Roy Mathew

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Indo-German iron fertilization experiment (LOHAFEX) near Antarctica has been suspended pending independent assessment of the environmental impact of the experiment.

The suspension follows intervention by the German Ministry for Education and Research following pressure from environmental groups. The Montreal-based ETC group, the Indian Biodiversity Forum and others had protested against the experiment on the ground that it was fraught with severe ecological consequences and violated the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Subsequently, the German Ministry of Environment wrote to the Ministry of Research seeking its intervention.

India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) is collaborating with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany, and scientists from nine other institutions in India, Europe and Chile in the experiment which envisages dumping of about 20 tonnes of iron sulphate in the Scotia Sea near Antarctica to induce an algal bloom.

Green signal

Now, they plan to complete an environmental assessment shortly and get the go ahead from the German Ministry, according to information reaching here. The scientists had left for Antarctica a week ago on a ship carrying iron sulphate. The NIO has claimed in a document posted on its web site that LOHAFEX does not violate any existing international law. The CBD recommendation was aimed at preventing large-scale commercial ocean iron fertilization, making an exception for scientific experiments. “That such experiments were to be restricted to coastal waters was perhaps an aberration,” it said referring to objection to fertilization of outer sea. The NIO has pointed out that the algal bloom plays a key role in regulating concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide thus paving way for checking global warming). However, the environmental organisations maintain that the risks involved have not been assessed and that the moratorium under the CBD is declared until “there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities.”