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29/08/2016

North and Baltic Seas threatened by human activity

Climate & Environment

North and Baltic Seas threatened by human activity

Paraffin, flushed into the seas when ships are cleaned, is a major environmental concern, according to BSH.

[Frans Berkelaar/Flickr]

Germany’s marine agency has presented its findings regarding the state of the North and Baltic Seas, with human activity threatening animal life and the environment. EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

November and December were good months for the Baltic Sea, as oxygen-rich North Sea water flowed into it on three occasions. If this happens too infrequently, the Baltic becomes deoxygenated. The president of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), Monika Breuch-Moritz, presented the news at their annual roundup Wednesday (20 January) in Hamburg. It was a similar story in regard to salt, with the North Sea providing the Baltic with 5.38 gigatons of the vital mineral.

Unfortunately, that was the only good news that Breuch-Mortiz had to share in regard to the two seas on which Germany has coastlines. In both the North and Baltic Seas, the BSH has been undertaking a three year long investigation into whether rules regarding crude oil dumping are being respected. This appears that for the most part they are, but there are increased levels of paraffin. It is an oil by-product, used in the production of candles and in the cosmetic industry.

>>Read: Damage to oceans could be irreparable and deadly

Paraffin is often flushed into the sea when vessels are being cleaned. Susanne Kehrhahn-Eyrich, a BSH spokesperson, said that paraffin is actually non-toxic and less dangerous than crude oil. The problem comes when fish and birds mistake the substance for food floating on the surface of the water. The effect is similar to that of plastic products, as paraffin stays in the stomach, undigested, leading to the animal dying of starvation. Therefore, BSH were pleased that the International Maritime Organisation has taken up the issue. Breuch-Moritz is hopeful of a dumping ban on paraffin.

Warming seas

The stress on the seas has been increased by a rise in surface temperatures as well. In December, the agency observed the highest surface temperatures in the North Sea since records began in 1971. 

A few hours after the BSH announcement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA) confirmed that 2015 was the warmest year yet. Average temperatures globally have risen 0.9 degrees Celsius since the middle of the 20th Century. The previous heat record set the year before, in 2014, was smashed by 0.16 degrees.

>>Read: EU to blame for UK flooding, say Eurosceptics

All of these factors combined do not bode well for maritime creatures. On top of that, overfishing perhaps poses an even bigger threat to marine life than climate change, as evidenced by Greenpeace’s publishing on Wednesday of new guidelines. In it, the environmental organisation urged people to stop eating fish, with the exception of carp, which fish-lovers can continue to put on the dinner table guilt-free.