Accumulated sunken and dumped munitions, consisting of sea mines, torpedoes, bombs, shells and other explosives from the 20th century's two world wars in 1914 and 1939, have been identified as a threat to Baltic undersea life due to the release of toxic chemicals, which has been ongoing for over 100 years.
The total amount conventional munitions in German waters alone, which were dumped at the end of World War II in 1945, is estimated at about 300,000 metric tons.
Little thought was given to environmental consequences at the time; however, recent studies show that fish and other life around the restricted Kolberger Heide dumping area, have been affected by the release of toxins, including metabolites of TNT as well as traces of chemical weapons containing arsenic.
Kolberger Heide off the shores of Kiel alone is estimated to have about 35,000 metric tons of sea mines and torpedoes rotting away below the surface at a depth of 12 meters.
While they most likely pose no explosive threat after 7 decades underwater, the findings of DAIMON (Decision Aid for Marine Munitions) scientific project were presented at a conference in the Thünen and Alfred Wegner institutes in Bremerhaven Feb. 5-7, proving that indeed they remain a pollutant threat.
The DAIMON reports showcased that local biota, including sensitive dab flatfish, caught in the Kolberger Heide restricted area had increased tumor rates; the report further found that metabolites of TNT can also be mutagenic and carcinogenic, which, through bioaccumulation, could end up affective humans.
Despite the efforts of DAIMON, there seems to be little political will to remove the rotting former weapons of war or indeed public knowledge on the matter thereof.
The Baltic saw some military action by the Kriegsmarine and Red Navy in the final months of World War II. German Operation Hannibal evacuated civilians and military personnel from Prussia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland from mid-January 1945 onwards as the Red Army advanced west and reached the borders of the German Reich. Thousands of civilians lost their lives on hospital ships such as the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was sunk with 11,000 people on board, 5,000 of them children. It remains the world's deadliest ship sinking; by comparison, 1,503 lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.