World Water Day and Baltic Day: double holiday, double responsibility

Światowy Dzień Wody

March 22 is a special time with a double meaning: not only do we celebrate World Water Day, under the theme Water for Peace, but also Baltic Sea Protection Day. The first occasion prompts us to consider the role of access to clean water in maintaining world peace, the other, established by the Helsinki Commission in 1997, reduces the perspective and focuses on the body of water closest to us. On this special day, we lean into the uniqueness of the Baltic, one of the youngest and least saline seas, whose waters and ecosystem are threatened by human activity. Let’s consider why the Baltic deserves our special attention and what we should protect its waters from.

Exceptionally unsalty Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea on the planet. Approximately. 10-15 thousand. years ago, when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Today it is a shelf inland sea that penetrates deeply into the European continent. It connects to the North Sea through the outer Kattegat and Skagerrak straits. The narrow and shallow inner straits of the Sound, Great Belt and Little Belt are also such connectors.

The Baltic coastline is varied with a large number of lagoons, bays, peninsulas and islands. In the north there are rocky islets (skerries), while the southern and eastern coasts are dominated by sandy beaches and long stretches of dunes and cliffs. It is characterized by much lower salinity than the oceans. The reason for this is the large runoff of river and rainwater and the obstructed flow of fresh ocean water through the Danish Straits. A sensitive, interdependent ecosystem with unique flora and fauna has developed throughout the Baltic Sea basin.

Baltic Sea – one of the most valuable marine regions

Due to the varying salinity of the Baltic Sea waters, there are different groups of organisms, from freshwater to marine, mainly euryhaline organisms. They have the ability to adapt to a large range of salinity. The most numerous are marine species, such as cod, herring and shrimp. Saltwater organisms, which include the great double and some gudgeons, are found in smaller numbers. Freshwater species, on the other hand, can be found in coastal waters and bays and include. Perch, roach and mudskippers. The low salinity of the Baltic Sea causes some animals to reach much smaller sizes than in the neighboring North Sea.

However, the Baltic Sea is also valuable from a human perspective as a body of water rich in natural resources. It has long been rich in frequently caught fish, such as herring, cod and sprat, as well as flatfish or migratory salmon, sea trout and eels. Unfortunately, their exploitation over the years has caused significant depletion of these living resources. An example is the eel population, which has been fished out almost completely. Also, the numbers of porpoises, the only Baltic whales, have drastically declined since the early 20th century, when they were considered pests and competition for fish. Today there are only 500 individuals swimming in the Baltic Sea.

World Water Day and threats to the Baltic Sea

The main source of threats to the Baltic is human activity. It includes the agriculture and industry of the Baltic societies. More than 85 million people currently live in the catchment area of our sea. The production of food and other essential goods generates huge amounts of waste and wastewater. This causes excessive eutrophication of waters due to nutrient runoff. The process has already covered approx. 94 percent. basin, making it home to the world’s largest marine dead zone. The waters of our sea are also polluted by noise. According to data from the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, more than 50,000 people pass through the Danish straits annually. units. The noise they generate impedes the echolocation of cetaceans and disturbs all animals that need peace and quiet to breed.

Spectrum nets lost during fishing are also a problem, remaining in the water for decades, being a source of microplastics and a deadly threat to porpoises, fish and seabirds. On top of that, the lack of sustainable fisheries is causing overfishing of cod, herring and sprat stocks, and climate change is causing water levels and temperatures to rise, destroying the natural habitats of many endangered species. It also causes a climatic feedback loop, as a warmer and more degraded Baltic Sea will release more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

To learn about ways to effectively counter these threats, it is worth looking at the websites of organizations such as WWF and Mare Foundation.

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