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Ecological conditions of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov


Despite the above-mentioned constraints, recent years have seen a slightly improved environmental situation in the region of the Azov and Black Seas with a sound trend towards stabilization.

Monitoring data show that during the last years the content of biogenous substances in water has stabilized at a certain point which is far below the permissible levels for ammonia nitrogen, nitrates, nitrites and phosphates. This is closely related to a considerably reduced application of mineral fertilizers and pesticides to the arable land, which has brought about a reduction of the biogenous and polluting matters washing out from the catchment basins of the major rivers.

The main polluting components of the sea environment are petroleum products. A constant level of the petroleum content in the sea water is caused by the operations of industrial enterprises, ports, discharges of waste during bunkering, and by sewage discharged by municipal services into the rivers flowing into the sea, etc.

In accordance with monitoring results obtained by the State Inspection for protection of the Black Sea, and data from research expeditions of the Ukrainian Research  Centre of Marine Ecology, the content of petroleum products in the open parts of the Black Sea surface layers generally does not reach the permissible level (0.05 mg/l). The coastal water area of Greater Yalta is the cleanest with a presence of petroleum products in the samples of 0.02 mg/l.

Many ports of Ukraine experience a slightly increased concentration of petroleum products. Thus, water samples taken in many points around the port area of Odesa, Illitchivsk and Kerch in many cases show a content of petroleum products reaching the permissible pollution level or even exceeding it by as much as 50%.

In general, the monitored coastal regions in 1998 display a trend of stabilization of petroleum product pollution on a certain level below the permissible level with a slight increase in the Kerch area.

Petroleum product content (mg/l) in sea water samples from the major regions of the Black Sea.


In the last few years the most ecologically dangerous zone of Ukraine in terms of sea water pollution with petroleum products has been the Sevastopol bays. The petroleum product content by far exceed the permissible level of contamination in the bays, mostly as a result of sea water pollution by the Black Sea Fleet, which stems from improper handling of petroleum products in the bays and discharge of petroleum-containing sewage from ships and coast installations. Samples taken during the last years in the bays of Pivdenna, Kamishova, Golandiya, Karantinna and Pivnichna display a content of polluting petroleum agents in the surface layers of the sea permanently exceeding the maximum permissible level by three to ten times.

In the surface layers of the sea water in the ports, the iron concentration has stabilized on the level of 1996, which is close to the maximum permissible level.

The pollution of the Black Sea areas by synthetic surfactants (surface active substances) remains low, and is generally below the permissible level. However, in areas of municipal sewage discharge the synthetic surfactant concentration in many cases is slightly higher.

In many cities the municipal sewerage systems are in critical condition, which causes frequent accidents with release of large amounts of unpurified sewage into the coastal waters. In the context of the large pressure imposed on the ecological system these discharges lead to a sharp drop in the oxygen concentration in the water areas, causing suffocation of local fish.

During recent years no beaches have been closed due to excessive sea water pollution by chemical agents, however, in several instances beaches have been closed in Odesa, Eupatoria and Sevastopol by the Ministry of Health Care of Ukraine in consequence of epidemiological contamination.

The constant concentration of biogenous substances in the coastal waters below the maximum permissible level of pollution positively affects the ecological situation in the entire ecosystem of the open sea areas. Another positive factor is the absence during the last few years of the phenomenon of algal blooms  in the coastal waters, which can be observed only with high concentrations of biogenous substances.
 More detailed monitoring of the state of the sea water and bottom deposits has been conducted during expeditions examining the north-western part of the Black Sea launched by the Ukrainian Research Centre of Marine Ecology in 1998 in the open sea and coastal zone. The open sea exploration was performed onboard the scientific ship “Volodymir Parshin” (in November) and the coastal waters examination was launched with the use of the expedition vessel “Yug” in June-September.

Concentrations of organic carbon as an indicator of the general content of organic substances in the sea water generally lies within a range of 0.5 to 3 mg/l. A high concentration of organic carbon, 3.5 mg/l, was observed in a zone in Odesa between the sea water and the Danube River water. The highest concentration of organic carbon, 5.7 mg/l, was detected in the centre of the north-western part of the sea.

