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Danish environmental organisations concerned over Nord Stream leaks impact

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Danish environmental organisations concerned over Nord Stream leaks impact
The Nord Stream pipeline explosions could have serious consequences for wildlife in the Baltic Sea. File photo: Forsvaret/Ritzau Scanpix

Sabotage at the Nord Stream pipelines near the Danish island of Bornholm last year may have resulted in increased pollution which threats natural habitats, a study has found.

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Damage to natural habits in the Baltic Sea area caused by explosions that resulted in the gas pipe leaks are a serious threat to species including the cod fish and porpoise, according to a study by researchers at Aarhus University and a number of ocean research centres and institutions in Denmark and Poland.

The study is currently in pre-print form, meaning it is yet to be peer reviewed.

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“This is very concerning for the Baltic Sea because the report shows that the explosion has degraded conditions in an area of the sea that is already in very serious and critical condition,” Maria Reumert Gjerding, head of the Danish Society for Nature Conservation, told broadcaster DR.

Four large gas leaks were discovered on Nord Stream’s two pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm at the end of September, with seismic institutes recording two underwater explosions just prior.

While the leaks were in international waters, two of them were in the Danish exclusive economic zone and two in Sweden’s.

Investigations by Danish and Swedish authorities have confirmed the leaks were due to sabotage and experts have said that only a state has the means to carry out such an operation.

Investigations have not identified who was responsible.

The explosions kicked up 250,000 tonnes of polluted seabed material including pollutants such as lead and the chemical group TBT. The latter substance can damage the ability of fish to reproduce according to senior researcher Hans Sanderson of Aarhus University’s Department of Environmental Science, who led the team of researchers from Denmark, Germany and Poland who produced the report.

“This can mean that fish which are exposed to these substances will get sick. Some of them will die and some for them will struggle to reproduce,” he said in comments to DR.

The issue is particularly critical because marine life in the Baltic Sea was already struggling.

“We have a number of fish populations that are dangerously close to collapse. That includes cod, for example,” Gjerding said to DR.

The researchers found that the explosions caused increased pollution in the Bornholm Trench to the east of the island, where cod breed. The northernmost explosion was close to an area where endangered porpoise breed.

Porpoises that were within a four-kilometre radius of the explosions are likely to have died of the shockwave, the researchers meanwhile concluded.

The explosions can destroy the hearing of nearby small whales and when the population of under 500 animals is already endangered, that could have disastrous effects, the report states.

“It is a serious issue if the leakage at Nord Stream proves to have major consequences for our environment. The effects appear to be local but the Baltic Sea was already under sever strain and we are therefore vary aware of the consequences,” environment minister Magnus Heunicke told DR in a written comment.

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