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City news
Environmentalists, Artists Join Forces to Save Baltic
08.31.2004 13:04

baltic_sea_pollution By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Stockholm - The youngest sea on the planet, the Baltic Sea, is also one of the most polluted in the world.

This year all countries around it, except Russia, have appealed to the International Maritime Organization to grant the Baltic the official status of a particularly sensitive sea area, or PSSA, so that they can join forces in tackling environmental threats in the region.

In April, the whole Baltic Sea except Russian territorial waters, was designated a PSSA.

However, it is doubtful that measures to protect the sea and its animal and plant life can succeed without Russia; it is a large contributor of pollution with the city of St. Petersburg the biggest single contributor.

The Leningrad Oblast's new oil terminals, increasing oil traffic, the lack of sewage treatment and horrendous numbers of illegal spills poison the waters of the almost enclosed waters of the Baltic Sea.

The World Wildlife Fund discussed the fate of the sea and measures to protect it at a special session this month in Stockholm. The discussion coincided with the Second Baltic Sea Festival, where Swedish, Russian and Finnish classical musicians campaigned to draw attention to the ecological plight of the region.

WWF representatives plan to visits the governments of all countries around the Baltic this year to convince them to sign a list of protective measures aiming at saving the sea.

But the group will not come to Russia. "The only reason why we aren't coming to Russia is because it is the only country that hasn't applied for the PSSA status," said Anita Makinen of the Finnish branch of WWF.

The measures include water traffic speed restrictions, closing of routes, seasonal suspension of certain routes to protect migrating marine mammals, tighter anchoring requirements, regulation of offshore bunkering, discharge restrictions and air pollution emission limitations.

The amount of oil transported on the Baltic Sea has doubled since 1997 and is expected to increase to up to 160 million metric tons per year. Makinen said sub-standard shipping practices had significantly increased the risks of severe oil accidents. Since 1980 an average of one major accident a year has occurred in the Baltic.

"Oil traffic has been increasing enormously in the Gulf of Finland," Makinen said. "Russians enlarge their existing oil terminals and build new ones.

"Not only has the number of tankers increased, but their size has also grown. At the same time, cruises between Helsinki and Stockholm have increased tremendously, and this route is crossing the main routes of vessels transporting hazardous substances."

The WWF forecasts that the risk of an oil accident in the Gulf of Finland will quadruple as the amount of oil transported through it rises from 1995's 22 million tons to the 90 million tons expected in 2005.

"We recognize that the Russian economy is very dependent on oil, but we are extremely concerned," said Lars Kristoferson, secretary general of WWF Swedish branch.

Globally, less than 0.5 percent of the world's seas have been designated as protected areas. The PSSA status is given in order to avoid accidents, intentional pollution and damage to habitats.

Upon request from the countries involved, the International Maritime Organization can also decide about associated protective measures for the region.

Top classical musicians from the Baltic region, including Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, Swedish conductor Manfred Honeck and Russian conductor Valery Gergiev have united in a special artistic event to draw attention to the ecological plight of the sea.

Politicians from most Baltic countries have also acknowledged the problem.

"During the Cold War, the Baltic Sea separated people," Finnish President Tarja Halonen said in her welcome letter to the cultural festival. " It divided people rather than united. Today, it has returned to its natural role. It unites rather than divides. The EU enlargement process is turning the Baltic Sea into the first EU internal sea."

The first festival in 2003 was well received, attracted top cultural and political figures and introduced musicians from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Denmark and Germany.

The Financial Times wrote last year that the first Baltic Sea Festival had more than proved its artistic merit as a contender in the annual summer marathon of European music festivals.

The ultimate goal of the Baltic Sea Festival is to get all countries on the coast involved.

"Music is a universal language, it has no political leanings, and it effortlessly crosses the language barrier to reach people everywhere," Salonen said. "That is why a major festival of this kind can develop unity around the Baltic Sea."

WWF's Kristoferson agreed. "These may be so-called soft values but they unite people," he said. "They help building confidence and trust in each other, while making the Baltic nations feel closer through the universal language of music."

To spread the word, the organizers are considering a series of satellite events in other towns across the region.

There is the possibility that next year a small series of events will be incorporated into St. Petersburg's annual "The Stars of the White Nights" summer cultural festival.

Eventually the program is likely to become more versatile, with jazz, rock and popular musicians joining the event for a more embracing picture of the region's cultural scene.

European environmentalists are pinning their hopes on the cultural heavyweights behind the festival.

"In my opinion, well-known and respected cultural people can establish a good contact with the governments of their countries, and can convince them to make a difference," Makinen said.

As St. Petersburg contributes in large measure to the contamination of the sea, the participation of Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater company in the festival has a further meaning beyond the obvious desire of including one of the world's greatest ensembles in the event.

"I am not naive to think that classical musicians can save the environment of a whole sea," Salonen said. "But I do think that if we bring the ideas into the minds of the people with this ecological theme running through the festival, we have a better chance of improving the situation in the future."

The arts can help build mutual trust but the decisions in the end will have to be political, Gergiev said.

"I don't mind being a bridge but it will be politicians who make the decisions," he said. "Russian politicians may listen to me, because we have built an international reputation, but to keep their confidence in us we should concentrate on our artistic efforts, not political activities."

Russia is the only country on the Baltic Sea coast that is not a member of the European Union, and in terms of environmental responsibility Russia's political isolation plays a crucial role.

"The EU countries share the same legislation, and naturally, they are all accountable to it," Kristoferson said. "With regards to Russia, we don't really have an instrument of influence, apart from appealing to the government's goodwill.

"After all, every country should be interested in having a healthy environment for its citizens."

Gergiev believes the political climate in the region has improved immensely and makes the musician hopeful about stronger integration in the future, in both cultural and political terms.

"For instance, the relations between Russia and Germany these days are better than ever the last 100 years," he said. "The war [World War II] is behind us, and now it is the very time to build relationships."

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