Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Survey: Help us improve our HELCOM Map and Data Service

Are you a HELCOM Map and Data Service (MADS) user? Would you like to help us improve our data portals? If so, we would like your feedback! Please take a few moments and take our MADS End-user Survey. The survey will only take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and will remain open until 14 May. Your responses will be kept confidential. 

Does the HELCOM Map and Data Service meet your needs? Is data easy to find in the Metadata Catalogue? What data layers do you use? How would you improve the user interface? Your response to these questions and more will help us enhance this important data sharing platform. 

The survey has been developed in consultation with partners of the Baltic Data Flows project. The project, co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union, seeks to enhance the sharing and harmonisation of data on the Baltic marine environment.     

“Baltic Sea Day” Forum in Saint Petersburg attracts 400 participants, with Baltic Sea Action Plan, hazardous substances, maritime spatial planning and climate change taking centre stage

Attended by about 400 people in person and several hundred more online, the XXI International Environmental Forum “Baltic Sea Day” was held from 23 to 24 March 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia as a hybrid event, with a main focus on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), both on its current achievements and its now imminent update.  

“The BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM environmental objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for a healthy Baltic Sea,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, in his opening plenary address, adding that the update of the plan is already well set to uphold this legacy. The BSAP is due to be updated later this year at the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting.

Besides the BSAP, several round table sessions were dedicated to other pressing issues such as hazardous substances, and specifically on the modernizing of the HELCOM framework dealing with the issue. HELCOM is currently reviewing its processes on hazardous substances to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by the introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

During the forum, other key discussions touched on river basin management and marine spatial planning, as well as on the implementation of projects conducted by way of cross-border cooperation.

Close attention was also paid to the adaptation to climate change, notably in connection with the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in 80 cities of the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) as well as in light of current trends in Russia.

“Traditionally, the Forum brings together scientists, representatives of government and business, public organizations and everyone who understands their responsibility to future generations for preservation of the unique ecosystem of the Baltic Sea,” said Ivan Serebritsky, the Deputy Head of the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg during his opening remarks. 

Held in a hybrid online and in-person format, the “Baltic Sea Day” Forum was coordinated by the Government of Saint Petersburg, Russia and the State Company “Mineral”, with support from HELCOM, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg.

“There’s a long tradition of HELCOM involvement in the Baltic Sea Day Forum that has been held annually since 2000 in Saint Petersburg,” said Strempel, adding that during its 20-year history, the forum has become a key platform for the environmental dialogue at the regional and global level. 

The BSAP update is well on track at HELCOM 42-2021, the annual meeting of the Helsinki Commission

Screenshot of the HELCOM 42-2021 online meeting

More milestones on the now imminent update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) were reached during the 42nd Meeting of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM 42-2021), held online from 17 to 18 March 2021, keeping the work on the new plan well on track and within the planned schedule. 

second full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented at the meeting. Further refinements will now take place in the various HELCOM bodies tasked with the drafting of the update. The BSAP, in addition to actions and measures, will now also include a list of environmental hotspots that will need to be resolved as part of the plan’s implementation.

The updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is due to be adopted during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting which will be hosted by Germany and is scheduled to take place on 20 October 2021 in Lübeck, Germany. HELCOM Ministerials take place every three years and bring together the competent Ministers from the HELCOM countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment.

Several key processes and documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP and serving as supporting tools to reach its objectives were also green-lighted for further development at HELCOM 42-2021. These include the draft Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the draft Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030.

The HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved, in principle, the draft HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Due to be adopted in June 2021 by the HELCOM decision-makers pending final refinements, the plan will contain a set of regional and national actions for the monitoring and management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea.

On hazardous substances, the Contracting Parties agreed to modernize the overall HELCOM framework dealing with the issue, to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by a relentless introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

Serving as a basis for this decision, HELCOM had, earlier in 2020, drafted a strategic regional policy document on hazardous substances, in cooperation with the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre and with the support of the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).

