• ​Many of the topics under the recently opened BONUS call 'Synthesis' relate directly to ongoing HELCOM work

  • Future BONUS projects can both benefit from and contribute to existing knowledge

The BONUS programme has previously underpinned good progress in HELCOM work. The HELCOM Contracting Parties – the Baltic Sea countries and EU – have recently underlined the importance of continuing the cooperation between HELCOM and BONUS in the future. Cooperation and information exchange between the Secretariats, the individual BONUS project scientists, and experts involved in HELCOM groups and projects is perceived as very important.

The recently opened 'BONUS call 2017: Synthesis' is of high relevance to HELCOM work and a number of regional priorities. Work on many of the call topics is currently under way within HELCOM. While much has been accomplished, future projects could contribute significantly where gaps exist or new perspectives would be pertinent.

HELCOM plans continued exchange with future BONUS projects to be approved under the call. Below are examples of the most recent regional work carried out by the Contracting Parties on the topics covered by the call.


Sustainable marine and freshwater aquaculture development perspectives in the Baltic Sea region

According to the Helsinki Convention, pollution from fish-farming shall be prevented and eliminated by promoting and implementing Best Environmental Practice (BEP) and Best Available Technology (BAT) (Annex III "Criteria and measures concerning prevention of pollution from land-based sources"). Furthermore, the HELCOM Recommendation 37/3 on sustainable aquaculture was adopted in March 2016. The Recommendation foresees the Contracting Parties to, among other things, by 2018 jointly develop BAT and BEP descriptions for sustainable and environmentally friendly aquaculture in the Baltic Sea region. BAT and BEP are to be applied e.g. based on Annex II of the Helsinki Convention "Criteria for the use of Best Environmental Practice and Best Available Technology". The Recommendation covers both marine and freshwater aquaculture.

A correspondence group to follow up the Recommendation has been established (under the HELCOM Group on ecosystem-based sustainable fisheries), and its Terms of Reference specifies how the work is to be carried out. No BAT/BEP descriptions have been developed by HELCOM yet. 

A synthesis of knowledge on the Baltic Sea food webs including an outlook for priority future studies

The Baltic Sea food webs are the subject of much research overall and the focus of several HELCOM indicators. Within the HELCOM framework, extensive work has been carried out related to species and biotopes and biodiversity. A number of HELCOM projects have also been carried out with the purpose of developing aspects related to biota and biodiversity and enhancing the work of HELCOM. These projects have, for instance, addressed specific food web components such as fish or zooplankton, or contributed to the development of components for assessment or tools for the holistic approach utilized in the State of the Baltic Sea report.

The HELCOM indicators, tools that underpin major aspects of the HELCOM work, have been developed to assess the status of the marine environment, and form the basis for the integrated holistic approach used in the State of the Baltic Sea report. Many of these indicators address biological components and factors that have the potential to directly or indirectly impact biota and the Baltic Sea food webs.

These indicators are themselves based on analyses of compiled data, agreed threshold levels, and a robust survey of the latest scientific literature. Operational HELCOM indicators, and others currently under development, rely on accredited monitoring data and scientifically validated methodologies, and new indicators or new approaches to assessment of the Baltic Sea food webs, ecosystem, and ecosystem pressures are regularly proposed through HELCOM working groups.

Towards improved environmental status assessment and monitoring systems for the Baltic Sea

Coordinated monitoring of physical, chemical, and biological variables of the Baltic open sea has been carried out since 1979.

HELCOM work on monitoring and assessment is based on the HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, the latest version of which was adopted by the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in 2013. The Strategy is a common plan to monitor and assess the health of the Baltic Sea in a coordinated and cost-efficient way between all HELCOM Contracting Parties. It forms the basis for high quality and uniform data collection across the Baltic Sea region. The resulting data feeds into the HELCOM indicators and thus into the assessment of the status of the Baltic Sea.

Those general principles of the Strategy that relate to coordinated monitoring have been translated into concrete specifications and requirements through the Monitoring Manual. The Manual progressively takes up new monitoring guidelines and is updated or amended based on methodological developments and advances or development of more appropriate data reporting and handling options

The current monitoring network and information on sampling can be found in the HELCOM Map and Data service.

Policy instruments and institutions for nutrient abatement

The HELCOM Nutrient Reduction Scheme is a regional approach to sharing the burden of nutrient reductions to achieve the goal of a Baltic Sea unaffected by eutrophication agreed by the Baltic Sea countries.

The Scheme has been introduced and agreed first in 2007, in the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. At that time, the countries agreed on provisional nutrient reduction targets and decided that the figures will be revised using a harmonised approach, the newest data, and enhanced modelling. The revision process started in 2008 and was completed in 2013.

There are two main components of the nutrient reduction scheme:

  • Maximum Allowable Inputs (MAI) of nutrients, indicating the maximal level of inputs of waterborne and airborne nitrogen and phosphorus to Baltic Sea sub-basins that can be allowed in order to fulfill the targets for non-eutrophied areas. This component has been developed according to the ecosystem approach including use of the best available science, overall agreed as the main principle of HELCOM work.

  • Country-Allocated Reduction Targets (CART), indicating how much nutrient inputs the HELCOM countries need to reduce comparing to a reference period (1997–2003). This component has been designed under the guidance and according to the decisions of the Contracting Parties, taking into account fundamental principles of the Helsinki Convention (such as the "polluter pays" principle).

The reduction targets are to be met by implementing common regional requirements, such as for wastewater treatment plans, and by any additional measures or instruments countries see as feasible and appropriate.

