The global depletion of fish stock can be traced to the dumping of chemical weapons in the English Channel in the 1920’s followed by the destruction of the oyster indurstry to the recent fish kills off Nova Scotia. An earlier Helsinki Commission report on sea dumped chemical weapons, stated that it expected in 2005 chemical releases from these weapons will begin to meet one-another in our ocean.
The Global Community, including news media, international leaders, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the United Nations has taken the position: “Out of Sight Out of Mind”, a position that is the “catalyst” for the continued destruction of our fish stocks and ocean. The OPCW insists that chemical weapons and their breakdown products hydrolyze in water, yet we detect them in our chemical weapons programs. According to one expert, Courtney Green on IDUM’s International Technology Advisory Board (ITAB), who carried out dumping operations in the North Sea for the British Army and wrote his master thesis on the dumping stated, that all the munitions are to be gone now! The reality is that underwater weapons are a point source emitter of pollution that will persist in the marine environment as a human carcinogen for thousands of years.
My recent visit to Digby, Nova Scotia on Friday 30 Jan 2016 revealed some findings that was contrary to what was being reported in the media. One fact, that stood out that CBC was reporting there were no more fish kills from a DFO News Conference earlier in the day but during our visit later in the day we were still finding dying fish the shallows.
We found dead crabs, starfish, and hairren earing rring some fish bleeding from the eyes and most of their stomach were empty. We were provided a video by local fishermen from earlier in the day when the seagull weren’t eating the dead fish on shore and were picking the fish up but then dropping them rather then consuming the fish.
DFO and the public needs to understand the the munitions aren’t going anywhere soon…other than into our Food Chain.
I hope everyone will take a few minutes to watch the short film clip below and SHARE with your friends and peers. Sea Dumped Weapons are the Greatest Threat to our Seas and Oceans. Chemical plums drift freely in our waters as Silent Killers destroying our global fish stocks. Sea Dumped Weapons, both Chemical and Conventional can be recovered globally, and reused as a Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Public.
Conventional munitions have been recovered in the past and used as a terrorist weapons causing death. Sea dumped weapons have killed people visiting the beach and fishermen. The chemical plums are the Silent Killers that are destroying our seas and oceans and will continue to until the waters are a chemical pool. Our Governments, Leaders and the United Nations need to do more to stop this catastrophic event. We need a Global Treaty on all underwater weapons that addresses human health and the environment. We can clean the weapons up, if the people allow the experts to address the munitions on risk and not politics.
Munitions become time-expired over time, obsolete, damaged or surplus that requires disposal actions. The seas and ocean has become a major garbage dump for underwater weapons, leaving a windfall (saving) for militaries to save money rather than paying for the disposal of their waste.
The first UK recorded dumping of chemical weapons took place in the English Channel in 1925. There are 1700 underwater weapons sites today in the OSPAR Commission “Protected Area” for the North East Atlantic.
The 1945 Potsdam Agreement signed by the Allied Leaders following WWII lead to global dumping of chemical and conventional weapons up until the 1970’s by “most countries” of the world.
In 1996 the Helsinki Commission stated that in 2005 Chemical Release from underwater munitions sites will begin to meet one-another until they become a worldwide concern.
In 2004 the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommened to the Canadian Government to Call on the United Nations for an urgent conference on sea dumped weapons. The Government of Canada never followed its own Senate recommendation to call on the UN. There are more than 3000 sites on the east coast of Canada including in the Bay of Fundy.
I recently visited Digby, Nova Scotia to see the devasation for myself. What I saw made me sick! We are running out of time to stop the devastation on our seas and ocean from sea dumped chemical and conventional weapons.
Chemical Releases (Silent Killers) from Underwater Weapons in our seas and ocean will destory our global fish stocks.
Please SHARE, I need your help to spread the word!
Hard to believe that I am trying to get a treaty to clean up underwater munitions only to find that the US is still dumping munitions. I hope you enjoy the news article below.
US Navy forces engage in maneuver training in the Philippine Sea, November 28, 2013. The massive amount of heavy metals and highly toxic compounds the Navy introduces into the environment will not be cleaned up by the Navy, nor will the Navy contribute to medical tests for people whose health may suffer. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman / US Navy)
The US Navy has been conducting war-game exercises in US waters for decades, and in the process, it has left behind tons of bombs, heavy metals, missiles, sonar buoys, high explosives and depleted uranium munitions that are extremely harmful to both humans and marine life.
