• Data presented at the HELCOM PRESSURE Meeting 7-2017 shows that most of the nutrient input to the Baltic Sea comes from rivers

  • The Meeting called for intensified efforts on tracking microlitter, tackling lost fishing gear, and handling sewage sludge

The Seventh Meeting of the HELCOM PRESSURE Group was held last week in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Meeting was combined with three scientific workshops between experts in monitoring of nutrients, marine litter, and waste water management, from the leading scientific institutions and universities of seven Baltic Sea countries.

The key discussion point of the Meeting was inputs of nutrients to the Baltic Sea. The project group of the Sixth HELCOM project on Pollution Load Compilation (PLC-6) has analyzed new data reported by all countries, based on a time series covering the years 1995 to 2014. The data included a new evaluation of the contribution from different sources to the total nutrient load on the Baltic Sea (the previous evaluation being based on data from 2006).

These new data show that rivers are major contributors of nutrients to the Baltic Sea, providing about 70% of nitrogen load and 95% of phosphorus load. The air deposition share of total nitrogen load is about 30% and the share of point sources is only 3%, which is in line with previous assessments. For phosphorous, the proportion of point sources in the total load has more than halved in the last decades, and now constitutes only about 5%.

However, the Meeting pointed out that none of the HELCOM countries have fulfilled their reduction requirements for phosphorus. The full version of the source apportionment will be available December this year.

Credit_WWF Poland-Sebastian Barszczewski 02082011-crop.png

Lost fishing gear. Photo credit: WWF Poland / Sebastian Barszczewski

The results of two years of implementation of the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter were also in focus, both at the workshop dedicated to marine litter and at the PRESSURE 7-2017 Meeting. The participants noted that a lot of work has been done in relation to microlitter and riverine litter, and especially on lost fishing gear, which poses one of the most widely recognized threats to marine life. The scientific workshop suggested to start drafting a HELCOM Recommendation on lost fishing gear, building on a knowledge base with contribution from the World Wide Fund For Nature. The final decision on a new Recommendation will be made by countries in mid-November, after national consultation with the authorities that may be involved to this work.

The scientists and representatives of national authorities at the Meeting agreed that diffuse sources are the major contributors of microplastics to the marine environment. However, they pointed out that there are currently no suitable harmonized methods available for monitoring microplastics, especially in storm waters, and therefore it is not possible to identify its sources and pathways without ambiguity. As the leading scientists of the region were of the shared opinion that there is not currently enough consistent knowledge to recommend any specific cost-efficient measures to prevent microlitter input to the marine environment, and bearing in mind the HELCOM principle that all decisions should be based on the best available scientific knowledge, the countries agreed to continue working to improve the knowledge base on microlitter in the marine environment and on its sources and pathways.

The progress achieved in treatment of waste water in recent years has resulted in growing amounts of sewage sludge, and the countries agreed that it is increasingly essential to ensure that this sewage sludge is handled in a sustainable way. Experts and representatives of national authorities exchanged views on the national sewage practices of sludge handling, and agreed that regular regional seminars on the topic would help promote sustainable solutions and recycling of nutrients from sewage sludge. Countries also agreed to start elaborating a regional palette of solutions to support dialogue within the Baltic Sea region and to promote the sustainable handling of sewage sludge.

The Meeting gathered representatives of nearly all HELCOM contracting parties, as well as of the observer organizations Baltic Farmers' Forum on Environment, Coalition Clean Baltic, Federation of European Aquaculture Producers, and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).

Meeting site. All documents will be public after the meeting.

* * *

Note for editors

HELCOM is an intergovernmental organization made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. Founded in 1974, its primary aims as a governing body are to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution, as well as to ensure safe maritime navigation. The official name of HELCOM is the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission; it is the governing body of the Helsinki Convention.

The Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area – Pressure group – focuses on nutrient and hazardous substance inputs from diffuse sources and point sources on land, including the follow-up of the implementation of the HELCOM nutrient reduction scheme. The group ensures the necessary technical underpinning as well as develops solutions to the policy-relevant questions and needs. Marine litter and underwater noise are also coordinated by this group.

* * *

For more information, please contact:

Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky
Professional Secretary
HELCOM
Tel: +358 40 630 9933
Skype: helcom68
E-mail: dmitry.frank-kamenetsky(at)helcom.fi