This paper was written as part of the 2011 Alaska Oceans Sciences Bowl high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those of the student authors.

The Sensitive Baltic Sea


Sarah Dawkins
Myriam Wells
Lucas HyceM
Reno Hyce
Brittany Romer

Team Mat-Tsunami

Mat-Su Career and Technical High School
2472 North Seward Meridian Parkway
Wasilla, AK 99654


The Baltic Sea has suffered due to many pollutants; some of which have taken a major toll on the Baltic's habitat; these pollutants include nuclear waste and agricultural chemical runoff. Over the decades nuclear waste has been dumped into the waters of the Baltic. Only in recent years has this harmful pollutant been monitored in its disposal. The Baltic Sea is one of the most radioactive bodies of water on this planet, mostly from weapon testing. Now, the problem of how to clean it out has appeared. For just as long if not longer, fertilizers, slowly gathered by rain and melt water, make their way to the open water of the sea and promote dangerous algae blooms and plant growth. This eutrophication depletes the sea's dissolved oxygen levels, which reduces habitat sizes for gilled organisms and therefore their consumers, including our fisheries. The Baltic Sea's large ecosystem and the species that live in the Baltic Sea; including, the harbour porpoise, the guillemot, and the Baltic ringed seal, and herring, all are affected in some way by these pollutants and others not covered in this particular paper. An active and logical management plan must be created to preserve what is left, and to possibly bring back what is lost. Our team would like to give thanks to the Baltic Sea's leading research team, the Helsinki Commission, for there helpful information and for there already hard working scientists.


10 14Within the Brackish waters of the Baltic Sea (figure 1), there lay a terrible threat. This threat could potentially take down the whole environment. The hazard is the radioactivity of nuclear waste. 28Nuclear waste has been being dumped in the Baltic Sea for decades, causing a dead zone, and has been steadily growing and creating more issues. Some of these issues are the well being of the species that inhabit the Baltic, such as malformation, mutation and unusual breeding pattern changes. 26The availability to dump nuclear waste in the Baltic has become to surface, people are working to help stop the problem. However, decade's worth of negative habits still remain, people are still dumping metal barrels of this toxic waste into the sea; where it starts to rust with time and erode exposing the radioactivity. Since scientists do not know how long the effects of radioactivity remain, we do not know the full outcome that could arise. We take the Chernobyl accident from the Ukraine as one of our major models.29


3The Baltic Sea is bordered by Latvia, Lithuania, The Federation of Russia, Poland, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, and situated below the Gulf of Bothnia, in the North Eastern Hemisphere (figure 2). The Baltic waters are brackish; water that is a mix of both fresh and salt/sea water; the salt/sea water, the salt/sea water is collected from the North Sea; the fresh water is deposited from rainfall. The Baltic Sea is composed of is a salinity rate of 20 parts per unit (PSU) in its main body; whereas, typical open bodies of oceanic water have around 35 PSU. The Baltic Sea is a unique water environment not only for its salinity rates but also because it is one of the world's largest brackish body of water even though it only has an average depth is 53 meters. These salinity rates are not high enough to be considered sea or salt water, yet these rates are also not small enough to pass for fresh water, thus creating a habitat that contains species from either 'world'. Another fact of the Baltic is that the water remains for up to approximately 30 years, this is because the Baltic Sea is connected to other oceans and seas by narrow waterways, not only does the water stay for so long, but natural (organic) and non-natural (inorganic) materials also stay as long; this causes an issue with the radioactive and nuclear wastes due to the long amount of time it must stay within the Baltic before moving to a new body of water or disintegrating completely.

Cesium-137 / Caesium-137

7 13Cesium-137 was discovered in 1930, recognized as a radionuclide, unlike its nonradioactive relative, cesium, which was discovered in 1860. Cesium-137 was discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg and Margaret Melhase. This radioactive form of cesium is a fission product that results from uranium and plutonium. 27When cesium-137 decays it turns to barium-137, this process happens with emissions from beta particles and gamma rays. Cesium -137 has not been shown to produce mutations in any species within the Baltic, but has produced mutations within humans. Depending on the amount released, the effects on sea life could change, however, the Baltic Sea has not been exposed to an extreme amount, and what amount that is left has been decaying over the years; thus the amount has diminished greatly since the nuclear drop outs and since the Chernobyl accident (figure 3).

