A recent study by the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) shows that the Väike Strait's deteriorating environmental situation could be helped by constructing gaps in the dam (Väinatamm) leading from the island of Muhu to Saaremaa. The Ministry of the Environment has earmarked €150,000 for the purpose.
The residents of the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu have been trying to draw attention to the deteriorating condition of the strait, including through personal observations, for years.
"Things have changed to such an extent that I don't know where to begin. It is a different dam altogether. Everything has changed. The greatest single change is the reeds, which no one will get used to," professional fisherman Juhan Torn said.
"It was found in a study somewhere that the Väike Strait special conservation area sees 30-40 hectares of new reeds every year," Heiki Hanso, spokesperson for the Väike Strait Society, said.
Efforts to build openings in the dam started in the 1990s, with the loops at either end of the dam for detours dating from that period. But the work was left unfinished.
The Taltech study now shows that the situation of the strait is worsening because of the dam.
"The dam is having a considerable effect on local marine environment. Looking at the whole of Estonian territory, it is the hydrotechnical object with the single greatest environmental impact. The effects of the dam reflect in the water's physical and chemical properties, sediment and wildlife. We recommend alleviating those effects by creating openings in the dam," said Taavi Liblik, head of the marine physics department of the university.
The survey was the stimulus the Ministry of the Environment needed to start planning the work.
"Right now, we have earmarked €120,000-150,000 in next year's budget for Väinatamm gaps planning work, which is needed to make any future steps possible," Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas said.
The minister added that Estonia could apply for European subsidies for improving the situation of marine environment, building the openings.
"We expect the openings to cost around €3-4 million. Estonia has applied for project support in this volume every year, and I see no reason to believe no such measures will be offered for the coming years. I believe it is possible, but we need to get the first stage, the planning work done first," Kallas said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski