Image Source: The Guardian
Every spring for the past three decades, conservationists at the Tuzly Lagoons national park on the Black Sea in Ukraine have been digging small canals from the coastal lagoons down to the seashore connecting the bodies of water.
The rivulets, which used to be natural until modern agriculture filled the little rivers that supplied them, are a busy route for billions of small fish who spend the winter in the sea and then return to the lagoons to reproduce.
No digging is planned this year. Instead, the Ukrainian army has strewn mines across the beaches to deter a Russian onslaught. As a result, researchers have been forced to discontinue decades of effort, with potentially fatal effects for the over 5,000 herons who feed in the lagoons each spring.
We’ve been organizing scientists for the past 30 years to restore this area, maintain this steppe, and promote this water exchange. “Now there is no access from the Black Sea, no migration of these fish, and the egrets have no choice but to consume them,” explains Ivan Rusev, the park’s research director. “It’s a tragedy,” says the narrator.
It’s just one of Ukraine’s countless environmental tragedies, many of which will linger for years after the battle ends in a country already devastated by war’s human and economic toll. Experts warn that the marine and wetland habitats in the Black and Azov Seas are particularly vulnerable, with some of the most violent combat occurring on the southern shore.
According to Ukraine’s deputy minister of environmental protection and natural resources, Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi, nearly 400,000 hectares and 14 Ramsar areas [wetlands classified as of international importance by Unesco] along the coastline and lower parts of the Dnipro river are under threa.
He claims that billions of dollars have already been spent and that their fears are justified: when Russia invaded in 2014, annexing Crimea and supporting a separatist war in the Donbas, the Kremlin used another ecologically sensitive area – the Kryva Kosa spit in the Meotyda national park – like a landing zone for troops, destroying the largest European nesting site for the endangered Pallas’s gull almost overnight.
Rusev has counted over 200 bombs striking the lagoons during important migration and breeding periods, disrupting water species, including avocets and Dalmatian pelicans. “Normally, we get between 1,000 and 1,500 white pelicans from Africa,” he explains. “We’re down to 300 now.” “The bombing has caused them a lot of distress.”
Dolphins have been washing up on Black Sea beaches around the region, including in Ukraine, Turkey, and Bulgaria. According to researchers, sound pollution, particularly potential sonar interference from Russian navy ships off the shore, may have played a role in their deaths.
Bomb craters likewise endanger coastal life. Chemicals can alter the nature of the soil in vulnerable dune habitats, leaking into lagoons and the sea, allowing invasive species to take advantage of newly exposed sand.
Opinions expressed by California Gazette contributors are their own.