The wreck of the V-1302 John Mahn, a German ship sunk by British troops off the Belgian coast, continues to leak toxic agents to the bottom of the North Sea.
Although it is true that a sunken ship can become home to hundreds of marine species, and even encourage the outcropping of coral reefs, when it comes to military shipwrecks the story can be very different. These are usually a jumble of twisted metals, old unexploded bombs, and toxic waste. They are elements that, when they come into contact with the environment, alter the microbiology and geochemistry of the ocean floor for decades .
In this context, a team of researchers discovered that the wreck of the V-1302 John Mahn, a German trawler sunk by British troops off the Belgian coast during World War II, continues to significantly modify the conditions of the bottom of the North Sea on which it lies, including 80 years after sinking, according to new research published in Frontiers in Marine Science.
To examine the biochemistry and geochemistry of the site, the academics took samples of the steel hull, as well as of sediments around the boat.
After analyzing the samples, the experts found heavy metals, such as nickel and copper, harmful chemicals found in hydrocarbons, as well as arsenic and explosive compounds. The highest concentrations of pollutants were detected in the areas near the coal bunkers of the trawler.
These elements have not only transformed the chemical composition of the sediments has also influenced the composition of the local microbiome. According to the experts, a high number of microorganisms that degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was recorded, as well as the proliferation of sulfate-reducing bacteria, responsible for corroding the steel hull.
“In fact, his advanced age could increase the environmental risk due to corrosion, which is opening spaces previously closed. Therefore, its environmental impact continues to evolve”, commented Josefien Van Landuyt, co-author of the publication.
“We have only investigated one ship to have a better view of the total impact of shipwrecks in the North Sea. It would be necessary to take samples from a large number of shipwrecks in various places”, Van Landuyt stressed, insisting on the need to continue with this type of research.