Photo: NEA

Protecting the delicate Black Sea ecosystem was in focus today, as the international research ship “Mare Nigrum” docked at Batumi port and the scientists on board presented the results of regular “open sea surveys” conducted to monitor water quality and the state of marine biodiversity. The audience included officials, researchers and students from both Georgia and Ukraine. The event also featured an infographic display and sculptures created by children from marine litter.  

The surveys have been conducted regularly since 2014 by the Environmental Monitoring of the Black Sea (EMBLAS) project, which is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), working in close cooperation with the governments of Georgia and Ukraine. In addition to regular monitoring, the EMBLAS project also offers small grants for measures aimed at reducing pollution and makes recommendations to policy makers on how to reduce threats to the Black Sea ecosystem.

The next iteration of the survey will start this year under the newest phase of the project, which runs until 2020 with a budget of EUR 1.6 million. In Georgia the data will inform a comprehensive assessment of the ecological status of the Black Sea, which is mandated by the country’s EU Association Agreement. This will then feed into a new Marine Environment Strategy and Action Program, which the EU is supporting under a separate project.

The results of past surveys have raised concerns about the impact of pollution on the Black Sea, which is surrounded by six countries – Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine – and serves as the discharge point for many major European rivers, including the Danube, Dniester, Don, Bug, Kuban and Rioni.

Ecological worries include plastic waste (currently measured at 90.5 items per sq. km); the presence of microplastics at depths of 2,000 metres; an influx of hazardous chemicals; and the arrival of invasive species.

The news is not all bad, however. The survey’s latest iteration showed positive trends in biodiversity along the Georgian coast, especially at Sarpi, Mtsvane Kontskhi and Tsikhisdziri, where the presence of species sensitive to pollution is a positive sign. In addition, the Black Sea form of the European oyster, which disappeared in the 1940s under pressure from invasive species, has returned to Georgian coastal waters. Similarly, innovative DNA testing of sea water has revealed traces of the European sturgeon, which till now was considered almost extinct.

Speakers at the event emphasized the importance of regional cooperation in preserving the Black Sea’s health.

“The Black Sea surveys are a unique resource for reliable information about the status of the marine ecosystem, pollution and biodiversity,” said Nino Tandilashvili, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia. “Some of the results for Georgia are encouraging. However, pollution knows no boundaries, so we need a strong commitment by all Black Sea countries to protect this unique ecosystem.”

“Ukraine and Georgia are connected by the Black Sea and by a common political agenda defined in the Association Agreements with the EU,” noted Mykola Kuzio, Deputy Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine. “Protection of the Black Sea is our joint political and environmental goal. The EMBLAS project gives us the data we need to mobilize other neighbour countries to take more effective measures to fight pollution.”

“Studies like this offer proof that the challenges facing the environment require countries to work together to protect it,” said Vincent Rey, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation in Georgia. “National policies must include robust measures to limit pollution and improve the Black Sea environment for both people and wildlife.”

“The Black Sea is a source of livelihoods for tens of millions of people, through tourism, fishing and shipping,” said Anna Chernyshova, Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia. “To ensure that the Black Sea continues to provide this bounty, we need both national resolve and regional cooperation to protect the ecosystem and, in line with the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals, ensure that people and planet can live in harmony.”

Full data from the surveys are publicly available at: http://emblasproject.org/

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