Fighting in Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is also taking animal lives: Scientists say “thousands” of dolphins are being killed in the Black Sea. The marine ecosystem is also at risk.
Scientists are sounding the alarm: The ongoing war in Ukraine, which has displaced millions of people and claimed many lives, is also having fatal effects on animals in the Black Sea. Dolphins would be killed in the waters that border Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Dead dolphins are being washed up on the shores and beaches of the Black Sea with serious injuries resulting from Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, reports Business Insider.
Ivan Rusev, research director of the Tuzla Estuaries National Nature Park in Ukraine, reports on his Facebook page about the effects of the Ukraine war on the marine ecosystem. He shows pictures of wounded and dead dolphins. Some of the mammals would have burns from bomb or mine explosions. Others could not have found food. Still others had internal injuries.
Researchers in Ukraine: “It’s a tragedy”
“Several thousand dolphins” have already been killed in the fighting, the scientist writes. “Barbarians kill not only civilized humans, but also clever dolphins.”
The British newspaper The Guardian quoted Rusev as saying: “It’s a tragedy because we have a very small population of three dolphin species, so every individual is a rare individual.” He and his team are unable to assess the full extent of the damage to the dolphins because large parts of the Ukrainian coast are inaccessible to them.
The Turkish Marine Research Foundation also warned in April of the effects of the war in the Black Sea on the marine ecosystem. Even before the war, overfishing and the negative effects of climate change were a problem. But with the war came another danger.
Danger from mines, explosions, sinking ships
“Biodiversity is most vulnerable in wetlands and biosphere reserves in the Sea of Azov, the Danube Delta and the Gulf of Odessa. These regions are within migratory destinations of birds. The threat to species that choose these regions for breeding, feeding, migrating and laying eggs is where there is bombing and gunfire on a daily basis is inevitable.”
The Gulf of Odessa is a feeding ground for coastal fish and dolphins. There, however, “dozens of military ships would lie, manoeuvre, be set on fire and ballistic missiles would hit”. The destruction of endangered red algae is also a concern for biodiversity, as these algae provide a basis for life for many marine species in the region.
Leaking fuel from ships or toxic gases and chemicals are also a problem. “Ship noise and low-frequency sonars are known to be serious threats to marine life, particularly dolphins, which actively use underwater sounds for feeding and navigation.”
Prosecution for environmental crimes difficult
The Turkish researchers had already reported dead dolphins on the coasts at the end of March. There has been an “extraordinary increase in the number of common dolphin deaths”. The cause of death was initially called “drowning in the net”.
Before the war in Ukraine, scientists studied life in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the “New York Times”, the researchers have determined that more than 253,000 dolphins live in the Black Sea – a good number that is a positive ecological indicator for the entire ecosystem.
As “The Guardian” further reports, Ukraine wants to collect evidence of war crimes against water. A Ukrainian task force is working with a larger group preparing an environmental trial against Russia.
In theory, the International Criminal Court would be able to investigate crimes against the environment. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that the Court has jurisdiction over crimes of “deliberately launching an attack, knowing that such an attack will … cause widespread, long-term and serious damage to the natural environment”.
Proving these crimes would require demonstrating that the damage to the natural environment was “clearly excessive compared to the overall concrete and direct military advantage anticipated,” writes the Conflict and Environment Observatory. However, this is fraught with many problems and is often “considered impossible to be prosecuted”.