Truthout recently reported that the Navy has admitted to releasing chemicals into the oceans that are known to injure infants’ brains, as well as having left large amounts of depleted uranium in US coastal waters. Now, the Navy’s own documents reveal that it also plans to use 20,000 tons of heavy metals, plastics and other highly toxic compounds over the next two decades in the oceans where it conducts its war games.
According to the Navy’s 2015 Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement (EIS), in the thousands of warfare “testing and training events” it conducts each year, 200,000 “stressors” from the use of missiles, torpedoes, guns and other explosive firings in US waters happen biennially. These “stressors,” along with drones, vessels, aircraft, shells, batteries, electronic components and anti-corrosion compounds that coat external metal surfaces are the vehicles by which the Navy will be introducing heavy metals and highly toxic compounds into the environment.
Just some of the dangerous compounds the Navy will be injecting into the environment during their exercises are: ammonium perchlorate, picric acid, nitrobenzene, lithium from sonobuoy batteries, lead, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, copper, nickel, tungsten, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, trinitrotoluene (TNT), RDX [Royal Demolition eXplosive] and HMX [High Melting eXplosive], among many others.
“None of these belong in the ocean’s food web, upon which we all depend,” Karen Sullivan, a retired endangered species biologist who cofounded West Coast Action Alliance, which acts as a watchdog of Naval activities in the Pacific Northwest, told Truthout. “Nor will the Navy be willing to clean it up, or even contribute to medical tests for people whose health may suffer.”
A worrying example of that fact: In August of this year, a lawmaker in Pennsylvania urged 70,000 residents across three counties whose drinking water was contaminated by the Navy to sue them, just to get funding to pay for blood tests to see how sick they had become.
Other examples of US citizens being treated as collateral damage abound. Just this October, the BBC reported on an Air Force Base leaking toxic chemicals into the sewer system, and the port of San Diego filed a federal lawsuit against the Navy for injecting an underground plume of toxic chemicals that threatens to contaminate the entire bay.
But stories like these are only the tip of an impending iceberg.
Experts Truthout spoke with warn that if the Navy gets its way, the next 20 years will see them causing far more environmental degradation and destruction up and down US coastal areas by way of widespread chemical and toxic contamination.
The Navy is, like all the other branches of the US military, ridiculously well-funded. Recent history shows that US military spending dwarfs the rest of the planet’s military spending.
“For the last half-century, US military spending has purchased the annihilation of millions throughout Southeast Asia, the Arab world, and Central Asia,” Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist and winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson prize for her work on depleted uranium (DU) and heavy metal contamination, told Truthout. “Accompanying that human annihilation has been environmental devastation and birth defects, from Vietnam to Iraq.”
Her strong words are backed by clear, cold facts that come from even mainstream media sources in the US, like Newsweek magazine, which in a 2014 article titled “The US Department of Defense Is One of the World’s Biggest Polluters” stated:
The US Department of Defence [sic] is one of the world’s worst polluters. Its footprint dwarfs that of any corporation: 4,127 installations spread across 19 million acres of American soil. Maureen Sullivan, who heads the Pentagon’s environmental programs, says her office contends with 39,000 contaminated sites.
Even as far back as 1990, the US Department of Defense had already admitted to creating more than 14,000 suspected contamination sites across the planet.
The US Safe Drinking Water Act defines “contaminant” as: ” … any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substance or matter in water. Drinking water may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. Some contaminants may be harmful if consumed at certain levels in drinking water. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk.”
Thus, contamination being a matter of scale, the government creates a “not-to-exceed” level based on what it knows about each contaminant, in order to minimize human exposure to each item on its massive list of contaminants.
However, the contamination guidelines don’t account for the kind of pollution perpetrated by the US Navy.
“What do you do when it’s massive quantities of contaminants in the ocean, and not your drinking water?” asked Sullivan, who worked at the US Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 15 years and is an expert in the bureaucratic procedures the Navy is supposed to be following.
