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The story of the evil weed

August 9, 2010

A good way through summer it is hard to have missed reports on this year’s algal bloom in the Baltic Sea. In July, ESA (the European Space Agency) published a satellite image of a bloom-filled sea and soon newspapers around the world ran the story. In the UK, the Independent called the algae carpet “evil weed”. The BBC, der Spiegel and – amazingly – the Ethiopian Review reported on the devastating effect of the phytoplankton.

Earlier this year the National Geographic published an article about the Baltic Sea, reporting on the so-called dead zones. Dead zones occur where eutrophication (excess of nutrients) gives rise to algal blooms, which in turn feed bacteria. The bacteria consume the oxygen needed to sustain bottom-dwelling species and soon the area is void of life.  The number of these areas worldwide has risen by a third since the early 90s and is up to 400.  The world’s largest dead zone is in the Baltic Sea, which also has the rather ignoble privilege of housing 7 out of the 10 largest zones in the world.

Even though some scientists fear we have missed the opportunity to save the Baltic Sea, saying that no ecosystem could possibly cope with the strains the Baltic is exposed to without sustaining irreversible damage, there are no alternatives to increasing the efforts to do something about the situation. Hopefully, the new EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea will speed up the process. In the meantime, here are three glimpses of hope: best practice for manure treatment,  mussels and biofuel.

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