Small rivers, springs, microplastics and energy conservation: the results of the scientific and practical conference of school students

In 2020, the annual interregional “Eco-monitoring of rivers and coasts of the Gulf of Finland and the environment” conference took place the 20th time. It combined its anniversary with an atypical format: for the first time in twenty years, the conference was held online (due to the sanitary and epidemiological situation with COVID-19). The event was organized by the non-profit organization “Friends of the Baltic” and the Center of additional education named Palace of Creativity at the Voznesensky Bridge.

2The conference brought together more than 70 high school students from 27 educational institutions of 18 St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region districts, including participants in the international River Watch program of the Coalition Clean Baltic, a crossborder Russian-Finnish project  SEVIRA project “Water meets people: learn, act and influence”  and the “Clean Springs – Healthy Baltics project supported by the Presidential Grants Foundation. The event was attended by novice young researchers and more experienced school students, as well as specialists from research institutes, universities, environmental organizations and educational institutions. This is how experiences are exchanged, and students learn from experts what was essential in their experiments and how they can improve their work in the future.

The water observations done by the conference participants comprised dozens of designated natural areas of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, which presently are in different environmental state. Thus, the data obtained as a result of the analysis of zooplankton in Lake Savozero confirmed the conclusion regarding the average degree of its pollution; and the data on the amount and diversity of macrozoobenthos in the Ivanovka River was an evidence for its moderate pollution. At the same time, bioindication of Lake Mokhovoe and the river Verevka showed a good state of water in these water bodies. Data on the Luga River along its length show a variety of states: from moderately polluted to dirty, while the environmental state of the Fontanka River is deteriorating every year (as integral factors show: water, adjacent soil and air layers, as well as the radiation background).

Thanks to the transboundary Russian-Finnish SEVIRA project, a research network is being developed in the waters of the Sestra and Seleznevka (Fin. Rakkolanjoki) rivers. Studies of the transboundary Seleznevka river have shown the species diversity of its flora and fauna, but analysis of water quality in natural sources feeding the Sestra River confirmed that it is unsafe to take water from them for drinking purposes.

After field trips to the Seleznevka and Sestra rivers done within the field seasons 2019-2020, the participants were inspired by the idea of ​​regular environmental monitoring of nearby water bodies. If you are also interested in this, share your observations, and we will add them to the public River Watch Map and the Sevira River Watch portal.

Thanks to the “Clean Springs - Healthy Baltic" project this year, the springs of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region were in a special focus of public observation. A study of socially significant springs in the Luzsky region showed that the water quality in them is satisfactory, but nitrates were detected in some springs and further monitoring is required. A small amount of phosphates was found in the Sestra river basin samples, and the authors plan to continue research. An increased content of nitrates was found in most of the explored springs and wells in Lodeynoye Pole; the researchers associate this with the septic tanks runoff from nearby private houses which indicates that the stepwise sedimentation of wastewater in septic tanks does not provide satisfctory wastewater treatment. Well water in the village of Zaol'shag, Pskov Region, does not contain nitrates but the authors drew attention to the importance of restoring old log wells to maintain good water quality in them, since these are the only sources of water supply in this area.

Much attention was paid to the problems of marine litter and microplastics. School students examined the coast of the bay for the presence of litter, river waters for the content of microplastics. Microplastic particles were found in the Kuzminka River. Their concentration is 10 times less than, for example, in the waters of the Gulf of Finland which is due to the fact that the bay accumulates all particles carried by the rivers running into it. Young scientists analyzed the sources of microplastics. Thus, based on the articles devoted to the study of cosmetics with microplastics, it they were able to estimate the proportion of polyethylene particles in the substance. It turned out that microplastic makes up to 8% of the mass fraction of the peeling gel. The amount of microplastic that can get into the waters of the Gulf of Finland in a year, if every family in St. Petersburg buys at least one bottle of such a gel, exceeds 20 tons. Newbie researchers urge to use less single-use plastics and choose sustainable alternatives in cosmetics, apparel, and everyday life.

The topic of climate and energy conservation also was present in the reports of the participants. The latter shared the results of mastering the methodology for measuring the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and their participation in the analysis of the research results of the Main Geophysical Observatory. These studies showed an increase in the concentration of CH4 and CO2 on the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula in 1985-2019. Students from the city of Sosnovy Bor analyzed the impact of wet cooling towers (cooling systems) of the LNPP-2 NPP on the climate, concluding that the 2-5% excess of humidity compared to the background can affect the climate in the long term. The topic of energy consumption was the subject of reports on the comparison of the energy efficiency of houses of different number of stories and on the use of economical LED lamps. Resource saving was mentioned in several reports, one of which was a study of the volume of waste in a family within a month (up to 29 kg).  Another report showed that about 4000 plastic bottles were used in a school within a year; the production of those took more than 1000 liters of oil and 12,000 liters of water. It was concluded that it is possible to save more than 630 cubic meters of oil and 7,500 cubic meters of water if this plastic is sent for recycling. The fact that the best solution is the rejection of single-use plastic, and the need to use reusable alternatives was discussed in the report of school students from the village of Lebyazhye. After examining the garbage on the coast of the bay, they decided to promote alternatives to plastic bags in their village, i.e. use textile eco-bags with the village logo.

The conference participants did not pass by the challenges of this year: a study of the most effective methods for disinfecting medical waste in medical institutions in the context of the massive use of protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic was carried out.

The conference took place with the support of the Committee on Education of St. Petersburg and the Presidential Grants Fund in the part of the Clean Springs - Healthy Baltic project, the Coalition Clean Baltic, and the SEVIRA project.

The collection of conference abstracts is available on the Friends of the Baltic’s website.