The coastal waters around the UK are of great importance in the
life of the planet.
Although relatively small in area, they carry a disproportionately
large amount of
marine life because of their relative shallowness. Sewage, nitrogen,
metals and chemicals of many kinds including chemical weapons have
into the marine environment, with the result that the health of
the North Sea as a
whole is beginning to fail. The Irish Sea carries the dubious distinction
the highest burden of man-made radioactivity of any sea in the world.
The assumption behind the philosophy of dumping is that the pollutant
will "dilute and disperse" in the sea. In fact a better
description of the marine environment is that it "consumes
and concentrates" . Many pollutants increase in concentration
as they pass up the food web, with the result that cetacean (whale)
carcasses can sometimes end up being classed as toxic waste.
EFFECTS OF POLLUTION
Evidence that the UK's coastal waters are reaching the limits of
for accepting pollution is provided by algal blooms, and the presence
fish. In 1988 an epidemic of viral infection attacked the seal population
North Sea. In the end, when far more is known about how pollution
organisms, it is possible if not probable that pollution will be
found guilty of
depressing the seals' immune systems. After all, Polychlorinated
Biphenyls (PCBs), 37,000 tonnes of which have been dumped into the
North Sea, are known to have immune depressant properties. Evidence
is growing that several common synthetic chemicals, (eg DDT, DDE,
PCB's and Nonyl phenols) have oestragenic properties (i.e. mimic
the effects of
female hormones) and that this is affecting the reproductive capacity
species, including man. It is vital that Government passes a law
to ensure the
screening of all chemicals that are likely to pass into the environment
There is no doubt that bathing in waters contaminated with sewage
carries with it a
health risk, primarily of gastroenteritis, but also ear and eye
infections. Hepatitis A
can be caught through eating partially cooked shellfish (which filter
the virus) from sewage contaminated water. The faecal coliform test
measure contamination is outmoded and unreliable: coastal authorities
to faecal streptococcal measurements, and also test for viruses
at least quarterly.
THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE
Sea dumping exists as a result of the misconception that the ocean
is big enough to be
unaffected by anything that we could do. This misconception arises
from the fact
that the ocean seems extremely large when viewed by individuals,
of a nervous disposition. The fact is that the North Sea especially
is not infinite and in relation to the massive input from industrial
processes, its ecosystem is relatively fragile. The interaction
of human economy and natural marine ecology is being acted out on
a long time scale. This makes it imperative to act now to stop the
pollution and to study the effects of this action, rather than to
study the harmful effects now and act later. The burden
of proof must lie with the polluter, not to those concerned with
environment. This is the Precautionary Principle, to which politicians
now pay lip service,
although a gap often forms between their words and their deeds.
Pollution is the result of linear processing, that is, the extract-manufacture-use-dispose
model that lies at the basis of the present industrial system. This
system cannot be sustained indefinitely in a finite planet, since
in the end, extracted resources will give out, and the ability of
the environment to absorb the disposed substances will fail. Living
ecological systems are not linear but cyclical, and our industrial
processes must in the end fall into line with Nature by becoming
cyclical, that is, by becoming use-reuse (i.e. recycling) systems.
Some conservative economists make much of the difficulty and expense
of zero pollution policies. These difficulties are generated from
a short-term, narrow-scope perspective. Viewed ecologically, that
is, from a long-term, global perspective, zero pollution policies
are invariably economical. Indeed, the payback period for the solution
to the sewage problem (via anaerobic digestion with methane and
soil conditioner as end products) can be as short as three years.
The use of soil conditioner on land whose soil structure has been
weakened by agrochemical farming methods is also an economic advantage.
The cyclical solution to the sewage problem entails the separation
of industrial effluents from domestic sewage. The costs of this
operation will carry a longer pay back period. Advantages will come
not just from a healthier ecosystem, but also in some cases from
new economic uses that are found for the "wastes" that
had been previously lost.
In order to protect our coastal waters, the Campaign Against Sea
Dumping calls for
the following measures:
· Governments must provide adequate funds to set up a North
Sea Protection Organisation to co-ordinate research and enforcement
of environment protection measures.
· Governments and must not wait for the scientific community
to finish its research deliberations before acting.
· Because of the great importance of the North Sea and the
disastrous consequences that would follow its ecological death,
Governments must act on the worst-case scenario
and take action immediately and urgently to end pollution. Useful
Laws of the Sea have been drawn up, but have not been ratified by
some Governments, including the Government of the UK.
On nuclear waste the CASD position is clear. There are two ways
of dealing with nuclear waste:
(a) returning it to the environment at a rate at which it is there
is a very low hazard to life, or
(b) storing it away from the open environment in a such a way that
it can be monitored and retrieved if necessary.
In common with the rest of the Green movement CASD rejects option
(a) on the grounds that human knowledge of radiobiology is so rudimentary,
and the monitoring efforts made to date are so sparse, that it would
be irresponsible to take any action that cannot be later corrected,
the consequences of which might not become evident for several generations.
We reject disposal option (a) and advocate the storage/monitoring
option (b), linked with cessation of any further production of nuclear
CHEMICAL WEAPONS DUMPS
At the end of the Second World War, up to 200,000 tonnes of chemical
weapons were dumped in the seas around the world. Britain dumped
in the Baltic, the North Sea, Irish sea, and around the Channel
Chemical involved were Organophosphorus nerve agents, mustard gas,
and blistering agents. Some were tossed overboard, others packed
into ships which were then scuttled or blown up.
These are now beginning to breach their containment. One Russian
scientist believes that the containers are all at a critical stage
of thinning and that rather than expecting a gradual release, there
may be a catastrophic surge in release. Containers are occasionally
occasionally dredged up by fishing nets, endangering the health
of fishers. At lease 7 fishers have had to be hospitalised after
their nets brought up mustard gas residues.
