The unique ecosystem of the North-Western Shelf of the Black Sea is burdened by excessive loads of nutrients and hazardous substances from the coastal countries and the rivers that discharge into it. The highest discharging of these rivers is the Danube, followed by the Dnjestr and the Dnjepr.
Pollution inputs and other factors radically changed Black Sea ecosystems beginning around 1960. During the decades that followed, the Black Sea ecosystem went into a state of collapse. Beaches in Ukraine and Romania were piled with dead and decaying sea plants and animals. Losses were estimated to be as high as 60 million tons.
Other pressures on the Black Sea ecosystems include organic pesticides, heavy metals, incidental and operational spills from oil vessels and ports, overfishing and invasions of exotic species.
The Black Sea is the world largest body of water containing hydrogen sulfide, recognised as a potentially harmful environmental pollutant. This stems from both the inflow of salty Mediterranean seawater into its depths, and an inflow of river water into the shallows, leading to a great variety in its waters and flows. This has resulted in oxygen depletion from some 200m below the surface, and to the accumulation of hydrogen sulfide.
The Black Sea Today
Nitrogen inputs into the Black Sea have been reduced in recent years, though remain higher than in the 1960s. In contrast, the current phosphate inputs appear to have remained roughly consistent.
According to information from the Black Sea Commission, environmental efforts to reduce discharge from 49 high priority pollution sources - such as insufficiently treated wastewater and airborne emissions - have begun to bear fruit. This is evidenced by fewer and less intense algal blooms, a rise in comparable fish catches, and the return of distinct lifeforms to Black Sea waters.
Ongoing improvement in Black Sea waters can be attribute to a variety of factors:
- Continuing changes in the economies of lower Danubian countries
- Direct action taken to improve infrastructure and reduce nutrient discharges across the Danube
- A successfully implemented ban on polyphosphate detergents in several countries
The ICPDR and the Black Sea Commission
The ICPDR has been collaborating with the Black Sea Commission since 1997, working to remedy environmental degradation of the Black Sea originating in the Danube through a ‘Joint Technical Working Group’. Co-operation was fully reinforced by a Memorandum of Understanding signed in November 2001 at a ministerial meeting in Brussels.
The ICPDR was a member of the DABLAS Task Force, set up in November 2001 as a platform for co-operation between international financial institutions (IFIs), donors and beneficiaries for the protection of water and ecosystems both along the Danube and in the Black Sea. The task force included representatives from the countries in the region, the ICPDR, the Black Sea Commission, IFIs, the EC, interested EU Member States, and other bilateral donors, as well as other regional and international organisations.
International Black Sea Action Day
Every year on 31st October, International Black Sea Action Day 2020 commemorates the signing of the Black Sea Strategic Action Plan. The day is dedicated to awareness-raising activities including educational and beach cleanup actions, focusing on the key aims of the action plan:
- The promise of a better future for the 16 million people from six countries who live on its shores.
- Regional governments’ commitments to serious action to make a real difference to the rehabilitation and recovery of the sea.
- The dedicated work of many people who devote their time and energy to help protect the environment.
MoU between ICPBS and ICPDR (15.54 KB) Memorandum of Understanding between the International Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea (ICPBS) and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) on common strategic goals Document No.: IC/027 Version: FINAL
The ecological state of the coastal waters of the Western Black Sea has improved significantly since the late 1980s and early 1990s. These improvements are based on reduced nutrient inputs which have led to reduced eutrophication and fewer algal blooms, ecovery of animal populations on the seaflor and an improved regeneration of macrophytes.
The DABLAS (Danube - Black Sea) Task Force is a successful example of providing a platform between International Funding Institutions, donors and beneficiaries to support cooperation and to leverage investment projects for the protection of water and water-related ecosystems of the Danube and Black Sea.
ICPDR Danube Watch: From conflict to cooperation
ICPDR Danube Watch: Work resumes on Bystroe Canal
ICPDR Danube Watch: New EU members bring their own sea: good news or bad?
ICPDR Danube Watch: Searching for heavy metals behind the Iron Gates
Website of the Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution
Website of the UNDP/GEF Black Sea Ecosystem Recovery Project
International Centre for Black Sea Studies
World Bank / GEF Projects in Black Sea and Danube Basin