She pointed out how “contamination,” or water pollution, is defined as “environmental degradation that occurs when pollutants are directly or indirectly discharged into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds.”
On that point she said, “None of the dangerous compounds being dumped into our waters by the Navy have ever been treated or removed, which leads to hearing this false choice: The cost of cleanup or removal would be exorbitant. Therefore, we should continue dumping as always, in perpetuity.”
Navy spokesperson Sheila Murray told Truthout that depleted uranium on the seafloor was no more harmful than any other metal, a statement that flies in the face of numerous scientific studies that have proven otherwise. Sullivan believes that, by making that statement, the Navy “has disavowed responsibility for all of this toxic ocean pollution.”
Savabieasfahani said that while the Navy may be content to add depleted uranium to the environment that already has high levels of man-made pollutants, we should not share its complacency.
“A cluster of worsening environmental phenomena go hand-in-hand with that accumulation of pollutants,” she told Truthout. “Global warming, mass extinctions, ecosystem collapse, food-web modification, physical and biological changes in organisms, endocrine disruption, and a pandemic of neurodevelopmental disorders in children accompany those rising background pollution levels. Peer-reviewed research is already showing steep declines in the biodiversity of ecosystems.”
How Much Contamination?
According to Sullivan, who studied the EIS, the Navy plans to introduce 20,000 tons of contaminants into the environment, which is the equivalent of dumping a load of toxins the size of a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier scattered throughout the seas and sounds of coastal Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
As staggering as that amount is, it does not even include contaminants that have been released over the last six decades of Naval exercises in oceans around the globe (the plans mentioned in these documents are limited to Pacific Northwest waters).
The aforementioned list of toxic compounds the Navy has, is and is planning to release into the environment via its exercises are documented in EPA Superfund site lists as known hazards and all of them are highly toxic at both acute and chronic levels.
For example, perchlorates are highly soluble in water and according to the EPA, “generally have high mobility in soils.” They have been found in breast milk, target the thyroid gland and affect children and fetuses more than they affect adults.
Lithium causes behavioral changes that, in large animals and humans, can be fatal. Ingestion of merely one to two grams of picric acid would cause severe poisoning. TNT remains active underwater, can bioaccumulate in fish, including salmon, and can cause developmental and physiological problems, according to scientific studies. HMX and RDX explosives are both well documented to be extremely toxic and dangerous.
Sullivan says all of this raises questions about why there are no regulations preventing the creation of Superfund sites (polluted locations that require intensive clean-up) in the ocean. “We depend on salmon, yet the Navy is creating massive ecosystem-wide pollution right under our noses,” Sullivan said. “How can they not see that it will be generations from now who reap the bitter harvest?”
Savabieasfahani agreed and took it a step further, issuing a dire warning.
“Toxic metals, such as lead and uranium, are biomagnified,” she explained.”‘Biomagnification’ means that toxins get more concentrated in an organism which ingests plants or animals containing that toxin. For example, contaminated fish can pass on large doses of toxin to their human consumers.”
The 20,000 tons of contaminants the Navy plans to release into the ocean in the coming years do not include the additional 4.7 to 14 tons of “metals with potential toxicity” that will be “released” annually in the inland waters of both Puget Sound and Hood Canal, according to Naval documents. Given that those numbers are for one year only, in 20 years, between 94 and 280 tons of heavy metals will be released inland (in addition to what will be released in the open ocean).
It is also worth noting that two actual Superfund sites along Washington’s inland shorelines are both on Naval property.
“In addition to the toxic contaminants deliberately dumped, what happens to their land-based toxic brews when torrential rains like we had in October overwhelm storm water runoff systems?” Sullivan asked, then provided the answer. “They end up in Puget Sound and Hood Canal.”
Devils in the Details
Naval documentation also reveals that over the next 20 years, the weights of the various contaminants include 6,739 tons of unrecoverable sonobuoys (including their animal-entangling parachutes and batteries which leach lithium for 55 years), and 396 tons of small-caliber rounds, the latter comprising only 2 percent of the total weight of “expended materials.”
