YALTA, UKRAINE — From the end of any pier one can see jellyfish, notably comb jellies, floating everywhere in the turbid waters of the Black Sea. After decades of pollution and overfishing, these simple creatures are one of the few species that can still thrive here.
It's one of the greatest ecological catastrophes of our time. The rapidly increasing output of sewage and fertilizer runoff from farms and cities across the vast Black Sea drainage basin have proved too much for this nearly landlocked sea to bear.
Already weakened by overfishing and toxic pollution, most life in the sea was unable to cope with the massive algae blooms triggered by the runoff. The North American comb jelly arrived via ship's bilge and did in the survivors by eating most of the available food.
"It's truly a disaster," says Radu Mihnea of Romania's Marine Research Institute in Constanta. "We have to see what can be salvaged now."
The six countries surrounding the Black Sea have been working together to try to reduce pollution and begin to construct a viable ecology here. Tens of millions of dollars in annual tourism and fishing earnings are at stake. But the most pressing pollution problems they have identified will require nearly $400 million to correct - money the struggling Black Sea nations will have to borrow from international lenders.
"Its not going to be easy because there are so many competing interests in these governments," says Laurence Mee, who will retire as director of the Istanbul-based Black Sea Environment Program in January.
Mr. Mee adds, "All these countries are relatively poor and have terribly pressing things to do to maintain their economies. But if they don't take into account environmental concerns, it will go terribly wrong in a few years."