Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pollution in Iran's Caspian Sea

By: Chelsa Lewis-Bevel
Produced & edited by Molly Nocheck

The wonders of the Caspian Sea have ancient origins. 1.8 million years ago, early hominids roamed the coastlines, and sought refuge next to this great body of water, which supplied them their every need. Today the people of the Caspian region still rely heavily on the resources provided by the Sea. But, this safe haven is in danger. An estimated 140 million tons of pollutants are poured into the sea every year.

Iran borders the southern part of the Caspian Sea. Of the five littoral states, it hosts the largest Caspian Sea coastline in relation to country size. The deepest area of the sea sits in the southern region, belonging to Iranian territory. Iran’s large coastline, and water depths up to 3,200ft, provides the country with opportunities to expand its coast based industries, and its oil industry. But, these expansions come with a price. Saeed Arjmand, a student studying environmental engineering at the University of Tehran, thinks pollution in the sea can get out of control if it’s not checked soon.

Photo Credit: Academic Fair Use.
“In terms of pollution, the Caspian Sea is in critical condition,” he says.

Arjmand cites three ways Iran contributes to pollution in the sea; Sewage, agricultural waste, and its oil industry. Parvin Nassir, a member of the Iranian Society of Environmentalists, agrees.

“It’s a mixture of a bunch of different factors, different types of pollutants, coming from all across the coast, makes for a messy situation. It’s hard to pinpoint who’s to blame,” she says.

Scientists at the Caspian Research Station, in Noushahr, Iran, give some insight on how Iran is contributing to the pollution. Iranian sewage is a recent concern, as it produces bacterial pollution, which threatens the sea’s marine life. The country’s agricultural industry dumps waste such as fertilizers and pesticides as well as detergents into the sea. The main pollution sources of the Caspian Sea are the daily, extractions of crude oil and the transportation of the oil by the country’s oil industry.

Photo Credit: Academic Fair Use.
“The traffic of large oil tankers dumps 122,350 tons of oil pollutants into the sea each year, alone”, says Nassir.

Iran’s contribution seems heavy, in this context, but the country’s pollution only accounts for 5% of all pollution in the Caspian Sea, according to the Iranian National Institute of Oceanography (INIO). Iran has a small share from polluting point of view, but it gets an extensive part of the pollution created by the other littoral states because of the sea currents in the Caspian Sea. The pollution in the Caspian Sea seems to be taking a toll of Iran the most.

Delbar Selim lives in Sari, a city in Iran’s Mazandaran Province, about 20 miles from the Caspian Sea shore. Citizens like Selim, who live by the shore fear for the Sea’s future.

“Some people, say 10 years from now, it will be too dangerous to even swim in the sea, I can’t even imagine that,” says Selim.

Coastal inhabitants have a bond with the seashore, according to Selim. And every year, they watch it getting worse. But the pollution is jeopardizing more that, the coastal culture. The pollution of the sea is causing the country some major economic losses, which include declining fishing revenues, changes in fishing expenditure, decreased aquaculture developments and property devaluation. The area is losing much of its attractiveness to tourists, who bring in a lot of revenue for coastal businesses. The country is also facing health issues. According to recent health statistics, diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and tuberculosis are 15 times more prevalent in coastal areas than in the remaining part of the country.

However, the country could be seeing better days, when it comes to pollution in the Caspian Sea. During the 15th meeting of the Association of Universities of Caspian Sea States, the Iranian National Institute for Oceanography was appointed as the center monitoring pollution in the Caspian Sea. This may give the country an opportunity to really assess the problem of pollution and come up with solutions that will benefit all littoral states.

The Institute has many plans for waste minimization; the most important is finding the problem. A report from the institute explains how they will address the growing issue. “The first plan is to identify the point sources of pollution in the Caspian seaboard. This includes the pollution from all industries, commercial places and cities around the Caspian Sea”.

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