The Baltic Sea Ecosystem

9 18 19The large Baltic Sea ecosystem is characterized as a temperate climate. Being a semi-enclosed sea, it is strongly affected by human impact; this includes human induced eutrophication and industrial waste water runoff, because of its relatively low exchange rate with bodies of adjacent to the Baltic Sea. One of the largest brackish bodies of water, the Baltic is essentially a fjord that has an average width of 230 kilometers (km) and 1,500 km long. It sustains both freshwater species that cannot tolerate high salinity, which are found near shore, and marine fish in high salinity waters. The Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO) 10-year trend shows an increase in fish catch: 650,000 to 900,000 tons from 1990 to 1999. Eighty percent of fishery catches are small pelagic clupeoids; such as herring, sardines, and anchovies. Harbour porpoises and common seal also consume these fish. The increase in fish catch is showing a trend of increase, which in the future could affect the Baltic Sea secondary consumer.6

1The Baltic Sea has a drainage basin four times the area of the sea itself, making it a pollution destination (figure 4). This puts the marine life vulnerable to any land, or air based pollutants, as they will build up into high quantities. A decline in ringed seals, Harbour porpoises, and harvested fish is due to an overall health decline of small fish that most of the life in the Baltic depends on, herring. A decline in herring and other small pelagic fish species population would directly harm the ringed seals and harbor porpoises. Herring, being there main food source and catch in the Baltic, makes it a very important. 16Phytoplankton is the main food source for young herring, as they mature they begin to feed on larger zooplankton. These are small animals that are found in oceanic surface water and small fish and fish larvae. These zooplankton feed on bacterioplankton (the bacterial component of plankton that drifts in the water column), phytoplankton, other zooplankton, and even nektonic organisms. These microscopic creatures are greatly affected by pollutants and water chemistry...there for, affecting the larger organisms that consume and coexist with them.


According to the oxford dictionary, the definition of eutrophication is "excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen." Eutrophication is one of the worst problems affecting the Baltic Sea. It destroys the overall quality of the environment, for humans and animals alike. Agriculture and city management fertilizers mostly cause it. The use of fertilizers in the Baltic Sea drainage basin is vital to the agricultural economy because of the short growing season. Bacterial decomposition reduces oxygen (02) levels. Dead zones near25 the sea floor reduce distribution of organisms, effectively lessening their available habitat area, similar to the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest (figure 5 and 6). Species slowly lose their living space, and therefore form concentrated groups. All of the food sources would deplete considerably. The territorial marine life will start to struggle for space, which will reduce their population significantly.

Species within the Baltic

Harbour Porpoise

12Harbour porpoises (figure 7) are becoming endangered in the Baltic Sea. The population is less than 250 mature porpoises in the Baltic Sea. The genius for the harbour porpoise is Phocoena. Their average life span is about ten to seventeen years. The average size is five feet long and about 130 pounds. They have a short stocky body that helps with not losing heat in the cold winters. The females are larger than the males. Harbour porpoises take in about 10% of their body weight in food every day. Their diet consists of multiple things such as: squid, cod, and sardines, but in the Baltic Sea they mostly feed on herring. The harbour porpoise is an inshore species, staying in pairs or pods. They are the only cetacean species in the Baltic Sea. They begin breeding when they are at the age between three and four years old. When the calves are born, they nurse for about eight months. In the Baltic Sea, there are many reasons the harbour porpoises are becoming endangered. Some reasons are: by-catch, organic pollutants, habitat destruction, and chemical pollution. With chemical waste being in the Baltic Sea, the Harbour porpoise not only have to live in it, they have to digest it every time they eat. When females digest the harmful chemicals, it can affect their fertility rates, or it could be transferred to their young. Chemical pollutants can be responsible for a lot of different things. They can lead to the following: lower rates in fertility, cancer, birth defects, damage of internal organs, and can cause the immune system to not work properly. In studies of samples from the blubber of a female harbour porpoises, 48% of the samples from the Atlantic coast of Europe had PCB (polychlorinated bicephenyls) levels exceeding the expectation of effects on the reproduction. Compared to the average reproduction rate, it was lower than in the western Atlantic.

The Baltic Ringed Seal

4 17The Baltic ringed seal (phoca hispida botnica) is included in the subspecies of the ringed seal (figure 8). The Baltic ringed seal is the largest of the five subspecies. 23An adult ringed seal can reach 130-160cm in length and can weigh up to 120 kg. Male and female Baltic ringed seals are almost equal in size. They mature between the ages of three and six years old. The females mature faster than the males. They have been known to live to 40 years old. 5There is estimated to be 5,500 found in the northern and central Baltic Sea, most in the Bothnian Bay. Baltic ringed seals feed mainly on fish such as herring, smelt, whitefish, sculpin, and perch. They also feed heavily on crustaceans, particularly isopods, during the winter. Baltic ringed seal populations have decreased due to hunting and pollution. Hunting Baltic ringed seals was banned in 1988 by the Helsinki Commission; however Finland and Sweden are pushing for a reversal of the ban. Scientific research published in 1997 showed that this species could not sustain hunting by any means. Baltic ringed seal populations are just beginning to increase. In 1998, it was reported that chemical weapons dumps in the Baltic Sea were causing widespread heavy metal and arsenic contamination.