The HELCOM Pressure group provides the technical basis to the work on inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances from both diffuse and point sources on land, including follow-up of the implementation of the Nutrient Reduction Scheme. The assessments of MAI and CART are published on the HELCOM website (updates assessments planned to be finished in 2017).

High frequency automated in situ observations in the Baltic Sea

High quality and accredited data underpin much of the work carried out by HELCOM, be it the development of scientific or policy documents. The HELCOM indicators in particular, and the associated integrated assessment for biodiversity, hazardous substances and eutrophication, rely on this data pool for their function.

Not only is spatial and temporal data coverage a major issue for such initiatives but also the quality and abundance of such data; an assessment of which is reflected by a confidence assigned to the indicators or integrated assessments. There are, for example, processes currently underway within HELCOM expert networks to utilize ferrybox data with HELCOM indicator assessments, as the spatial, temporal, and sheer mass of data have major potential to significantly increase both indicator reliability and confidence.

As with many automated monitoring systems, the volume of data produced is several orders of magnitude greater than that produced by classical monitoring and assessment tools. While this offers huge potential for fine scale observations and conclusions to be made, it also requires the development of suitable data collation and utilization tools that offer support to management institutions. Suitable integration solutions and the scope for utilizing such high frequency data within HELCOM work is perceived as very important. The HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment Strategy acknowledges that remote sensing and autonomous measuring devices already in use in environmental monitoring and operational oceanography, such as ferry-boxes, buoys, passive samplers, fixed platforms, and coastal radars, are efficient means to increase spatial and temporal coverage of observations.

Development of a unified access point for science-based virtual decision support tools for ecosystem-based management in the Baltic Sea and its drainage

HELCOM has developed and is using a number of decision support tools. Here are a few examples:

Non-monetary values of the Baltic Sea ecosystem goods and services provided to human lifestyles and well-being

In March 2017, HELCOM established an expert network on economic and social analyses (ESA) with the aim to enhance regional cooperation on the economic and social aspects of the Baltic Sea marine environment. The expert network serves as a platform for discussion and information exchange on the ongoing and planned work, and develops and agrees on regional approaches for the economic and social analyses, according to a HELCOM Roadmap on economic and social analyses (agreed on in December 2016).

The analyses are needed for the implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, as well as for other requirements Contracting Parties have to fulfill, such as Marine Strategy Framework Directive for the EU countries in the region. Overall, the analyses will contribute to ecosystem-based marine management, marine spatial planning, pollution mitigation, and integration and implementation of various policies.

Results on the economic contribution from marine activities in the Baltic Sea and on the economic damages to citizens from the deterioration of the marine environment have been included in the first version of the HELCOM's 'State of the Baltic Sea' report, released in June 2017. These results show the economic and social impact of selected marine sectors and activities in the Baltic Sea region (fishing, aquaculture, tourism and recreation, production of renewable energy and transport), and illustrate the economic consequences of not achieving good environmental status for selected degradation themes and ecosystem services, including eutrophication, recreation, and biodiversity-related aspects. Additional information on the economic and social analyses can be found in this supplementary report.

Improved maritime risk analysis and mitigation

The work in the field of pollution prevention and safety of navigation as well as response to incidents at sea has been carried out within HELCOM already for many decades. The work is carried out by the HELCOM Maritime and Response groups.

A two-year HELCOM-led project "Open-Source tools for regional risk assessments for improved European preparedness and response at sea" (OPENRISK) started in January 2017. The project will take the first steps on developing a joint and fully open method toolbox for risk assessments of spills resulting from maritime accidents.

Cumulative effects of human activities: linear and non-linear interactions and knowledge gaps

The HELCOM Monitoring and Assessment Strategy requires that HELCOM assessments assess the effects of anthropogenic pressures and their effects on the marine environment including cumulative and synergetic effects.

The first version of the HELCOM 'State of the Baltic Sea' assessment was released for consideration in July 2017. It provides a scientific evaluation of the environmental status of the Baltic Sea during 2011–2015, and assesses pressures and impacts from human activities, as well as social and economic dimensions, in the entire Baltic Sea. The second version of the assessment will be updated with 2016 data and will be published by mid-2018.

The indicator-based assessments of pressures show their status when assessed individually, without comparing their total impact or their level of spatial overlap with sensitive habitats. The Baltic Sea Impact Index (BSII) is an assessment component that additionally describes the potential cumulative burden on the environment in different parts of the Baltic Sea, with the use of more detailed spatial information than can be provided by the core indicators.

The analysis of potential cumulative impacts on benthic habitats suggests that benthic habitats are potentially impacted by loss and disturbance in all sub-basins of the Baltic Sea, but the highest estimates were found for coastal areas and in the southern Baltic Sea. The human activities behind the cumulative impacts on benthic habitats, according to this assessment, are bottom trawling, shipping, sediment dispersal caused by various construction and dredging activities, and disposal of the dredged sediment.

Supplementary information on the assessment of cumulative impacts using the Baltic Sea Pressure Index (BSPI) and BSII can be found here.


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Background

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, usually referred to as HELCOM, is an intergovernmental organization of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution and to ensure safety of navigation in the region. Since 1974, HELCOM has been the governing body of the 'Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area', more commonly known as the Helsinki Convention.

BONUS is one of the official observers to HELCOM and participates actively in HELCOM work. HELCOM has been involved in defining future research needs for the BONUS programme in the context of environmental policy and sustainable use of marine resources.

 

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For more information, please contact:

Ms. Laura Meski
Assistant Professional Secretary
HELCOM
+358 40 162 2053
Skype: helcom82
E-mail: laura.meski(at)helcom.fi