The level of pollution of sea water by petroleum carbohydrates in the major part of the north-western zone of the sea and along the Crimean coast does not exceed the maximum permissible concentration and is within the limits of 0.03 to 0.04 mg/l. In some areas the petroleum product concentration exceeds the maximum by two to three times, namely in the Danube estuary, by the entrance to the Karantinna Bay in the port of Sevastopol, and further into the open sea. The maximum concentration of petroleum products, 0.22 mg/l (4.4 times higher than the maximum permissible level), was registered in an area of the Danube River estuary.

Suspended matters are more or less evenly distributed over the dominating part of the Black Sea water area, and their concentration on the average lies within a range of 1 to 3 mg/l. The situation is much more deteriorated in areas close to the river estuaries. Thus, the areas adjacent to the Dniester liman show a concentration of suspended substances as high as 20 mg/l, and in an area by the Danube estuary the content reaches its maximum of 40 to 60 mg/l.

Detergents concentration in the sea water of the open areas of the Black Sea in 1998 was insignificant with just 20% of the maximum permissible level.

The average concentration of phenols in the open sea areas was at least ten times as high as the maximum permissible level (1 mg/l), and in the zones adjacent to the estuaries of the Dniester and Danube rivers this ratio reached a  value of 30 to 35 mg/l.
The level of contamination of the sea water with cadmium, lead, zinc, brass, nickel chromium and mercury was below the official maximum permissible level.

The concentrations of chlorine organic pesticides and chlorinated bi-phenyls, which are hazardous to sea fish resources, were also generally negligible. The concentration of chlorine organic pesticides varied in different areas from 0 to 5 ng/l;, the concentration of chlorinated bi-phenyls was somewhat higher and reached values of 1 to 30 ng/l. Moreover, the maximum concentration was reported in the areas of the Danube River estuary. It must be mentioned that according to the “Standing rules of sea water protection” a presence of chlorinated carbohydrates in the sea water is not acceptable.

A scientific analysis of the 1998 data obtained from expedition and lab examinations, proves that in keeping with the “Classification of the seabed soils by the degree of their pollution for the Azov-Black Sea Basin within the boundaries of Ukraine”, the bottom deposits of a major part of the Black Sea are generally characterized as conditionally clean or moderately polluted soils (class I and II). Only in some areas of the sea are there spots where the quality of the bottom deposits does not match the ecological requirements, and the level of seabed soil pollution brings them to the category of heavily polluted soil (class III). This predominantly concerns the port water areas, especially the ports of Odesa and Sevastopol, areas of sewage discharge into the sea, and some spots in a zone by the Danube river estuary.

Thus, the maximum level of bottom deposits pollution by petroleum products (more than 450 mg/l) has been registered at the entrance to the Karantinna Bay in the port of Sevastopol and at the stations in the Danube River estuary zone. Petroleum product concentrations of more than 300 mg/l (Classification class III category) are reported also in bottom deposits close to the Odesa water biological purification station “Pivdenna” and in the area of the prospective dumping in the north-western part of the Black Sea. The same areas, together with the sewage discharge point of the city of Balaklava, also show increased concentrations of aromatic hydrocarbons and 3.4-benzopyrene, which run as high as 50-340 mg/kg and 17-23 mcg/kg, respectively.

Concentrations of toxic metals in the bottom deposits of the Black Sea are at a level far below maximum and thus do not raise concern. Only some regions demonstrate an increased concentration of mercury. This concerns Odesa Region at the points of sewage discharge and in some local port areas. A more serious situation has developed in the area of the Danube River estuary, where two out of eight ecological monitoring stations in 1998 reported a mercury concentration in the bottom deposits of more than 0.3 mg/kg with the maximum value reaching 0.413 mg/kg, which characterize them as areas heavily polluted with mercury (class III). The pollution levels of bottom deposits of lead, zinc and brass are within the limits of class II pollution, even in the “hot spots” of the Black Sea, and a major part of the water area has a level of bottom deposits pollution by the above metals which characterizes the soils as naturally clean or conditionally clean.
The aggravated concentration of the pesticide DDT and its metabolites (DDD and DDE) reaches a level of 2.5 mcg/kg.

