It’s no surprise to anyone who has been working on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay that the efforts have attracted worldwide attention. In addition to last fall’s Environmental Management of Enclosed Coastal Seas conference in Baltimore, which attracted participants from a couple dozen countries, there seems to be a continual stream of foreign visitors to science centers, environmental groups, and public agencies throughout our region.
What these visitors have often heard before coming is that, first and foremost, we are beginning to be able to point to some successes in terms of water quality and living resources; that somehow we have achieved this at least in part through a cooperative, consensus-based approach; that the effort involves multiple levels of government; that we try to deal with all the issues whatever the media — water, land, or air; that we work watershedwide throughout the Bay, the tributaries, and the adjacent lands; and that we have adopted an ecosystem approach, focusing on the results in terms of living resources and their habitat. Each wants to know how we have done this. In part, the answer often disappoints, because we have to reveal that this voluntary program is built upon a strong base of achievement under federal and state statutes that helped get the cleanup under way. At the same time, continued progress depends upon the willing engagement and participation of many different groups, public and private, and in some cases on changing the values and expectations of the public. These are difficult lessons to accept and understand for some, who may have come in the vain hope that we had found the secret to environmental improvement without regulations or engagement of the public.
Of all the areas of the world that have come to us, the one I have found most intriguing is the Black Sea, in part because it has received so little attention until recently, and in part because it exhibits many of the same attributes as the Chesapeake, although in a more advanced stage of decay than the Bay ever displayed. It is a nearly enclosed body of water with a coastline shared by several nations; it has naturally occurring anoxic conditions in its deeper waters; it is under a great deal of stress from both toxic chemicals and nutrients; it is subject to a wide variety of demands as a waste sink, a recreation area and as a traditional fishery resource; and it receives its fresh water from an immense watershed including a number of large rivers in the former Soviet Union and Danube.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference with a number of environmental officials from nations around the Black Sea — Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Georgia. We exchanged papers for discussion, the United States team presenting the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, and Boston Harbor experiences, the visitors writing about a variety of places, but focusing on the Black Sea. I had the dual task to critique the Black Sea papers and summarize the Chesapeake experience. While a book could be written about all the issues these papers raised, one impression stayed with me most.
What seems to be killing environmental management efforts in many of these nations surrounding the Black Sea isn’t so much the economic conditions or the overwhelming size of the cleanup required, although both clearly serve as deterrents to action. The heart of the problem seems to be related to the kinds of laws they are working with. First, the water quality standards all seem to be only ambient, and cannot be related to actual pollution sources; thus the permits have no real limits. Second, all levels of government — national, regional, and local — are empowered to regulate sources, but no one has the clear responsibility. Third, most nations have enacted a law that sets out broad and admirable environmental policies, but there is no basis for citizen enforcement of the law, so it means little in practice. Finally, compliance with the law is viewed as occurring only though strict enforcement, which seldom occurs; there is little recognition that enforcement is only one tool in the compliance tool box, and not a particularly efficient tool compared to public information about loadings from individual sources, peer pressure, publicity about violations, and other devices.
Looking at the Black Sea itself and comparing it with the way we in our region view the Chesapeake, there has been little effort by those organizing the Black Sea cleanup to engage the public; instead it is seen as a government-to-government undertaking. As we Americans from Puget Sound, Boston Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay said to them, our efforts depend on a real dialogue with a public who identifies with and cares about these special places — that the sounds of the names of these places must “stir the blood” — a concept that evidently carries through in translation, because they repeated it back to us.
We mentioned these things not in criticism of our colleagues from Eastern Europe, but more as ways for them to learn from our experiences, good and bad. The Chesapeake is a special place for its citizens, and that makes our work easier and more rewarding. Puget Sound evokes pine-covered islands and ferryboats with backgrounds of the snow-capped Olympics and downtown Seattle. Boston Harbor lay polluted for too many years before citizens realized what they had. And we value our skipjacks and tidal marshes and blue crabs as classic Chesapeake. We need to urge our friends across the sea to find the Black Sea’s equal to these images of our special places. Then they can begin to build with their publics toward success.