The Navy’s flares, which weigh between 12 and 30 pounds apiece, are used 824 times annually, adding up to 16,480 flares weighing between 200,000 and 500,000 pounds over 20 years. The Navy admits that the flares leave toxic residues whenever they are used, saying, “Solid flare and pyrotechnic residues may contain, depending on their purpose and color, an average weight of up to 0.85 pounds of aluminum, magnesium, zinc, strontium, barium, cadmium, nickel, and perchlorates.”
Meaning, at a minimum, seven tons of toxic pyrotechnic residues are to be introduced into Pacific Northwest waters in the next 20 years.
Looking at explosives for training alone, the Navy plans to use 29,024 pounds annually, amounting to 290 tons over the next two decades.
Another issue is unexploded ordnance, or, as it’s commonly known, “duds.”
At current Navy rates for duds only, we would see an additional nine tons of dangerous residual explosive material fired into Pacific Northwest waters every 20 years, sitting on the ocean floor, leaching dangerous toxics.
Moreover, not all contaminants immediately sink and bind to or get encapsulated by sediments. Some materials can be transported by ocean currents. Because the Navy’s EIS uses ocean dispersal and chemical degradation as its rationale for claiming no adverse impacts on species or habitats — anywhere, ever — it should be noted that the expended material from local warfare exercises may not tell the whole story. In other words, perhaps all of the contaminants in question should be added together to get an idea of the full impact.
For example, every other year, according to the Navy, they are authorized to dump up to 352,000 pounds of expended military materials, by way of them being shot, dropped and exploded, into the Gulf of Alaska. This includes up to 10,500 pounds of hazardous materials, such as cyanide, chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, barium chromate, chlorides, phosphorus, titanium compounds, lead oxide, potassium perchlorate, lead chromate, ammonium perchlorate, fulminate of mercury and lead azide. The Navy is dumping much of it into Essential Fish Habitat in the Gulf of Alaska at peak times of fishery and marine mammal presence, impacting and harming a multitude of species. They are also carrying out a similar dumping process in Pacific Northwest waters.
In the Navy’s 2015 Northwest Training and Testing EIS, it quotes several studies, saying, “contamination of the marine environment by munitions constituents is not well documented.” This is often the Navy’s claim, used to show its actions are not deleterious to the environment, when “not well documented” actually means that it has not looked for or measured its impacts on the environment. Regardless, the need for more data does not mean it is scientifically sound to assume there has been no damage.
In the section of the 2015 EIS on Cumulative Impacts, the Navy says, “Long-term exposure to pollutants poses potential risks to the health of marine mammals, although for the most part, the impacts are just starting to be understood.” The impacts include ” … organ anomalies and impaired reproduction and immune function.” There are multiple other examples of such doublespeak within the Navy’s own documents.
Another example is in the EIS section on Sediments and Water Quality, where the Navy claims that “slow but significant removal” of two types of explosive material (RDX and HMX) happens through a chemical reaction whose speed is dictated by the pH [acidity] of seawater. Adequate proof is not provided by the Navy, yet risks to human health from these toxins has been extremely well documented.
It could be argued that the Navy’s gross negligence of its environmental impacts amounts to a federal agency passing off wishful thinking as science. The toxic legacy of this negligence will be passed down to generations far beyond our own.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.
His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon.
Dahr Jamail is the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.
I got up out of bed today wondering how I would continue to create awareness on the devastation, that more than 60 years of sea dumping of weapons are having on our human health and depleting fish stocks. Thousands of underwater munitions sites off Nova Scotia, sites in the St Laurence River, Great Lakes, West Coast of Canada, 1700 sites in the North Sea, sites on the Great Barrier Reef, and the list goes on.
In our CHEMSEA (Search and Assessment for Chemical Weapons), EU Funded Program, we learned that in munitions sites the Cod fish has tumors, stress on their kidneys and livers, and extra fish diseases. Most alarming to me, was the impact on the juvenile fish ability to reproduce that could have a major impact on the global decline of fish stocks. We also found that arsenic from the mustard gas is spreading across the Baltic Sea Seafloor.
Sea dumped chemical and conventional munitions, can also be easily recovered and reused on the public as a terror weapons. This was demonstrated with presentations at a side event at Organsaition for the Prohibition of Chemical (OPCW) HQ in cooperation with IDUM, Lithuanian Ambassador, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister and a Dutch Munitions Expert.
