the gateway to spirituality.


1. The current review is largely based upon the work of the Black Sea Environmental Programme, an initiative sponsored by the Global Environment Facility and major donors, notably the European Union (Phare and Tacis). Detailed information on the development of the GEF Black Sea Environmental Programme may be found in its Annual Reports (for 1994 - 1997) and its regular newsletters. These may be obtained from the BSEP Project Implementation Unit, Harekat Kosku II, Dolmabahce Sarayi, 80680 Besiktas, Istanbul, Turkey.

2. BSEP (1997) Black Sea Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, (ed. L.D. Mee) United Nations Publications, New York. ISBN 92-1-126075-2, August 1997.

3. Zaitsev, Y. (1992) Recent changes in the trophic structure of the Black Sea. Fish. Oceanogr., 1(2): 180-189.

4. Kos'yan, R.D., Magoon O.T. (eds) (1993) Coastlines of the Black Sea. Proceedings of the 8th Symposium on Coastal and Ocean Management, Coastal Zone '93. Coastlines of the World, American Society of Civil TYPEers.

5. Mee, L.D. (1992) The Black Sea in crisis: The need for concerted international action. Ambio 21(4): 278-286pp.

6. MacLennan, D.N., Yasuda T., Mee, L.D. (1997) Analysis of the Black Sea Fishery Fleet and landings. Black Sea Environmental Programme, Istanbul.

7. GESAMP (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/WMO/WHO/IAEA/UN/UNEP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection) (1997). Opportunistic settlers and the problem of the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leiydi invasion in the Black Sea. Rep.Stud.GESAMP, (58):84p.

8. op. cit. 2.

9. BSEP (1996) Black Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (Background report), Istanbul, Turkey.

10. Hey, E., Mee, L.D.(1993) Black Sea: The Ministerial Declaration, an important step, Environ. Policy and Law, 23(5) 215-220.

11. The author Neal Ascherson was present during the signature of the Odessa Declaration and relates the remarkable spirit of consensus in his book Black Sea.

12. Emergency Response to Oil Spills (Varna, Bulgaria); Fisheries (Constanta, Romania); Pollution Assessment (Odessa, Ukraine); Coastal Zone Management (Krasnodar, Russia); Biodiversity (Batumi, Georgia); and Pollution Control (Istanbul, Turkey). The BSEP also created a Black Sea Data System and a Black Sea Geographic Information System.

13. op. cit. 2. BSEP publications include a Technical Series, published by UN Publications, New York and currently numbering eight volumes, a Black Sea Studies series, focusing on economic and social information and newsletters and books for the wider public.

14. BSEP (1996b) Strategic Action Plan for the Rehabilitation and Protection of the Black Sea, Istanbul, Turkey, (available as per ref. 1). The Action Plan was formulated by the BSEP National Coordinators (mostly Deputy Ministers of the Environment) and their advisors and signed in a Ministerial Conference in Istanbul on October 31, 1996.

15. See also the final section, Recommendations for Helping to Protect the Black Sea.

16. Pope, Nicole and Hugh (1977) Turkey Unveiled, John Murray, London.

17. This matter is taken up in more detail in the Recommendations.

18. Topping, G., Sarikaya H., Mee L.D. (1998) Sources of pollution to the Black Sea. In: Mee, L.D. and Topping G. (eds) (in press) Black Sea Pollution Assessment. UN Publications, New York.

19. Margalef, R. (1997) Our Biosphere. Excellence in Ecology 10 (ed. O. Kinne), Ecological Institute, Oldendorf.