Fathoms down in the Baltic Sea
Archived Articles 02 Oct 2009 Eva VabasaluEWR
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Vaatame merd ja näeme aega
Näeme, mis oli enne meid ja mis tuleb pärast.
Näeme, kust oleme tulnud, ja aimame, kuhu oleme teel.
Vaatame merd ja näeme iseennast.
Tahame, et ka meie silmades oleks sama pajlu rahu, jõudu, helgust ja saladusi, nagu näeme seda meres.
Aina tahame merelt midagi, kas või hingerahu.
Kui tahad saada, pead ka vastu andma, aga peale armastuse, austuse ja hoole ei ole meil merele midagi anda.
Meri aga annab meile elu.

Jaan Tätte

The sea is a romantic notion. While in Tallinn this past summer I had the fortune to spend a few days at the Swissôtel in a 12th floor corner room with two walls of windows one facing northward and the other east. The Gulf of Finland was a sight of beauty and every morning I counted the cruise ships stationed at the terminal. Around dinner time the vessels manoeuvered their bulks and slowly and majestically left for destinations unknown.

The Baltic Sea is approximately 4,000 years old, a young sea with a surface area of approximately 377,000 square kilometres. It is the second largest brackish sea, the first being the Black Sea. Brackish means the water has a degree of salt in it higher than freshwater but less than seawater between 0.5 and 30 grams of salt per litre. Saline water is 30 - 50 grams salt per litre. The Baltic Sea is enclosed except for a narrow channel opening to the North Sea. It has three deep basins, the Bornholm Deep at its entrance and the Gotland Deep and Arkona Deep further in. In essence it has vertical columns of water, varying degrees of brackish waters and a complex circulation system, which takes 25-30 years for a complete flush out and exchange of waters. Hence it is a sensitive system and prone to stagnation. Its deepest point measures 459 metres making it a shallow sea basin. The maximum depth of the Black Sea is 2,206 metres, Mediterranean 4,632 m. and the deepest sea is the Caribbean at 6,946 m.

Over 200 rivers spill into the Baltic Sea coming in from a large catchment/drainage area composed of many countries surrounding the sea. The catchment is four times greater than the sea itself and together it comprises a large marine ecosystem. It is realized that pesticides used in Belarus could affect a Latvian river that in turn runs into the Baltic Sea.

At any given point in time there are at least 2,000 ships on the Baltic Sea. Oil spills have occurred and discharged ballast waters have introduced hostile organisms into the Baltic altering and destroying marine species. Serious problems have been created by farm fertilizers (manure and artificial) fed via rivers into the sea as well as deposits of sewage (urban and industrial). The slow circulation flush-cycle and insufficient oxygen in the sea fails to cope with such a heavy nutrient load.

After the end of World War II leftover munitions, live and corroded, including many chemical weapons were dumped on the sea’s crystalline basement floor. Due to such instability factors it was decided they were best left alone and untouched. There are also more than 5,000 sunken aircraft, ships and other objects lying on the Baltic seabed, many containing oil and other contaminants. Fifty to sixty years ago barrels filled with mercury were discarded off the coast of Sweden into the waters in a time when there were no environmental restrictions.

The good news, and at this point we really need some don’t we, is that nitrogen and phosphorous levels have as of late decreased significantly. Helsinki Commission (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) through its Baltic Sea Action Plan http://www.helcom.fi/BSAP/en_G... has a vigorous and ambitious programme to restore the Baltic back to health by 2021. EU is working on "An integrated framework to address the challenges and opportunities of the Baltic Sea region." Coalition Clean Baltic advocates "Nobody can do everything but everyone can do something." http://www.ccb.se/ It is recognized that the challenges remain monumental.

The M/S Estonia sank 15 years ago on September 28, 1994 in the Baltic Sea taking 852 lives. One of the victims was Aivar Zelmin, 27, along with his two little Estonian daughters Krete, 2 and a half years, and Katre 2 months old. Their bones lie in this desecrated place. Over the years and particularly in the past two months they have been knocking at my soul. Such taps led me to ponder their sea graves and descend fathoms into the Baltic.
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