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Urgent action needed to save Black Sea, UN environment agency says

Urgent action needed to save Black Sea, UN environment agency says

An international team of scientists is warning that one of the world's greatest seas - the Black Sea - is spiralling into decline as a result of chronic over-fishing, high levels of pollution and the devastating impacts of alien species, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement issued today at its Headquarters in Nairobi.

The environment, wildlife and people linked with the Black Sea are also under threat from large discharges of raw sewage, damaging levels of coastal erosion and the suffocating impacts of dumping of sludges and muds dredged from ports, UNEP said.

Initiatives are under way to reduce the levels of pollution swilling into the region's water systems from factories and cities as far away as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovenia. Efforts are also being made to reduce the current levels of over-fishing and destructive fishing practices which, some experts claim, have seen catches in the Black Sea drop by a third from 814,000 tonnes in 1986 to some 523,000 tonnes.

According to UNEP, a $100 million scheme, targeted at the Sea and two of the major rivers that drain into it, is expected to be up and running by the end of the year. The Black Sea Basin Strategic Partnership will involve organizations including the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the European Union (EU) and UNEP.

Part of this new project will include work towards developing a protocol to the Black Sea Convention aimed at reducing the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen entering the Sea. But scientists are warning that rises in economic activity in the region may overwhelm these improvements by 2020 unless a further international effort is made to address the sea's ills.

The findings have come from a regional team who are members of the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), an initiative led by UNEP. Their preliminary findings, some of the first to come from this global initiative, are being delivered at GIWA's first General Assembly taking place this week in Kalmar, Sweden.

"We are in the process of assessing the health and environmental condition of 66 water areas across the world including seas, lakes, wetlands, rivers and ground waters," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "We have known for some time that the Black Sea - a water system of global importance - has been suffering, but these results bring into sharp focus just how damaged it is and the risks to the millions of people who depend upon it for food and livelihoods. The findings are a warning to the world that we cannot take the health of our water systems for granted."