In a bid to improve response to spills in the Baltic Sea, the Contracting Parties also adopted the revised HELCOM Response Manual as well as the draft Multi-regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume 2. Both manuals are primarily intended for the authorities dealing with transboundary maritime incidents affecting the waters of several countries and are intended to facilitate the coordination of international response efforts.

At HELCOM 42-2021, the revised HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6 Rev on integrated wildlife response planning in the Baltic Sea area was also adopted. The Recommendation lays out options and strategies for the response to maritime accidents such as oil spills in order to guarantee a swift mobilization of resources to safeguard and attend to affected wildlife.

To improve the protection of habitats and species in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM Contracting Parties further agreed to cooperate with FAO and IUCN in organizing a regional HELCOM workshop on “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) in early 2022. OECMs are geographically defined areas other than marine protected areas (MPAs) but that have a positive effect on the conservation of biodiversity.  

The meeting was also an opportunity for the HELCOM Executive Secretary, Rüdiger Strempel, to highlight the achievements of the organization in 2020, noting, in his statement, that “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Corona pandemic, HELCOM work progressed largely as planned in 2020.” The HELCOM Activities report for the year 2020 was also presented on the same occasion.

The outcomes of the recently held HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2021 “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” (HSC2021) were also presented. In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the HSC2021, held as an online workshop, also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the BSAP update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach. The results of the HSC2021 are now due to be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM groups for further consideration. 

The HELCOM 42-2021 meeting was chaired by the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, Lilian Busse, Germany and the Vice-Chair of HELCOM 2020-2021, Mr. Johannes Oelerich, Germany. Attended by all Contracting Parties, it was also the first official meeting for the newly appointed Heads of Delegation of Lithuania and Poland and, Ms. Agnė Lukoševičienė from the Ministry of Environment of Lithuania, respectively Ms. Ewelina Fałowska from the Ministry of Infrastructure of Poland. 

“Break down the silos” and “We know enough to act”: HELCOM holds its stakeholder conference on ecosystem-based management

Screenshots of the digital whiteboards used by the HSC2021 participants

In an effort to advance the implementation of ecosystem-based management (EBM) in the Baltic Sea region, HELCOM held its Stakeholder Conference 2021 (HSC2021) “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” on 11 March 2021 as an online workshop. 

“It is acceptable for us to benefit from the Baltic Sea as we too are part of the ecosystem, but this also comes with the responsibility to maintain our sea in a healthy state,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM during his opening remarks.

Ecosystem-based management addresses the management of human activities in a holistic manner and in relation with the marine environment, correlating our doings with the pressures they may cause on habitats and species. The aim is to maintain our sea in a healthy state so that it can continue to provide valuable ecosystem-services.

Attracting about 100 participants from all over the Baltic Sea region and organized in collaboration with Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB) and the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM), the HSC2021 touched on the policy, science and society-related aspects of EBM. The stakeholders particularly focussed on the challenges related to EBM implementation and possible solutions to overcoming these.

“Thinking and working in silos” was frequently mentioned throughout the workshop as a main barrier to sound EBM implementation in the Baltic Sea region, with participants calling for better cross-sectoral integration, cooperation and coherence, including across the various regional to local government levels. 

According to the participants, good EBM implementation further requires better communication and knowledge on the matter at all levels, to increase a shared understanding of the issues at hand. One recommendation was to improve the dialogue between science and those tasked with implementing EBM in practice. Increased stakeholder involvement across the board could also foster ownership of the EBM process and drive its implementation.

Also, starting with small, easy-to-manage pilot projects could help gather valuable insights on EBM processes in order to replicate them in other regions or to scale them up once more knowledge on implementation processes has been gained. 

“We know enough to act” was another view widely shared by the HSC2021 participants, highlighting that the main bottlenecks impeding a wider EBM roll-out weren’t so much due to the lack of policies and science but to their concrete application. 

In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the workshop also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach, including the update of the Roadmap on HELCOM activities on the ecosystem approach.

The results were presented to the members of the Helsinki Commission at their most recent meeting (HELCOM 42-2021), which was held from 17 to 18 March 2021. The outcomes of the HSC2021 will now be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM bodies dealing with the update of the BSAP, the HELCOM Science Agenda and the HELCOM Roadmap on EA, among other processes.

