Caspian Sea Day points at problems

Caspian Sea day is being marked for the first time. It's the largest enclosed body of water in the world, a natural gem, and an industrial center shared by five countries including Russia. But massive oil production has dramatically deteriorated the envir

It is the world’s largest lake and home to about 400 different species, many of them rare. Around 70 percent of the world's caviar is also produced in the area.

There, 160 years ago, oil was extracted from beneath the ground for the first time ever. Since then gas production and related downstream industries have developed. But experts say the industry has harmed the region's unique environment.

Caspian Sea as seen from space
Caspian Sea as seen from space
“When they started to extract oil they used the worst technologies. The Azeri shore, where the first extraction took place, is in a sad state now. There is no fish closer than 20 kilometers from the coast in that segment,” notes Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF-Russia oil and gas programme coordinator.

In the Soviet era the sea was divided between Iran and USSR only.

Now five countries – Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – have a stake in the world's biggest lake. 

In 2003 the five nations signed a convention in Tehran on how best to protect the sea.

Earlier this year it was ratified, committing all the Caspian countries to reducing pollution of the waters.

But how effective it's going to be?

“To the extent the Caspian Sea's legal status is not clarified yet, the international law of the sea is not effective here, which means that most of the ships sailing here are not environmentally friendly,” emphasises Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF-Russia oil and gas programme coordinator.

“The number of tankers has increased in the Caspian Sea. Certainly, it's good for economics, but this method of transporting oil is very dangerous. It would have been better had they processed all the oil ashore,” adds Amirkhan Amirkhanov, Deputy Director of the Department of State Environmental Policy.

Earlier this year the first conference of the five states involved was held in Azerbaijan, where the parties agreed to establish the Day of the Caspian Sea.

The main idea of this holiday, first celebrated today, is to draw attention to the problems faced by the sea. Organisers say it's vital to take action now – before it's too late.