Environmental problems of the Caspian Sea
Among the Caspian Sea problems contamination of the sea water and related deterioration of environmental condition is the main issue of the latest period alongside the sea level oscillations. The rich natural resources of the sea and its therapeutic significance caused many people inhabit around the sea. The basic pollution sources of the Caspian Sea are the slops of the cities and industrial objects situated in its basin, coasts, and water areas, as well as various contaminants discharging from maritime transportation and oilfields. Currently 15 ml people live in Caspian coastal zones, whose life activity is directly connected with the sea (mostly fishery). The Caspian Sea which is the most fecund water basin of the world is considered the unique sea for containing great numbers of sturgeon (roughly 95%). As it is known, sturgeon produces black caviar that is considered very valuable product in the world market. Therefore genetic pool of these fish in the Caspian Sea is strictly preserved. It must be mentioned that the main exporter of black caviar is due to inhabitants of this lake on Earth. But riches of the Caspian Sea do not deplete with this. Caspian Sea is also one of the largest hydrocarbon raw centers for oil-gas reserve potential. Caspian Sea is mostly studied like other endorheic basins for its ecological characteristics. Enclosed basins have certain problems. For instance: Depletion of natural resources quantitatively, degradation of anthropogenic, soil surface natural ecosystems and water ecosystems, contamination of sea milieu. The latter is considered the greatest problem. In terms of fish farm and sanitary-toxic features, the Caspian Sea condition was estimated as a beginning of crisis period in the end of Soviet Union. In this regard the Volga river basin and Caspian Sea littoral were proclaimed “environmental disaster zone” in 1992.
The basic contamination sources of the Caspian Sea are the followings: unpurified industrial products and agricultural wastes, river shipping and seafaring, onshore and offshore exploitation of oil and gas wells, second pollution within the works of sea bottom deepening, entering of pollutants from distance zones through atmosphere and water. Each year 40-45 km 3 sewage flow into the Caspian Sea through rivers, of which Volga river shares 60 %. Unless these slops had distributed unevenly, then the thickness of that layer would have reached 10-11 cm. Kura and Ural rivers play a role in contamination of the Caspian Sea waters. Sewage of Tbilisi, and Rustavi cities and industrial institutions, as well as various toxic substances used in agriculture enter the Caspian Sea via Kura river. Wastewater entering the Caspian from the littoral cities of the sea regarding Baku, Sumgayit, Makhachkala, Astrakhan, Turkmanbashi, Rasht, Anzali are deemed one of its main contaminants. Likewise exploitation of nautical oil wells and transportation of oil products, sea transport trigger pollution of the Caspian Sea as well.
Oil products, phenols, and quicksilver in some regions were defined in the composition of patterns taken from ground waters of the sea bottom. Pollution of bottom ground waters causes decrease of organisms and bentos and depletion of bottom fauna mostly in Baku inlet. Contamination of the Caspian Sea has triggered hard intensity in the sea condition, and environmental crisis in its several coastal regions. Establishment of several reservoirs in Volga and Kura rivers has affected adversely the ecological condition of the sea. This factor has concurrently provoked sharp diminution of reservoirs, while deprived some precious fish species from traditional spawning places.
The sea level oscillations also impact the ecological condition. In this regard salinity of the sea rises when the sea level decreases, productivity and area of nutrition regions reduce in the fish costal zones. Vice versa the sea salinity abates and forage reserve increases when the sea level rises in the areas adjacent to delta regions of waters, especially vast rivers.
Furthermore excessive pollution of the sea waters with the abovementioned substances, particularly with oil products causes serious disorder of aeration process, as well as extinction of the sea fauna and flora.
The most polluted areas of the sea are at the same time environmental crisis areas regarding water areas of Baku, Sumgayit, Makhachkala, Turkmanbashi cities, sea oilfield regions under operation.
The following factors must be taken into account while dealing with contamination of the lake: firstly, irregular distribution of wastewater causes serious pollution of different parts of the sea. Secondly, it carries littoral contamination from one zone to another one and pollutes that area too. Taking into consideration that wastes are collected on the water surface (upper layer) and create “water-atmosphere zone”, it must be mentioned that mostly biologically essential areas of the sea are contaminated mainly due to those gathered sewage. The most dangerous contamination for the Caspian Sea is due to wastes containing inimical chemical substances regarding oil hydrocarbons, hydrocarbons, carbonukleids, chloric organic compounds and heavy metals. Oil hydrocarbons have a great role in the sea contamination. In this regard the sea oil industry and underwater oil pipelines which surround Absheron peninsula and half of Mangyshlag are the main points. Formerly emergence of oil wells in the sea was considered achievement of science and technology, however some scholars warned about future after-effects of the fact. Nevertheless more than half a century has passed from those alert ideas, they prove to be correct to this day and we have already seen that the Caspian Sea has become worldwide problem. The environmental problem of the Caspian Sea now makes the whole world disquiet. Baku is the filthiest part of the Caspian Sea. Therefore it has been given status of biologically “defunct inlet”.
