HELCOM Decisions: agreement on indicators and adoption of threshold values
HELCOM publishes core indicator reports for agreed core indicators. The agreement on indicators and adoption of threshold values is subject to study reservations upheld by the Contracting Parties of HELCOM. Study reservations are listed in meeting outcomes and are not reflected below.

HELCOM HOD 39-2012 (outcome para 2.20) agreed on the threshold values (referred to as targets) of the core indicators 'Nitrogen (DIN)', 'Phosphorous (DIP)', 'Water clarity', 'Chlorophyll-a' and 'Oxygen debt'.

HELCOM Copenhagen Ministerial Meeting 2013 adopted the targets for maximum allowable input (MAI) of nitrogen and phosphorous used in the core indicator 'Inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous to the basins'. 
HELC​OM HOD 41-2013 (outcome para 2.45)  agreed on a list of biodiversity- and hazardous substance core indicators.

HELCOM HOD 48-2015 (outcome para 3.63, Annex 4) agreed on the threshold values (referred to as GES-boundaries) for the core indicators ​'Abundance of coastal fish key functional groups', 'Abundance of key coastal fish species', 'Abundance of salmon spawners and smolt', 'Abundance of seatrout spawaners and parr', 'Abundance of waterbirds in the breeding season', 'Distribution of Baltic seals', 'Population trends and abundance of seals', 'Nutritional status of marine mammals' (later changed to only evaluate seals), 'Reproductive status of seals' (later changed to only evaluate seals), 'Trends in arrival of new non-indigenous species', 'Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD)', 'Metals', 'Polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDE)', 'Perfluorooctane suylphonate (PFOS)', 'Radioactive substances: Cesium-137 in fish and surface waters' and 'White-tailed eagle productivity'. Further the meeting agreed on the concepts for the thresholds values of 'Number of drowned mammals and waterbirds in fishing gear' and 'Zooplankton mean size and total stock' noting that no quantitative values had been proposed

HELCOM HOD 50-2016 (outcome para 4.48, Annex 4) adopted the theshold values (referred to as GES boundaries) for the core indicators 'Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and dioxin and furan', 'Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and their metabolites' and 'TBT and imposex'. 

HELCOM HOD 51-2016​ (outcome para 6.10, Annex 3) adopted the threshold values for the core indicator 'State of soft-bottom macrofauna community' for four assessment units and revised thershold values for 'Metals' for the parameters Cd and Pb in all open sea assessment units. 

HELCOM 38-2017 (outcome para 4.19, Annex 5) adopted the threshold values for the core indicators 'Cyanobacterial blooms index', 'Total nitrogen (TN)', 'Total phosphorous (TP)' and adopted threshold values for additional assessment units for the core indicators 'Oxygen debt' and 'State of soft-bottom macrofauna community'.

Regarding the threshold values adopted in the HELCOM core indicators HELCOM HOD 51-2016 (outcome para 6.8) agreed on the following clarification in relation to threshold values used in the EU MSFD context:
" At this point in time, HOLAS II indicators and threshold values should not automatically be considered by the Contracting Parties that are EU Member States, as equivalent to criteria threshold values in the sense of Commission Decision (EU) 2017/... laying down criteria and m​ethodological standards on good environmental status, but can be used for the purposes of their MSFD obligations by those Contracting Parties being EU Member States that wish to do so."

​​core indicators ​are the basis for HELCOM Assessments

​HELCOM core indicators form the basis for HELCOM environmental assessments as defined in the HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment Strategy​ which was adopted by the 2013 Copenhagen HELCOM Ministerial Meeting. The strategy outlines that the core indicators are to be regularly updated by the HELCOM Contracting Parties as core indicator reports to allow for periodical thematic- and holistic assessments.

The goal of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is to achieve good environmental status by 2021 and the status is to be assessed for a set of ecological objectives. A core indicator measures the progress towards reaching a BSAP objective. The HELCOM strategic goals and objectives are to a large extent comparable to the descriptors and criteria of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which stipulates that good environmental status is to be achieved by 2020. For those Contracting Parties of HELCOM that are also EU Member States, the core indicators can also be used to assess criteria under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

For assessment purposes, the Baltic Sea is sub-divided into assessment units in the Monitoring and Assessment Strategy Attachment 4 (also available through the Map and Data service). In thematic and holistic assessments, the status of individual indicators are aggregated to arrive at the status of an overarching theme, such as biodiversity. The second HELCOM holistic assessment​, which is to be completed by 2018, will build on the core indicators. 

In essence, the role of a core indicator is to regularly synthesise join environmental monitoring data to evaluate the progress made towards reaching the overall goal of the Baltic Sea achieving a good environmental status (GES). 

 Core indicator definition

HELCOM core indicators are commonly agreed indicators among the Contracting Parties of the Helsinki Convention with commonly adopted quantitative threshold values or environmental targets. 

State core indicators evaluate the status against a quantitative threshold value. Pressure core indicators measure the progress towards an environmental target. The threshold value or environmental target are adopted by all Contracting Parties of HELCOM, and are described in detail in the core indicator report. The core indicator report also describes the indicator assessment protocol and the general indicator concept. State core indicators are indirectly linked to anthropogenic pressures​, and the link is described either qualitatively or quantitatively as appropriate. 

A core indicator measures the progress towards reaching a Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) objective. For those Contracting Parties that are also EU Member States, the core indicators can also be used to assess criteria under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). 

A core indicator describes a scientifically sound phenomenon and is based on measurements, observations or validated models. Core indicators are Baltic wide, whenever ecologically relevant, and the area of applicability is expressed through HELCOM assessment units defined in the HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment strategy Attachment 4

The indicators are developed to build on the parameters that are monitored by all Contracting Parties, where ecologically relevant, through HELCOM coordinated monitoring described in the HELCOM Monitoring Manual​

Operational core indicators are to be regularly updated by Contracting Parties through agreed long-term data handling arrangements. The updated indicator evaluation result is published on the HELCOM web-page. 

Criteria for fully operational core indicators


Development work on pre-core and candidate indicators

HELCOM works to further complete the set of available core indicators by developing additional indicators that have been identified as being needed for the environmental assessments. 

New indicators are first proposed as candidate indicators by HELCOM expert groups or projects. After subsequent development and testing of the indicator it can be proposed to be shifted to a pre-core indicator status by a HELCOM working group if it fulfills the requirements of a pre-core indicator. 

When a pre-core indicator has been further developed so that it meets the criteria of a core indicator, it can be proposed to be shifted to a core indicator status by a HELCOM working group. Agreement on core indicators and adoption of threshold values or environmental targets is made by HELCOM or HELCOM Heads of Delegation.