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Study: Baltic Sea nations in violation of agreement against pollution

The Baltic Sea hosts some of the largest marine dead zones in world, and researchers say the nations surrounding it are not living up to an agreement to limit pollution. Photo by ESA Copernicus Sentinel
The Baltic Sea hosts some of the largest marine dead zones in world, and researchers say the nations surrounding it are not living up to an agreement to limit pollution. Photo by ESA Copernicus Sentinel

May 28 (UPI) -- The nine signatories of the Baltic Sea Convention are all in violation of the binding international agreement, according to a new study.

Signed 20 years ago, the treaty was intended to reduce agricultural pollution of the marine environment, but new research -- published Friday in the journal Ambio -- suggests none of the nations surrounding the Baltic Sea are following through on their commitments.

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The treaty mandated each signatory institute 10 reduction methods, including increasing the minimum storage capacity for manure and reducing animal densities.

For the new study, an international team of researchers analyzed legislative efforts to reduce agricultural pollution in each of the nine countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. Scientists also analyzed runoff and nutrient loading data.

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The research showed none of the convention's signatories are doing enough to limit pollution and, as a result, excess runoff and nutrient loading continues to fuel harmful algal growth and eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.

Over the last century, the Baltic Sea has lost tremendous amounts of oxygen, leading to some of the world's largest marine dead zones -- areas completely devoid of marine life.

Though the latest study suggests all nine countries are in violation of the agreement, the data suggests Poland, Germany and Russia are performing the worst.

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Researchers found Sweden and Estonia have done the most to reduce agricultural pollution.

"Although the Convention specifies ceilings on the amounts of nutrients that farmers may apply to their crops, ceilings are not implemented fully by any country," study co-author Mikael Skou Andersen said in a news release.

"Either nutrient ceilings are too generous, apply to only part of the territory or are entirely absent. Notably the ceiling of [55 pounds] of phosphorus per [2.5 acres] is absent in most places, even if the reduction needs are now most pressing with regard to phosphorus," said Andersen, a professor of environmental science at Aarhus University in Denmark.

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Several of the pollution reduction efforts were agreed to upon the condition that farmers in Poland and the Baltic States would receive financial assistance from the European Union.

However, researchers found very little of the economic support flowing from west-to-east has been used to finance pollution reduction programs.

National funding programs for pollution reduction efforts are limited if not nonexistent in most of the countries surfing the Baltic Sea, the researchers said.

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To bolster the Baltic Sea Convention and spur action by its signatories, researchers suggest concerted efforts to strengthen international institutions and geopolitical relations in the region will be vital.

"The ambiguous experience gained from efforts to control agricultural pollution of the Baltic Sea should spur further analysis of how to strengthen countries' commitments to supranational agreements," researchers wrote.

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