Moreover public-political processes, discrepant conflicts, especially military conflicts have influenced the environmental condition of the sea. For example, the Russia-Chechnya war that began since 1991 triggered certain problems in the ecosystem of the sea. About 20-30 military wastes are noted in the sea basin annually. In addition the number of technogenic accidents have substantially increased. In this regard the amount of hydrocarbons in the Russian coasts of the Caspian Sea has considerably accrued due to Chechen war.
As it is known “contract of the century” was signed in 1994 on joint exploitation of Azerbaijanian oilfields. The contract amalgamating the famous oil corporations together implies to take the raw oil of Azerbaijan to the world market. The other oil producers in the region have the same interest. Oil-gas production centers have been opened in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan like in Absheron. The environmental condition of these regions is unwelcome in comparison with Azerbaijan. Because the amount of mercaptans in the content of oil extracted in this area is more and sulphuric compounds are excessive. Such oil must be purified by special means which triggers extra problems. Ecological standards must absolutely be taken into account in this process otherwise the whole water area of the Caspian Sea may be deteriorated.
The sea pollution level in the northern portion is relatively less than eastern-western portions. It must be mentioned that the role of Volga and other rivers and reservoirs is essential in protection of the Caspian lake condition, particularly in preservation of wastes. Concurrently the bottom sediments of the Caspian Sea and its physical-chemical and biological regulations play a role in this process. The temperature stability (normality) in the middle and southern zones increases speed of chemical reactions in water and consequently purity of the sea water is provided automatically.
The environmental problems of the Caspian Sea are also related with its periodic level oscillation. The level of the sea which passed transgression period since 1978 rose gradually and caused serious threat. In this regard 2.5 m elevation of the sea water level caused 1-2 km area of the sea littoral to remain under the sea. For instance, 10-15 years ago a great deal of dwelling places and household areas located in the coastal strip of the southern region of the country (Lankaran-Astara) faced that calamity, the people and state were inflicted a considerable damage. One point should be reminded. In ancient times our ancestors never inhabited beside water basin. They just engaged in seasonal activities. Because they estimated quite properly further probable natural events. Vice versa in modern world people in lieu of learning from the past they construct grandiose industrial objects, oil and gas extracting devices, skyscrapers, and establish farming economies very beside the sea as if subduing the nature. They suppose that it is possible to maintain those installations ashore permanently. But unfortunately it is contrariwise. Nevertheless the nature is capricious, it dislikes perverse actions.
Majority of apparent accidents in the sea and its littoral is certainly connected with oil industry located here. Sinking of facilities, leakage of oil products into the the sea, fall of installations into disrepair and etc can be shown as an example. The Caspian Sea expose to hydrodynamic danger mostly in the southern and middle areas. Furthermore the Caspian Sea bottom is liable to mud volcanoes. Especially sulphuric oil extracting areas are perilous. In case of strong earthquake, millions tons of sulphuric hydrocarbons may enter the air under 1000 atmospheric pressure, which is considered global catastrophe.
Transportation of oil in huge tankers causes pollution of the Caspian Sea as well. As the Caspian Sea is enclosed ecosystem, it is sufficient to become defunct through contamination by oil spills.
Improvement of small marines is economically and militarily significant, however they have a role in contamination of the Caspian Sea. Leachate discharged from huge ships is one of the contaminating sources. Construction of new ports, ship production, transportation of oil and oil products and etc. pollute the sea water. Moreover establishment of navies in the littoral countries of the Caspian Sea cause contamination of the sea. The Caspian Sea pollution should not be related with only physical-chemical factors. Biological aspects play a role in the sea pollution as well. In this regard odd organisms discharged from Azov-Black sea basin through Volga-Don channel are the matter of fact. Recently meduses (aurella aurita, mneniopsis leudyi) were revealed in the Turkmenistan sector of the Caspian Sea. These meduses deplete the nutriment of huge hatchery fish spawned in the Caspian Sea. For instance, they nourish with sprout. Diminution of sprout results with abatement of various marine creatures. Enhanced oil-gas exploitation affects adversely piscatorial farm as well. Excessive contamination of water area inflicts serious damage to fish industry. According to the estimations damages afflicted to the sturgeon economy are $6 billion, while caviar business has suffered loss of $10 billion. Concurrently economical loss of other hatchery fish is real. Caspian Sea is remarkably unique ecosystem. Its protection is not only target issue of regional countries, but also of the whole world. Lately, interests of the international system to the environmental problems of the Caspian Sea are not accidental. Caspian Sea needs care not only by one country, but also by the 5 littoral states. Unless each of the littoral countries of the Caspian treats the sea unanimously, its future fortune may be more obscure. As long as the status of the Caspian Sea is not entirely defined, sturgeon reserve of the sea, manifoldness of its animals, as well as its ecosystem will regress.
The erstwhile US president John Kennedy’s quotes of “geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends, economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies” sound quite real and requisite. In this regard, the Caspian Sea which formerly stood among the most productive water basins on Earth has completely lost its leading position in the last decades due to the environmental crisis.