Coastal sea summit eyes natural, manmade woes
Hundreds of scientists, activists and government officials from around the world have gathered in Baltimore's Inner Harbor to compare notes on cleaning up the planet's troubled coastal waters.
From the Cheapeake Bay to the Seto Inland Sea in Japan, near-shore waters suffer similar insults - too many nutrients from sewage, fertilizer and air pollution, overfishing and habitat degradation.
What's quickly apparent from sitting in for a short while this morning on the four-day global summit is that progress in the uphill battle of restoring stressed and degraded ecosystems depends on one's perspective.
This 9th international conference on Environmental Management for Enclosed Coastal Seas (EMECS) has drawn a sizable contingent from Japan, and several speakers have touched on the devastation wrought earlier this year by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation's northeastern coast.
Many conference participants got an up-close look at a much less disruptive natural calamity oer the weekend because they arrived in Baltimore just before Hurricane Irene reached here. Indeed, several sessions planned Sunday morning were postponed in anticipation of the storm.
The Inner Harbor got off light this time, compared with the flooding brought by Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Indeed, at the conclusion of a talk outlining the challenges of managing coastal seas, Dr. Motoyuki Suzuki, chairman of Japan's Central Environmental Council, flashed up before-and-after photos of the Inner Harbor taken from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, where the summit is meeting. The images showed that the storm had not harmed any of the structures along the waterfront, prompting the speaker to say, "Beautiful!"
But the photo taken after the storm had passed showed a swath of caramel-colored water streaming out from Pier 6 by the concert pavilion - where the Jones Falls empties into the harbor. Evidently the storm washed signfiicant amounts of dirt, harmful bacteria and probably other pollutants down storm drains into the falls and ultimately the Inner Harbor.
It's storm-water runoff like that - every time it rains, even lightly - that's one of the biggest hurdles to making the harbor fit for human contact. Not the harm wrought by a a tsunami or a truly destructive hurricane, to be sure, but beneath the surface not exactly beautiful, either.
The conference, hosted by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Maryland Department of the Environment, meets here through Wednesday.
(2006 Baltimore Sun photo by Robert Hamilton)