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Ethical Considerations - Environmental Costs / Benefit Analysis

It is a crucial aim of Key Action 3 of Framework V is to `protect ecosystems from pollution.' It might be argued that the CYCLOPS project, by adding phosphate and SF6 tracer to a patch of the Mediterranean, is doing the exact opposite. However such a conclusion represents a superficial and short-sighted understanding of what is being proposed in this project.

Environmental Costs

All scientific activities, including this proposal, have an environmental cost either directly (use of energy, discharge of wastes) or indirectly (use of resources). The principal unusual environmental cost of this project results from the effects of adding phosphate and SF6 to Eastern Mediterranean surface waters during the field work phase of the project. Phosphate is being added as the possible limiting nutrient while SF6 is an inert tracer that allows the dispersion of the fertilised patch to be followed. The amount of phosphate to be added will be sufficient to increase the concentration of phosphate in the mixed layer (0-25m) by 100nM. To add this to a patch of water 4 km2 in area means adding 1.15 tonnes of phosphate fertiliser (27%P) each on a total of four occasions. To put this experiment in perspective, we will be adding to this small patch of water approximately 20% of the amount that is added naturally each winter to the same surface waters by upwelling processes. It is <0.07 % of the amount which used to be added to the basin by the River Nile flood and is approximately 15% of the amount which is added daily to Haifa Bay from the Kishon stream. The phosphate to be added is identical to the fertilizer that is applied routinely to the fields of Israel. In the amount used we do not expect there to be any detrimental effects to the ecosystem whatsoever. The very minor effect that we expect to see, a small increase in primary productivity, is likely to disappear within a matter of days to a few weeks.

SF6 is non-toxic and inert, posing no threat to marine life or to handlers, scientists or the general public. It is colourless and odourless and so causes no aesthetic problems. The amounts which will be used in this surface release (~ 200g) are negligible compared with the annual global production rate (currently 2000 tonnes per annum.) Larger amounts have already been used in the IRONEX and SOIREE experiments and in the CARUSO project (partially funded by the EC) to examine possible Fe limitation in the Southern Ocean.

The alternative of conducting similar experiments in bottles and microcosm experiments alone simply cannot provide the information which is planned here because of the effect of the bottle walls on ecosystem functioning, the lack of physical currents in enclosed systems and other experimental artefacts.

Environmental Benefits

The data we will obtain in this project is crucial to any comprehensive management plan of nutrient inputs to the environmentally sensitive ecosystem of the Mediterranean. If we do not even know which nutrient is limiting, how can we possibly decide how to develop the necessary directives and legislation to protect the system adequately nor create appropriate `green' technology. For example the development of P-free detergents, which are now used world-wide, was the result of scientific studies that showed that most rivers and lakes were P limited and being badly impacted by conventional detergents. A crucial component of these studies was the Canadian lakes project where P was added to a number of Canadian lakes showing conclusively they were P-limited.

Similar problems may be occurring in the Mediterranean. For example mariculture, which is rapidly growing industry in nations bordering the Mediterranean, simply discharges all its nutrient laden waste into the sea. The procedures and technologies being developed to reduce the nutrient content of the effluent concentrate entirely on reducing the flux of N. This may be entirely wrong for the Mediterranean where strategies to reduce P are likely to be crucial.

Legislative Framework

A preliminary request for permission to carry out this experiment has been made to the Environment Committee in Israel in accordance with the requirements of the Barcelona convention, which is the international treaty that applies to such activities in the Mediterranean. The Barcelona convention is in agreement with all relevant EC regulations. This request has been granted after the committee had looked at the possible environmental effects of this experiment and concluded that it is insignificant and within national and international regulations.

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