Seabed dying in the Baltic Sea: Study

HELSINKI –– An increasing lack of oxygen at the bottom of the Baltic Sea is causing animal and plant life to die, with parts of the Gulf of Finland seabed resembling a desert, a European study published on Thursday showed.

"The bottom fauna monitoring gave the worst results so far. An abundant and diversified bottom fauna was now found only at four observation sites of 47" in the Gulf of Finland, the Finnish Institute of Marine Research and the Finnish Environment Institute said.

Their study is the result of a project carried out by scientists from six EU countries (Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Latvia) in the north of the Baltic Sea aboard two oceanographic vessels.

"No less than 37 observation sites were entirely without bottom animals. The bottom fauna is a good indicator of the long-term status of the bottom and especially the changes in the oxygen regime," they said.

Lack of oxygen is a growing problem in the Baltic Sea. "At all observation stations, in the Gulf of Finland as well as in the northern Baltic proper, there was very little or no oxygen in the bottom-near water at depths below 50-60 metres," the study said.

Meanwhile, toxic gases such as hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen and phosphorus were found almost everywhere.

"The overall situation is not the most serious (ever recorded, but) it's one of the most serious cases. But as far as oxygen-depletion is concerned, we are at the same level as in the 1990s or even worse," one of the expedition leaders, Harri Kankaanpaeae of the Finnish Institute of Marine Research, told AFP.

The phenomenon, which is caused by large amounts of pollutants dumped in the sea by countries bordering the Baltic, has been aggravated by natural factors, he said.

"Oxygen-depleted waters came from the west, i.e. the center of Baltic Sea, towards the Gulf of Finland, whereas constant winds ... pushed oxygen-saturated waters from east to west," he said. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about pollution in the Baltic Sea because of the slow rate of natural cleansing. The shallow inland sea has only a narrow outlet across the Straits of Oeresund between Sweden and Denmark. –– AFP

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