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Battle to save biggest ‘dead zone’

 

Aquatic “dead zones” are a tragic illustration of human beings’ negative impact on the world’s oceans. They are areas so overloaded with pollutants that they have difficulty sustaining any life.

The flow of fertilizers, sewage and industrial pollutants into rivers and seas has overloaded some coastal marine areas with nutrient waste such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This stimulates excessive growth of plants and algae, which use up oxygen dissolved in the water and kill off other marine life that depend on it.

Globally, their numbers are increasing, with more than 530 aquatic dead zones around the world, encompassing more than 95,000 square miles, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). Some scientists believe climate change may also be making the situation worse.

But help may be at hand thanks to the development of a number of technological solutions that aim to bring the dead zones back to life.

Scientists in Sweden are testing an idea to pump oxygen into the Baltic Sea — which separates Scandinavia from mainland Europe and is the world’s largest man-made dead zone — in an attempt to revive its dying ecosystem.

Attempts to reduce the waste being dumped into the Baltic have so far failed to stop the growth of the dead zone, now equivalent to around one and half times the size of Denmark.

The lack of progress has led a number of Baltic countries to consider technological interventions, or so-called “geoengineering” ideas (large-scale solutions to environmental problems), such as pumping oxygen into the water, and using chemicals to bind pollutants in sediments, in a bid to save the Baltic.

If implemented, the Baltic Deepwater Oxygenation (Box) project would require around 100 pumping stations built around the Baltic Sea to transport oxygen deep underwater to counteract the declining amounts of oxygen and prevent the growth of the dead zone.

However, not everyone is convinced by the geoengineering ideas. Professor Daniel Conley from Lund University in Sweden, says they are “dangerous quick-fixes,” which could have a number of “unforeseen” consequences and allow countries to ignore their obligations for reducing the waste they dump in the Baltic.

 

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