The level of Black Sea bottom deposits pollution by the above group of pesticides remains high. The aggravated concentration of DDT and its metabolites ranges from 2.0 to 150 mcg/kg. Levels exceeding the maximum permissible concentration tenfold were reported in 1998 in the following areas: points of sewage discharge in the town of Odesa, Karantinna and Kamishova Bays of Sevastopol, the area of prospective dumping in the north-western part of the Black Sea, and the Danube River estuary. The maximum concentration of DDT in the bottom deposits of the Danube River estuary runs as high as 54.2 mcg/l, and together with its metabolites the pollution level exceeds 150 mcg/l. In other areas of the Black Sea the concentration of these pesticides is negligible and does not exceed the maximum permissible level. Relatively clean from the above agents are the areas of the western coast of Crimea Peninsula, the central region of the north-western part of the Black Sea and the water area by the Dnieper-Buzky liman.

Judging by the chemical pollution level of the Black Sea, the ecological situation in the region in 1998 is considered to be satisfactory with a trend towards a slight improvement as compared with the previous period.

The problems of the Black Sea need close attention and call for a system approach. The strategic directions of sea environment protection and regeneration of its resources in Ukraine will be laid down in the National Programme of Protection and  Rehabilitation of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, which is now drafted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine with the participation of interested ministries and agencies and scientific and public bodies. The Programme comprises measures to reduce the polluted sewage and waste discharge into the seas, preserve their biological resources, regenerate biological diversity, and provide for sustainable nature management in sea and coastal waters.

However, the scale and complexity of the problems of degradation of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov ecological systems far extend the boundaries of the individual coastal countries. Ukraine is putting in a lot of efforts to ensure efficient international cooperation on the preservation of the sea environment.

The major international document, which lays down the framework for joint regional principles, is the Convention on Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution. Ukraine signed the Convention in 1992 and ratified it in 1994. The main objective of the Convention is the establishment of favourable conditions for joining efforts to protect the Black Sea and Sea of Azov environment and their resources, taking into account economic, social and medical aspects of its pollution. The Convention sets out prioritized measures concerning prevention, reduction and supervision of sea pollution created by sea and land activities, as well as ways of cooperation in cases of emergency. It also states that the parties will cooperate in the research and development of the national law to better evaluate ecological losses and determine responsibilities. The integral part of the Convention are the Protocols on reducing sea pollution from the sources located on land, prohibition of the creation of graveyards on the seabed and pollution with petroleum products and other hazardous substances, which turns the Convention into the practical guide of regional environmental management.

The Ministerial Declaration on the protection of the Black Sea (Odesa, 1993) lays down the political framework for implementation of the Convention. It stems from the Rio Declaration and calls for immediate, balanced and continuous actions at all levels aimed at the protection and regeneration of the sea environment and provision for a stable development of the Black Sea.

The Odesa Declaration has become the basis for the International Programme of  Environmental Management and Protection of the Black Sea and for drafting the Strategic Action Plan, which was signed in 1996.

Today the joint activities within the framework of international cooperation encompass the development of balanced regional criteria for environmental quality, coordination of the national programmes for reduction of discharges of hazardous substances and biogenes, and the implementation of a balanced system of sea water monitoring.

The Black Sea economic cooperation, which was initiated in 1992 as a process of comprehensive corroboration, has now been transformed into a regional economic organization. Ukraine took part in the work of all working groups, including the group for environmental protection. This working group mainly deals with the environmental problems of the Black Sea. During its last meeting (Sofia, 14-15 September 1998) the working group approved a decision on the harmonization of environmental monitoring systems. The Black Sea economic cooperation agency supports the foundation of the Black Sea ecological fund and implementation of a joint system of state monitoring of the ports of the region.

Ukraine is a party to the Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78, renamed in 1999 as MKUB), which designates the Black Sea and Sea of Azov as a “special region”.

Waste coming to the Black Sea from the Danube River determines the condition of the regional sea environment. Ukraine takes part in the Black Sea and Danube ecological programmes and makes a great contribution in the implementation of the consecutive regional approach. A joint Black Sea-Danube Working Group has been created to determine the required degree of decrease of biogenes concentration necessary to improve the sea ecological system.


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