Last month, I received a request for assistance in The Hague, The Netherlands from an Ontario family in Canada, who’s child picked up a bomb on a beach near Halifax and put it in their car driving it more than 1000 kilometers from Nova Scotia to Ontario, putting themselves and the public at risk. After receiving the request, I informed the family to get away from the bomb and contact the Police to request EOD assistances.
I am aware of five Canadians killed in Canada and five Americans killed in the US from sea dumped munitions. In US and Baltic waters chemical weapons have burn people, including children, and where munitions and lumps of mustard gas are regularly caught in nets along with fish for humans consumption. Most recently, at the 8th Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS, they adopted Resolution: Addressing the Threats from Underwater Munitions, identifying the threat from both conventional and chemical underwater munitions.
Underwater Chemical and Conventional Weapons are:
Human Health Threat
Energetic (explode) Threat
Recover and Reuse Threat
In 2004, First Nations and I attended, Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans Hearings in Ottawa, as an expert witness and People impacted by underwater weapons. The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended:
• Must be greater federal government involvement by departments and agencies other than Department of National Defense (DND)
• Must be a substantial, long-term, financial and scientific commitment by federal government
• Government of Canada should call on the United Nations to organize a conference with several other coastal countries on this serious issue.
The Senate Committee Recommendation are vault today for the Government of Canada to implement. More importantly, this is an opportunity for a Country/Leader to become a champion on at the United Nations on underwater munitions.
If these Silent Killers are left unchecked in our waters, the chemical releases from them will eventually meet one another destroying fish stocks and our ocean. There isn’t one treaty, convention or protocol that addresses chemical, conventional or radiological underwater weapons. We need an urgent United Nations conference to discuss policy, science, technology and potential responses. Sea dumped munitions effects coastal and landlocked countries that consume fish, thereby being a multilateral concern. We need constructive engagement at the United Nations, rather than disengagement to develop solutions, partnership, and create greater international cooperation.
But most of all we need an international Leader like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada to understand our concerns to “Call on the United Nations” for a conference on underwater munitions.
By the end of the day, I felt like the tides may be changing after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We did not discuss underwater munitions, I only had an opportunity for a photo and to shake hands. Hopefully, there is an opportunity in the future to engage his Government to discuss a global underwater munitions conference.
Terrance P. Long, Chair, International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM) & International Technology Advisory (ITAB) on Sea Dumped Weapons (SDW’s), The Hague, The Netherlands
Sean Smyrichinsky found the mystery object during a recent diving trip near Banks Island.
My god, I found a UFO. I found the strangest thing I’d ever seen!- Sean Smyrichinsky
“I got a little far from my boat and I found something that I’d never ever seen before,” he recalled. “It resembled, like, a bagel cut in half, and then around the bagel these bolts molded into it.”
When he got back to the ship he tried to describe the object to his crew.
“I came out from the dive and I came up and I started telling my crew, ‘My god, I found a UFO. I found the strangest thing I’d ever seen!'”
Smyrichinsky started asking around and was told the story of Convair B-36B, a U.S. Air Force bomber that crashed off B.C. in 1950.
In a book published earlier this year, historian Dirk Septer traces the story of that flight, summarizing it in publicity documents as a Cold War drama:
“Just before midnight on February 13, 1950, three engines of a US Air Force B-36 intercontinental bomber caught fire over Canada’s northwest coast. The crew jumped, and the plane ditched somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Almost four years later, the wreck of the bomber was found accidentally in a remote location in the coastal mountains of British Columbia, three hours’ flying time in the opposite direction of where it was supposed to have crashed.
“After years of silence, the United States finally admitted to losing its very first nuclear bomb; the incident was its first Broken Arrow, the code name for accidents involving nuclear weapons. But was the bomb dropped and exploded over the Inside Passage, or was it blown up at the aircraft’s resting place in the mountains?”
The lost bomb was a Mark IV. As soon as Smyrichinsky looked it up on Google Images, he recognized it as the object he had found.
“It was a piece that looked very much like what I saw,” he said. “The plane that was carrying the bomb, it crashed 50 miles south of where I found that object.”
“What else could it possibly be? I was thinking UFO, but probably not a UFO, right?”
Major Steve Neta of the Canadian Armed Forces confirmed the location of Snyrichinsky’s find does coincide with the site of the 1950 crash.
