Foto: Mats Heitzmann
Big butts are out of fashion, and that finally gives me a bit of hope. Maybe we are approaching the point where women’s bodies are simply accepted as they are. In the case of this starfish with the bubble butt, we are not dealing with a controversial beauty trend, but with climate change, which is happening all over the world. The Baltic Sea, where this starfish lives, is on the verge of death and with it this little guy.
The baltic sea just a glimpse what our oceans are likely to face
The slow death of the Baltic Sea began a decade ago. Many people live around the waters, about 85 million in 11 countries. Nine of these countries have a coastline on the Baltic Sea. It is one of the most polluted waters in the world. And why? Because nutrients from agriculture and modern sewage systems spill into the sea and remain there. These nutrients are mainly nitrogen and phosphorus.
What happens when you change the amount of nutrients is comparable to what a plant does when you fertilise it. It grows bigger in a shorter time. In the ocean, these plants are micro-algae (phytoplancton) that grow enormously due to the increased amount of nutrients especially in summer. Not to be confused with macro-algae, which we use for sushi. The Baltic Sea then turns into an algae soup. The micro-algae first float on the sea surface and sink down after they die.
The rotting algae are dissolved by microorganisms that consume the oxygen in the bottom water. The amount of oxygen therefore decreases enormously, resulting in dead zones in the ocean. Shellfish, mussels and our little starfish cannot escape this zone and die due to the lack of oxygen. This is just a simple explanation, but the matter is much more complex.
With global warming and extensive agriculture around the world, the Baltic Sea could be a foretaste of what other oceans face in the future. The more we become aware of this, the better we can think about solutions and change our habits.
Hope on the horizon
It is still a long way to work on solutions that can counteract our destruction. I talked to an expert in the field of marine science, especially in the Baltic Sea. Mats Heitzmann is a surfer and diver, grew mussels on a prototype in the Flensburg fjord and recently came back from working on a seaweed farm in Norway. There are some projects and initiatives that try to counteract the dying of the Baltic Sea.
Mats says we urgently need to reduce the input of nutrients. Factory farming and manure are harmful. This is a task the politicians need to act upon though. The Baltic Sea naturally has a lower exchange of water compared to other oceans due to its geographical conditions. The only place where water is exchanged with the North Sea is Kattegat between Sweden and Denmark. Mats tells me that there is an underwater mountain range that makes the exchange of water difficult. Mostly huge storms with a west wind can bring larger amounts of saltwater into the Baltic Ocean but with climate change, these don’t happen regularly anymore.
Initiatives from the field of geoengineering trying to change this. The University of Gothenburg conducted a pilot study by pumping oxygen-enriched water to the seabed and with it airing the sea. Mats says it’s viewed critically as it is a symptom treatment and not addressing the root cause. But it could be a solution and in combination with other projects might work.
Can algae be useful?
Explicitly regenerating dead zones it’s not useful, it takes more than algae farms, Mats mentions. Also, algae treat the symptom, not the cause of the problem. Despite that algae-farms are the most sustainable form of agriculture or aquaculture. They don’t need fertiliser, antibiotics or fresh water. And the best thing is – their waste product from photosynthesis is oxygen. In combination with mussels, the water becomes clearer, there are fewer microalgae and the photosynthesis of the macroalgae is better. Algae farms also advertise taking nutrients out of the water and the seaweed can be used as biofertilizer for agriculture.
Own ways to act and step up for the bubble butt and its home
“You only protect what you know. With oceans, it’s difficult because most people associate it with something like holidays but don’t experience what’s underwater. Superficially, you only see the surface. Very few people have the opportunity to go diving. It’s very important to do educational work”, Mats describes.
The Baltic Sea looks like a desert in many places. For people that are not aware photos and movies are a good way to show them. Recently in politics mussel fishing was banned, Mats continues. We need to avoid single plastic waste and shop locally. There is no fish where stocks are endangered except for carp. In the Baltic Sea, the fishing of cod and herring just has been banned.
Mats explaines: “In my opinion, we shouldn’t eat any fish at all and aquaculture is no alternative.’’ There is a documentary about a Norwegian fish farm you might want to watch. It’s a toxic industry for the environment and not healthy at all.
As a consumer, we have a great responsibility, and power in the masses. Consume less meat, then there is less manure. In Europe, we have the possibility to live without any animal products.
If you want to get involved and help save the Baltic ocean there are a handful of organisations you can support and political engagement actually exists in every major city on the coast. Nabu Germany Baltic Sea Task Force, German Foundation for Marine Conservation, Seasheperd, Marine Mammal Conservation, Coral Reef Alliance or WWF – to name a few.
And just as butt implants are now getting removed, our little starfish was having a temporary bubble butt. It was just on top of a mussel, trying to crack it open for dinner.