The conflicts in the region since the beginning of the Ukrainian war have also damaged the ecosystem in the Black Sea.
The UK-based Guardian newspaper, dedicated to the report prepared by the Turkish Marine Research Foundation (TUDAV) in March and April, referred to the increasing dolphin deaths on Turkey’s Black Sea coast and stated that the Ukrainian war may be the reason for this.
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Speaking to BBC Turkish, Bayram Ozturk, president of TUDAV and professor of marine biology at Istanbul University’s Faculty of Aquatic Sciences, said the number of dead dolphins washed ashore in April reached 80, some of which were caught in fishing nets. Scientific studies on the cause of the deaths are ongoing.
Öztürk specifically states that they “do not want to create speculation” about the cause of the increasing dolphin deaths, but that this may be due to low-frequency sonar since no disease has been found in the dolphins that washed ashore.
He also reminds us that in addition to the effects of the war on the creatures in the region, on fisheries and therefore on the people of the Black Sea, the Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution, which is based in Istanbul, should take the initiative in this regard.
Denizcan Durgun, Marine Research Coordinator of Doğa Association, stated that the researches carried out so far have generally touched on marine life affected by oil spills due to war, especially seabirds, and makes the following statement about the increase in the number of dolphins washed ashore:
“Unfortunately, we don’t have much of an idea about the situation in the Black Sea today because of the mutual disinformation. However, it is very clear that the sound pollution created by military activity in the sea has a negative effect on marine mammals.”
Durgun said, “Studies and researches on the cases of dolphin stranding have intensified recently. However, since the results of the necropsy of individuals (the name given to the process of determining the cause of death of animals) have not been published, we cannot give a definite reason.”
Did the dolphins flee the war and land on the safe southern shores?
During March, TUDAV reported an unprecedented increase in deaths of dolphins, an offshore species of caterpillar, off the coast of the western Black Sea. This was thought to be influenced by the war in Ukraine, which began at the end of February.
The foundation experts, who detected dolphin deaths through the Marine Mammals Communication Network, determined that the deaths were caused by drowning in the net as a result of scientific examination.
However, in recent years, since there is no similar intensity at this time of year, it has been investigated why the cases of accidental network infection have increased.
In addition to the climate impact, unusual ship traffic and intense underwater and overwater military activity in the north are still being studied, as well as the possibility that dolphins could land on safe shores in the south.
Prof. Dr. Öztürk says, “Science requires evidence”:
“I can say that some of the dolphins that died in April died due to netting, and some of them died in an unknown way. But in animals there are no parasites, diseases, damage to internal organs. The only option left is low-frequency sonars. So we’re wondering if they might have had acoustic trauma.”
Stating that the works are continuing, Öztürk said, “The dead animals that washed ashore in this way will be brought to us. We sent news to every region. We are investigating whether there is a mass death. We are not sure as there has not been such a war before. Therefore, we do not want to create a speculation by saying that this is definitely the reason.”
Feeding area of dolphins of Odessa Bay
TUDAV’s research states that wetlands and biosphere reserves in the Sea of Azov, the Danube Delta and the Gulf of Odessa are fragile in terms of biodiversity:
“Odessa Bay, where dozens of military ships are located, maneuvered, fired and burned, ballistic missiles have fallen, is the feeding ground of coastal fish species and dolphins in the Black Sea.”
The war in the region, which is located on the migration routes of birds, affects not only dolphins and the marine ecosystem. The reproduction, feeding and egg-laying areas of birds are also threatened by the conflicts. Likewise, the danger of the destruction of protected red algae deposits in the Black Sea is a cause for concern.
Stating that Mariupol in the south of Ukraine and the coastal region where the war continues are completely protected areas, Öztürk said, “We see the effect of war on nature in these areas. These are wetlands, they need to be protected. Essentially there is the convention on the prohibition of the use of environment-altering techniques for military purposes or other hostile purposes (ENMOD). But there are no wetlands in that contract. “If the contract is renewed, one day these ecological concerns must be added.”