Neta also said records indicate the lost bomb was a dummy capsule, and so there is little risk of the object being a nuclear weapon.
“Nonetheless, we do want to be sure and we do want to investigate it further,” he said.
The Royal Canadian Navy ship deployed to investigate should arrive in the area in the next few weeks.
To hear Sean Smyrichinsky describe finding the object, click on the audio labeled ‘A discovery off B.C.’s north coast possible missing relic of Cold War‘.
For more stories from northern British Columbia, follow Daybreak North on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to the podcast.
Pasta http:// Link above in your browser to see pictures related to article.
By Dr. Alex Souchen, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies
The view was simply magnificent. Looking across Halifax Harbour from Dartmouth, I could see a bustling waterfront full of people and tourist shops. Sea gulls flew overhead while several boats traversed the upper harbour heading out toward the Atlantic Ocean. The breeze was salty, the air was warm, and the skies were clear and sunny. But the beautiful scenery obscured the dangers hidden far below the surface. Along coastlines around the world, a threatening legacy of war and disarmament lays buried in the seabed: dumped conventional and chemical munitions. Primarily thrown in the oceans between the 1920s and 1970s, these tools of death and destruction are now corroding away and polluting their surrounding marine environments with toxic chemicals and carcinogens. The total amount dumped at sea in the twentieth century remains unknown, but experts estimate that roughly 1 billion tons of conventional and chemical munitions were disposed of in the oceans. Depending on whom you ask, opinions on the dangers will vary. Some scientists believe that underwater munitions should be left where they are and monitored closely for any serious changes, while others consider them an unfolding environmental disaster and advocate for their immediate removal.
Conventional (left) and chemical (right) munitions being dumped at sea after the Second World War.
Source: (above left) Imperial War Museum, H42207.
I was in Halifax in late June at the invitation of Terry Long, Chairman of the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM) and a retired explosives disposal expert from the Canadian Armed Forces. Terry’s position on underwater munitions is crystal clear: he believes they are one of the greatest threats to human health and marine ecosystems. For the past twenty years, he’s been working towards creating a binding international treaty to clean up the oceans (his recent online petition can be found here). In an effort to engage the next generation of students and activists, Terry co-organized a week-long summer school for young scientists interested in underwater munitions at the Waterfront Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College. Despite my lack of scientific training, I decided to attend and learn what I could about the science and ecology of underwater munitions.
A small collection of recovered underwater munitions. Source: Alex Souchen, Photos from MODUM.
The workshop was sponsored by MODUM, a catchy acronym derived from a NATO Science for Peace and Security initiative titled: “Towards the Monitoring of Dumped Munitions Threat.” MODUM was a three-year program established in 2013 under the direction of Dr. Jacek Beldowski, a Researcher at the Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences (IOPAS) and an expert in heavy metals and marine toxicology. MODUM’s goal was to find and monitor the sites where chemical munitions were dumped in the Baltic Sea after the Second World War. It was supported by the international collaboration of many environmental scientists, oceanographers, marine biologists, and weapon experts from Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Russia, and the Baltic states. It consisted of three phases that included testing, surveying, and monitoring at three dump sites: the Bornholm Deep, Gotland Deep, and the Gdansk Deep. Although I was not involved in MODUM, it was clearly an important stepping-stone for data collection that will assist with future projects such as DAIMON or “Decision Aid for Marine Munitions” which just received funding from NATO until 2019.
A quick glance around the classroom revealed the best and worst things about MODUM. In total, there were about 20-22 students and 5-7 instructors participating from 8 different countries. No doubt these were significant numbers, but by my estimate they accounted for maybe 10-15 percent of all scholars engaged in studying underwater munitions. These numbers will need to increase in the future if the field is to survive and expand its focus beyond the Baltic region. However, in the short-term the smaller numbers might be a good thing, as a narrow cadre of expertise is essential to forging familiar and collaborative relationships across multiple disciplines and methodologies.