The Guillemot

8Approximately 45,000 common guillemots (Uria aalge) live around the Baltic Sea (figure 9); they migrate south in the months of August and return to their nesting areas in May, they nest in the Southern part of the Baltic Sea in the winter. Guillemots eat many species of fish that are found in the Baltic Sea, which can include any herring, cod and various species. They are very sensitive towards any disturbances within their ecosystem, which can cause them to migrate to other portions of the Baltic Sea. Guillemots live in small pockets and indents in cliffs surrounding bodies of water, they build their nest in these crevices and prepare for breeding season by gathering all they can find to build their nest. Guillemots breed in April to May, and a single egg is laid through the month of May; this egg will incubate with the adults help for an average of 28 to 49 days; the egg will usually hatch within those days and grow up and fledge for another 27 to 30 days. When the young are done fledging they leave the nest though not all are able to fully fly. (

Management Plan

11 15 22To manage the issues from radionuclide, waste, fertilizer, and chemical runoff we must first contain the substances, control where they are stored, and maintain them more strictly. Many workers will be required to watch for any potential hazards, releases and report them to the hazard control authority. Since HELCOM has performed strenuous studies and research on the Baltic, they are most educated in what the Baltic Sea can tolerate and what poses greatest risks. They understand how to work with the spills that do occur, they are managing chemicals and spreading the word; but is there not another way to help the Baltic and its sensitive ecosystem? There has to be, our team concluded that an investment should be made, a factory and research lab should be created; this lab would hold experts in the nuclear and radioactive science field. Though many years would go into the research the outcome could be a more stable Baltic Sea. If this laboratory were to be constructed, the researchers and other scientists could test the different chemicals on water samples from the Baltic Sea to identify which chemicals affect what. For instance, if the oxygen levels decrease or the turbidity increases and so forth, the researchers could try to find a modification, another chemical or natural compound that could reverse or subside the effects of that specific chemical. The researchers would do this for any threatening chemicals (e.g. fertilizer) or radionuclide, if a reversible chemical was found it would then be tested in a tank that held water or under microscope with water samples from the Baltic. Some of the Baltic's smaller sea life, such as cod, would be held in the tank and tested for any abnormalities. Once the test subject was proven to not show any abnormalities then the water could be tested again and if the radionuclide was diminished the tested chemical could be released into the Baltic Sea and the radionuclide and pollutants would be reversed, causing a stable Baltic Sea. 24A mineral, Ivanukite, was discovered in the Khibinsky Mountains in the Arctic Circle, which is home to one of the world's richest mineral quarries. This mineral has properties that allow it to absorb radioactive substances, including cesium and cesium. Viktor Yakovenchuk discovered it in 2008. Radioactive water is completely safe after coming in contact with this mineral, Ivanukite. Sergey Zharvoronkin, a nuclear expert asks, "The discovery of this mineral is a great thing, but how it will be used? How exactly will it absorb all nuclear waste—and where will it be stored after that?" We believe it could be used in a filtration system for nuclear power plants and as a sort of "sponge" to absorb radioactive substances in the Baltic Sea where there is a great abundance. This mineral has not been found in great quantities. However, scientists are confident they can chemically copy this mineral so it may be used on a larger scale. Once copied, it could be put to work in the lab, and then hopefully in a real world situation. Another possible solution is to line a large pit with Ivanukite crystals and slowly fill it, much like a city landfill. Once in contact with the mineral, the water is safe and no longer a threat to human or environmental populations, and could be drained into a local body of water, and then yet another layer of this mineral could cover the Ivanukite etc. etc. The location of this disposal area would have to be heavily researched and chosen carefully. The non-aquatic ecosystems of Europe are important and could be affected by the construction of this or a similar structure.


There has been research and studies conducted over the nuclear, radioactive and fertilizers within the Baltic Sea environment. Species within its brackish and unique waters have been affected; the possibility that more runoff and dumps could result in a greater amount of these wastes entering the Baltic is definite. Many researchers have studied ways to stop these events from happening and more and more scientists are learning how to work with the waste and store it, to create a safer environment. The species of the Baltic are sensitive and any of these pollutants and chemicals could kill them if they were to be unleashed. Mutations, reduction in numbers can continue and extinction can occur. The work of our fellow scientists in the Russian mineral quarries have shown us that humans do not know all and that there is always room for new discoveries. New is the passage to better if used properly. And we hope the discovery of Ivanukite can be used in the cleansing and protection of the Baltic Sea. HELCOM has an abundance of information for the general public so that they may also do their parts in protecting the Baltic Sea and its biodiversity. One day, with extreme care and work, our sensitive Baltic Sea will be able to restore its self to its stable environment. When that day comes; its inhabitance will thrive once again in its delicate ecosystem.


Baltic Sea as seen from space

Figure 1. Baltic Sea satellite image.
Source: 20

map of the Baltic Sea including the countries surrounding it

Figure 2. Map of Baltic Sea.
Source: 2

graphs of hazardous materials present in the Baltic Sea

Figure 3. Hazardous materials in the Baltic Sea.

The Baltic Sea Drainage Basin

Figure 4.

satellite image of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea

Figure 5. Eutrophication.

aerial photo of fertilized farmland

Figure 6. Fertilized farmland.

picture of Harbour porpoise playing

Figure 7. Harbour porpoise.

picture of a baltic ringed seal on ice

Figure 8. Baltic ringed seal.

picture of guillemots

Figure 9. Guillemots.

References Cited