Wetlands International comments on the Kerch Strait oil spill
Black Sea oil spill: first sign of a new trend?
The Black Sea oil spill of last weekend was primarily caused by extreme weather. At the same time, we should be aware that this may be the start of a trend. Oil companies and authorities are working on alternative ways of delivering oil from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan via the Black Sea. Experience around the world shows that in areas where intensive oil production or transport takes place it is very difficult to avoid oil pollution. Annually this leads to the suffering and deaths of millions of birds in coastal areas.
The current disaster took place in an area not far from Ramsar Convention Wetlands of International Importance in the Kuban Delta (Russia) and Eastern Sivash (Ukraine). Nearby there are 5 more Ramsar sites along the Ukrainian Sea of Azov coast all of which are very important for wintering, migratory and breeding waterbirds.
Wetlands International fears that the recent disaster in the Black Sea is just a first sign of what might be experienced in the near future by this very vulnerable environment. New oil routes (shipping, pipelines) are now planned through the Black Sea. Oil and gas production is developing in the Sea of Azov and in the Black Sea.
These developments are insufficiently accompanied by the implementation of sound environmental standards to prevent oil spills or by plans, practices and equipment to react to disasters such as this. The current oil spill is a clear example of this: ships transporting the oil were not suited for the conditions that occur in the region. After the spill, there appears to be inadequate planning, knowledge or equipment to clean up the oil.
Only two weeks ago, Wetlands International organised a meeting in Odessa, Ukraine, with representatives of all countries bordering the Black Sea. The meeting itself was already a major breakthrough. The representatives called for improved conservation and wise use of coastal wetlands in the Black Sea. Further a regional initiative based on regional cooperation called BlackSeaWet was requested to support this aim. Such an initiative would be an excellent basis to develop best practices for emergency planning and action to counteract the effects of such disasters on coastal wetlands and their biodiversity.
Wetlands International calls for Black Sea countries to increase their commitment to coastal wetlands conservation including how to manage the effects of oil spills. Global oil and shipping companies should take their responsibility more seriously by applying stricter rules for oil production and transportation. Countries who will benefit from the development of the new oil routes, such as those in the EU, should strengthen their support for environmental programmes in the region to avoid further destruction of the Azov and Black seas ecosystems.
+31-(0)6 5060 1917
Wetlands International Black Sea Region
Dr. Vasiliy Kostyushin
+380 (44) 2465862