HELCOM joins UN initiative on marine litter

HELCOM has recently become a member of a United Nation initiative on land-based pollution, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML).

Bringing together various stakeholders dealing with marine litter and microplastics challenges, the GPML partnership was launched at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012. The GPML is hosted under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The GPML further seeks to facilitate the implementation of the commitments expressed in the Manila Declaration, under which 65 countries pledged to develop policies to reduce and control wastewater, marine litter and pollution from fertilizers.

Marine litter and microplastics are of particular concern in the Baltic Sea. In response, HELCOM has adopted its own Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML) in 2015. The plan is currently under review. 

HELCOM is also involved in an EU-funded initiative on microplastics, FanpLESStic-sea, for which it has recently published a review of existing research and policies on the tiny plastic particles.

The updated HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), due to be adopted in October 2021, is also expected to include new objectives and measures on marine litter.

HELCOM updates its online tool for assessing the risk of introduction of alien species via ballast water

Aliens in the Baltic Sea? Not if shipping managers utilize the free online tool developed by HELCOM and OSPAR to minimise the introduction of non-indigenous species (NIS, also known as alien species) via the ballast water of ships. The tool has recently been updated as part of the Interreg COMPLETE project

“The updated tool now makes it even easier to evaluate the risk of introduction of alien species by ships traveling between two ports in the HELCOM-OSPAR area,” said Manuel Sala-Pérez, the COMPLETE project’s coordinator at HELCOM.  

Alien species often travel with ballast water in ships, being sucked up into ships in one port and then discarded in another where they could potentially proliferate, take over habitats and disrupt the food chain and existing biodiversity. “For fragile marine ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea, NIS can be a serious issue,” cautioned Sala-Pérez. 

The free online tool, the so-called Ballast Water Exemptions Decision Support Tool, assesses the risk of introduction of NIS in a simple way, yet based on the latest scientific knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of species as well as the environmental characteristics of each port. 

“The online tool is now more user-friendly and contains improved GIS functionalities and data visualisations,” said Sala-Pérez, adding that it also includes updates to the underlying technology such as databases and algorithms. “It should be the go-to tool for whoever is dealing with ballast water management in the Baltic and North Seas.”  

COMPLETE is an EU INTERREG Baltic Sea Region project aimed at minimizing the introduction and spread of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens by shipping, notably via ballast water and biofouling. In the project, HELCOM led the activity tasked with updating the NIS online tool. 

HELCOM further took part in the development of a proposal for a Baltic Sea Biofouling Roadmap and a HELCOM monitoring programme on NIS. It also participated in the review process of the HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on ballast water exemptions, particularly on risk assessments of NIS introductions, and the update of the selection criteria for target species.

HELCOM launches its BLUES project to support attaining good environmental status in the Baltic Sea

Good environmental status, or GES, and a Baltic Sea in healthy state are at the core of the HELCOM BLUES project that was officially launched online from 2 to 4 February 2021. Co-funded by the European Union and led by HELCOM, the Baltic-wide effort will run through 2022, for a total period of two years. 

To help attaining GES in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM BLUES project will support the development of new and regionally coordinated measures addressing various pressures affecting the sea. It will also back assessments of the state of the Baltic through improved monitoring, notably on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise. 

“HELCOM BLUES is an opportunity to fill the gaps we have identified so far during our journey towards good environmental status in the Baltic Sea,” said Jannica Haldin, the overall project manager and HELCOM senior expert dealing with biodiversity matters. HELCOM is concluding its first analysis ever of the sufficiency of measures (SOM) currently in place for easing the pressures on the sea, with the results expected to inform the work of the new project.

“GES is a Baltic-wide objective, and we can only achieve it through a collective effort and regional cooperation,” said Jana Wolf, the HELCOM project coordinator in charge of the day-to-day operations of HELCOM BLUES. In total, 14 partners and seven subcontractors  with various backgrounds such as policy, research, academia or civil society and hailing from six Baltic Sea countries are involved in the project.

“The project also closely links to the big processes related to GES in the Baltic such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MFSD), the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS III),” said Haldin.

