Did you know that, in the summer, the transparency of the largest in Europe Curonian Lagoon is merely 20 cm and that, should you put your hand into the water, you would probably not see it? As stated by prof. dr. Marco Bartoli from the University of Parma in Italy, that happens due to the intensive growth of algae which causes water bloom and reduces its transparency.
Lack of public attention to environmental research
Marco Bartoli, who has been working for Klaipėda University and making it known outside Lithuania for several years, started biogeochemical studies of the Curonian Lagoon in 2009. As prof. Bartoli states, it all started due to the similarity of the environment in Lithuania and Italy: “Nemunas is the largest river in Lithuania, and its basin in the continental part is similar to that of the largest Italian river Po. The basins of both rivers are densely populated by people and intensively used for agriculture and animal farming.” This kind of development is economically beneficial, but the scientist also notices the other side of the coin: “We examine nutrients, e.g., the movement of phosphorus in the environment. The Nemunas River takes the phosphorus from the fields to the Curonian Lagoon, and then it gets into the Baltic Sea. In the Baltic Sea, the phosphorus causes water bloom due to which green mass of water accumulates at the coast. Algal decomposition results in oxygen depletion deeper in the water and consequently, massive death of living organisms.”
The condition of the Curonian Lagoon is also affected by climatic conditions. ” In the summer, when it is warm and there are no wind-generated waves, algae are growing very rapidly and cause damage to the local economy, tourism, and fishing. Paradoxically, algae consume more oxygen than they produce”, explains prof. Marco Bartoli. .
The research carried out since 2009 allows us to understand the impact of economic activity, animal farming, and fertiliser use on the quality of water in the Nemunas River and the Curonian Lagoon. Nonetheless, prof. Bartoli worries about insufficient attention and financial resources for such environmental research: “This is a small, but a very important niche, much more important than the general public tend to think. People fell trees, cultivate lands, and turn them into large cereal fields. Our activity is aimed at a narrow niche: we present the findings of our research and try to prove that there are environmentally friendly alternatives for all these activities.”
Excellent infrastructure facilities at Klaipėda University
Prof. Bartoli, who has been conducting research together with scientists of Klaipėda University, names students’ inquisitiveness and motivation as one of the differences between the work in Italy and Lithuania. “Some Italian students are lazyish, unlike Lithuanian students who are interested, diligent, and willing to learn. Sometimes I get a headache, as Lithuanian students ask many more questions than their Italian peers. Still, as a teacher, I enjoy it,” jokes prof. Bartoli.
Another difference is the infrastructure. According to prof. Bartoli, the laboratory equipment, especially for biogeochemical research, is much better than in Italy: “For the last couple of years, students from Italy have an opportunity to do their traineeships here and write their final master’s theses. They return home astonished by the quality of the infrastructure in Lithuania.”
The Italian scientist who comes to Lithuania at least three times a year says that he best likes Lithuanian people and nature. “I like enthusiastic and curious Lithuanian people. The most surprising thing is that Lithuanians are like Italians in many aspects. And, of course, I admire your nature, and especially lagoons, rivers, and lakes. Thay are like a dream to me, as in Italy, we have not had that since the Roman times,” says Bartoli.
Text: Aistė Stalmokaitė