August 12 is the Day of the Caspian Sea. It is considered a turning point in the history of the Caspian Sea environmental cooperation. In 2003, five Caspian littoral countries signed the "Convention on the Conservation of the Caspian Sea Environment" known as “Tehran Convention".

The convention became binding on August 12, 2006, and all countries celebrated the treaty as an important event, and since then it has been called "The Day of the Caspian Sea".

The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed inland body of water in the world. It borders to the Islamic Republic of Iran on the south, Russia on the north, Russia and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the west, and the republics of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan on the east. Categorized as the largest lake and sometimes the smallest self-sufficient sea of the planet, it has an area of approximately 400,000 square kilometers and is below the high seas. About 130 rivers flow into the Caspian Sea, the most important of which are Volga, Sefid Rud, Aras and Haraz.

The main economic feature of the Caspian Sea is its oil and gas. Caspian oil was discovered in 1923 in Baku the capital of the Azerbaijani Republic. The proven oil reserves are 32 billion barrels, which is about 4% of the total oil reserves in West Asia. The potential oil reserves in this area are estimated at around 163 billion barrels. Another feature of this sea is the unique nature which has turned it into the habitat of variegated flora and fauna. There are 575 plant species, 1332 animal species and 850 fish species in this region. This blue zone is also favorable for the life and growth of the world's finest fish, especially sturgeon. 90% of the world sturgeon is caught in this sea. Moreover, one of the rare aquatic mammals of the world lives in this sea which is called the Caspian Seal.

The enclosed nature of the Caspian Sea has made this region vulnerable to agricultural, industrial and oil pollutions. Today pollution is a serious problem for this vast sea. The major polluters are humans, industry, agriculture, pesticides and oil which enter the Caspian Sea from almost the entire 5580 km of coastal strip, as well as the rivers pouring into the Caspian Sea. Furthermore, commercial ships make a major problem as they increasingly transfer pollution in this vast sea. Flowing of annually 122,350 tons of pollutants from the Caspian littoral states, especially the pollution caused by the exploration and extraction of oil, has contaminated this vast water body and endangered the marine species of the sea.

Every year thousands of tons of oil enter the Caspian Sea, which poses a serious threat to the coastal environment. The major impacts of water pollution with oil are the contaminations that reduce the number of marine aquatics and cause the death of fish. Oil is absorbed via the skin of marine aquatics, and part of the oil also contaminates the sea in the form of sediment. Part of the oil also makes a thin layer on the sea surface preventing the penetration of sunlight.

Studies show that the Republic of Azerbaijan, with an approximately one million barrels of oil production per day, is the main polluter in the region. Azeri oil fields of Guneshli, Chirag, Absheron, Nakhichevan, Moghan, Deniz, as well as oil refineries and Baku petrochemical plants, are sources of pollution in the Caspian Sea. In addition, the Caspian Sea is the destination of the main part of Baku wastewater which, combined with oil pollution, has formed the most enduring contamination in the region.

Although there are no figures of Russia's share of pollution in the Caspian Sea, it can be important because, in addition to common pollutions caused by other littoral countries, the navigable channel of the Volga, which is 101 kilometers long and connects the North Sea to the Caspian Sea, transfers the pollution of high seas to the Caspian Sea and endangers the life of various species. Moreover, the discharge of millions of liters of the tankers’ waters, which transfer aggressive species to this sea, coupled with pouring the surplus fuel, has failed the efforts to clean the sea.

The five Caspian Sea littoral states’ concern over the environmental damage of this water basin has urged them to cooperate to preserve and restore living resources for present and future generations. Thus, since 1998, the joint efforts to preserve the Caspian Sea environment have begun, and in 2003 the "Convention for the Conservation of the Caspian Sea", known as the "Tehran Convention", was signed and the convention has become binding since 2006. Henceforth, 4 Protocols have been prepared with the cooperation of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the member states of the Convention and reviewed at various expert meetings.

The Protocol of "Preparedness, Reaction, and Regional Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Accidents" is among these protocols, according to which the contracting parties should adopt all appropriate measures to prepare for and react against oil pollution accidents and create a national oil pollution response system. The Protocol on the Protection of the Caspian Sea against Pollution Caused by Land-based Resources and Activities, the Protocol for the Conservation of the Biodiversity of the Caspian Sea and the Protocol on the Assessment of Transboundary Environmental Effects are also among the other protocols approved by all Caspian Sea littoral states.

Since governments are not the only players in coastal management, environmental management on the Caspian shores also requires a cross-cutting approach. In this regard, the conditions and facilities for the participation of the private sector at the national and regional levels should also be provided. Integrated coastal zone management has also been proposed as a new approach to reduce environmental problems in the Caspian Sea. This approach is based on the principles of sustainable development which creates a balance between economic development and the conservation of coastal environment.

However, the severe environmental risk that threatens the Caspian Sea is itself a reason for the environmental concerns of this sea to be taken into account in any negotiations among the Caspian Sea littoral states. Certainly, the necessary condition for proper exploitation of the Caspian Sea resources is the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement among littoral states in reaching common interests and coping with the common threats posed by environmental hazards.

AS/ME

Aug 12, 2017 11:26 UTC
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