The chemicals will adversely affect the health of the marine ecosystem,
concentrating as they pass up the food web.
The response of Governments and official "scientists"
is - predictably - problem denial.
"There is no immediate danger" was the response of one
"respected" group - which begs the question of what happens
in the future if all the canisters corrode in a relatively short
space of time.
They claim that the seawater will neutralise the chemicals. This
is true in the case of Sarin, which breaks down in humid conditions,
but is patently not the case for mustard gas. In the case of agents
which contain Arsenic, even if they break down, an environmental
problem persists. The Russian Academy of Science in St Petersburg
found levels of arsenic up to 200 parts per million around one of
the dump sites.
They also run the standard circular argument - no contamination
is expected, therefore there is no need to monitor the problem.
It is clear that the rational response to this problem involves
- A definitive chart of areas where dumping took place - so far
as is possible, given that the UK Government, true to form, destroyed
their records as they were not deemed to be of further administrative
- A continuing programme of monitoring of seabed sediments and
fish, sampling their liver for possible toxic content.
- Research and development of a range of retrieval and neutralisation
CASD favours the option of a robot which can "sniff out"
specific chemicals and travel up the concentration gradient to the
point of origin.
The robot could envelop the shell in an impermeable container,
or attach a radio transmitter and flotation bag to enable retrieval
by support ship at the surface, or take other action.
Contaminated sediment could be chemically neutralised robotically
on the seabed.
These solutions are technically feasible, but would be enormously
expensive. However the alternative, letting the ecosystem deteriorate,
would be more costly still in the long run. The Polluter Pays principle
dictates that those responsible should pay, so a fund should be
set up by the UK Ministry of Defence, with a contribution from the
German chemical firms that produced the toxins in the first place.
It should be noted that political resistance to these rational
measures will come not just from the Government but also from the
fishing industries who would fear a collapse of public confidence
in their product - the "Jaws Syndrome".
The CASD position on oil spills is that every effort must be made
to skim the oil from the
surface of the water before it reaches the shore. To this end, skimmers
pieces of equipment that can suck oil off the surface of the water)
should be held
at every port, refinery, oil terminal and coastal District Council,
immediately to the site of the spill as soon as it is detected.
The cost of the operation will be borne by those responsible for
the pollution incident.
We call for all oil tankers to be of double skinned construction,
and to have double engines and propulsion systems.
Accidental oil spills of the Braer and Sea Empress types contribute
only a small proportion
of the total oil contamination of the sea. Most comes from routine
tank cleaning, often carried out by ships masters in defiance of
the law, confident that they
will not be caught. Therefore we wish to see that all oil carried
at sea can be identified by
means of traces of marking chemicals which are unique to each company.
means, any oil found in the marine environment can be traced back
to its source, with
resultant prosecution of, and compensation paid by the company responsible.
The Green movement has been warning for years that we cannot continue
Nature's finite resources without limit. To erode non-renewable
resources is one thing;
but to destroy essentially renewable resources like fisheries is
a sign of utter irrationality
on the part of political leaders. The warnings of political ecologists
have been dismissed
and attacked by establishment politicians and journalists, but falling
fish stocks are
now proving the Movement right.
We call for an outright internationally agreed ban on
(1) large factory ships that indiscriminately "hoover"
marine life forms,
(2) nets with a hole size below an internationally agreed minimum,
(3) all drift nets over a length that can be managed by a small
fishing vessel under sail,
(4) all monofilament nets, because cetaceans are unable to detect
them with their sonar.
We call for fishermen to be restricted, not by rationing the times
they are allowed
to put to sea, but by the scale of their operations. Sea time rationing
is a bureaucratic device which displays ignorance of the realities
of the seafarer, who must go with the tides and the weather.
Fuel rationing would restrict their range, and their ability to
catch, but will necessitate the use of sail, and conserve finite
fossil fuels. It will also eliminate the huge commercial fishing
fleets which are at the root of the problem, while enabling the
small fisher to continue. The rations will be enforced by tank size,
which will be sufficient to get the boat safely out of difficult
situations. This measure, although radical, is not so radical as
the alternative in use now, which is that of compensation for fishing
boats which are burnt. By restricting the use of fossil fuel, this
measure justly corrects the disproportionate amount of fuel that
are expended to put one calorie of food on the plate.
LOSS OF LIVELIHOOD COMPENSATION
In marine pollution incidents, ecosystem damage means that the
productivity of the sea is degraded to a variable extent, locally
or generally. Groups such as fishermen or, who depend on the sea
for their livelihood stand to lose as a result of this. Historically
they have been left out of the reckoning when pollution compensation
is being considered. The CASD calls for this situation to be rectified.
REDUNDANT OIL PLATFORMS
The dominant line carried by the media is that Greenpeace's success
in banning the dumping of the Brent Spar was a triumph of emotion
over rationality. This is false. The issue was not just the return
of the toxic contaminants of Spar to the marine environment, but
the precedent that the dumping would have set for the 400-odd other
rigs in the North Sea. CASD wishes to see feasibility studies into
leaving redundant rigs in situ and converting them into wind turbine
The Campaign Against Sea Dumping is a small informal group, operating
on an ad hoc basis, activating from time to time for non-violent
direct action as specific issues of marine pollution arise, especially
in the Severn area. The campaign arose out of the successful blockade
of a rail train carrying nuclear waste to Sharpness docks for sea
disposal. CASD also runs a library of environmental photographs
which are available at commercial rates. We rely entirely on donations
from sympathisers in order to survive financially, and would appreciate
a small donation of three first class stamps to cover costs of sending
out this paper.
Recommended reading: Global Marine Biological Diversity.
Ed.Norse; Island Press, Washington DC
Sunday, 03 March 2002