The workshop demonstrated the value of these collaborative relationships. Throughout the week, we learnt that the study of underwater munitions is dependent on the relay of information from one cluster of expertise to the next. Whether it’s locating new dump sites and surveying them or testing samples and deciphering the levels of risk, contamination, and toxicity, each branch builds from the information provided by the others. However, it was also abundantly clear that the corridors of information ended when the chain reached its last cluster of expertise. From what I could gather, most scientists studying underwater munitions haven’t considered educating the public a major priority – either by relaying their findings directly or by establishing a central archive to house all of MODUM’s records for posterity.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I learnt at MODUM had nothing to do with underwater munitions and everything to do with how disconnected these scientists are from public engagement. Not a single scientist I met had a Twitter account or made much of an effort to disseminate their activities and research findings outside of academic circles. I was shocked. I was the only person in the room posting anything to social media (#MODUM) for the whole week. Obviously the science is difficult to explain to an audience in a 140 characters or less, but without better public engagement it’s no wonder that few people have ever heard about underwater munitions! Moreover, a robust online presence might have attracted more attention from the news media. Unfortunately, no journalists accepted invitations to attend MODUM or interview participants. This was quite striking and worrisome considering the wider economic, political, social, and environmental dangers of underwater munitions, particularly in reference to the off-shore petroleum industry and oil exploration in known dumping grounds like the Shelburne Basin.
The MODUM workshop offered students a whirlwind tour-de-force of all the various elements involved in the study of underwater munitions. First, we learnt about the historical background, though these lessons were taught by those without history degrees or much appreciation for context and causation. Perhaps, next time, a historian should teach the historical components. However the workshop’s main focuses were not historical, they were scientific and practical. We next learnt about the interdependency of the scientific fields investigating underwater munitions and gained a hands-on approach to data collection and analysis. In a very short time, we were taught the basics of ecology, marine biology, analytical chemistry, oceanography, and environmental science. Classroom lessons covered the sources of contamination, corrosion and sediment rates, chemicals and derivative products, biomarkers and fish diseases, water quality, benthic fauna, toxicity, risk assessment, diffusion models, and operational instructions for the scientific equipment. Perhaps the most exciting part was spending time in the field where students got a chance to drive an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) and take water and sediment samples. We also planned and executed a survey mission for an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) which mapped a portion of the Bedford Basin with side-scan sonar and analyzed the images to determine possible locations of underwater munitions.
Left: Deploying the AUV in the Bedford Basin. Middle: The AUV heading off on its survey mission. Right: Analyzing the survey’s results. The images were created by side-scan sonar. Source: Alex Souchen, Photos from MODUM.
Overall, I’m glad I attended the MODUM Summer School in Underwater Munitions. I learnt a great deal about the science and ecology of underwater munitions and it was a great opportunity to network with other experts across many disciplines, countries, and professions. MODUM also taught me a lot about the value of the humanities and social sciences. This lesson dawned on me after a particularly dense presentation of mathematical and scientific formulas, graphs, and data. Much like historians, scientists explore change over time but their vision is grounded in the natural world which has constant and measureable qualities, rules, and truths. Apart from the scientists performing the experiments, the scientific method seems devoid of human agency. In a way, the scientist has it easy: humans are inherently harder to study than the natural world. Unlike humans the environment doesn’t lie, have emotions, or a conscience, while humans are erratic, difficult to quantify, and their experiences cannot be recreated in laboratories. The value of the humanities and social sciences is their appreciation for human agency and the study of human-driven evidence. The field of underwater munitions needs more historians since we are trained to decipher the chaos of past events, contend with gaps in the evidence, and contextualize human actions and reactions. A better knowledge of history will undoubtedly improve scientific inquiry, but most importantly, it will boost public engagement by infusing sources of human interest and agency into a serious political, economic, social, and environmental issue.
 “Shell Canada gets Green Light to Drill for Oil Off Nova Scotia Coast” CBC News, 20 October 2015 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/shell-canada-subsea-blowouts-nova-scotia-drilling-1.3280181
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International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM) has a new website to support our present and future activities. We still have work to populate our site, as a repository on underwater munitions and welcome your input including underwater pic’s. We hope IDUM, can be a focal point in the future for you and your organization on underwater munitions policy, science, technology and responses. IDUM, welcomes new and previous like-mined members and organizations, to renew their commitment by becoming a member for 2017. Our members consist of the public, private sector and national and international organizations. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Terrance P. Long