On the MFSD, the specific requests expressed by the EU in its initial call for project proposals – which is at the origin of HELCOM BLUES – were taken into account, notably on the development of effective regional measures to reduce existing pressures to the Baltic Sea, with a focus on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise. Furthermore, all results of the project will be made accessible to the Baltic Sea countries who are also EU member states to support their national obligations under the MSFD.

The outcomes of the project will also underpin the implementation of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan that is due to be adopted in October 2021 by providing monitoring data and guidance on the implementation of measures. 

It will also support HELCOM’s next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS III) covering the period of 2016 to 2021. The project will notably provide improved assessment data, for instance by improving the capacity for biodiversity reporting and the development of indicators on marine litter and underwater noise. 

Project activities

The project is built around seven activities:

  • Activity 1 – Analyses to support effective regional measures
  • Activity 2 – Improved regional assessment of biodiversity  
  • Activity 3 – Support for, and harmonisation of, regional work on MSFD Descriptor 10 (marine litter)  
  • Activity 4 – Support for, and harmonisation of, regional work on MSFD Descriptor 11 (underwater noise) 
  • Activity 5 – Data accessibility 
  • Activity 6 – Dissemination 
  • Activity 7 – Project Coordination 

More info

First draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan is unveiled to HELCOM decision-makers at HOD 59-2020

Entering a final stretch, another major milestone was crossed last week when the first full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented to the organization’s decision-makers during the autumn meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 59-2020) that took place online.

Building on the existing plan, the updated BSAP is expected to maintain and adapt the current structure and segments that seek to reflect the pressures stemming from land (“Eutrophication” and “Hazardous substances and litter”) and from our activities at sea (“Sea-based activities”) as well as the state of the environment (“Biodiversity and ecosystems”).

In addition, the updated plan is due to feature a segment on horizontal actions having an incidence on the four main segments. These are climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, and financing.

Furthermore, all measures and actions contained in the new plan are intended to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. 

The updated BSAP is expected to be adopted by the Ministers of the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting that will be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.

With its set of targets for protecting biodiversity and reducing the pressures affecting the Baltic, as well as its number of concrete measures, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM ecological objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for attaining good environmental status in the Baltic. 

The original plan, adopted in 2007, can be credited with significantly reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, improving the protection of biodiversity, and boosting cleaner and safer shipping practices. 

At HOD 59-2020, the decision-makers also approved a draft of the HELCOM Science Agenda that is meant to support the implementation of the BSAP and other HELCOM processes, by identifying the scientific knowledge needs related to the Baltic marine environment and which are foreseen to surface in the next 10 years.

Meant to be launched alongside the new BSAP, the first draft of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategywas also presented during the meeting. In a bid to curb eutrophication, the strategy seeks to minimize the run-off of nutrients, stemming mainly from agricultural sources such as fertilizers, to the Baltic Sea by keeping them in a closed loop. 

More good news: the Heads of Delegation announced the removal of HELCOM Hot Spot n°42, the Riga wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), from its list of pollution sites

More than EUR 200 million were invested in the plant over the last 20 years, leading to a significant reduction of the discharges of nutrients and hazardous substances to the Baltic via the Lielupe river. The WWTP is now complying with EU regulations and almost fully meets the more stringent HELCOM targets on water purification. 

The Riga WWTP had been added to the list of significant pollution sites due to insufficient treatment of wastewater and a large share of untreated municipal wastewater being released to the environment. 

The HELCOM Heads of Delegation further approved the draft of a key regional instrument for fighting pollution incidents at sea, the Joint Inter-Regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume II. A guideline for addressing and coordinating response to major accidents such as oil or chemical spills, the manual is expected to be adopted during the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March 2021.

On shipping, and more specifically on the management of ballast water which is a major source of introduction of alien species to the Baltic Sea, the Heads of Delegation further approved the revised HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on the granting of exemptions under International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (JHP).

The procedure is supported by an online decision tool that gives shipping professionals a quick overview of the risk of introducing non-indigenous species (NIS) through ballast water between two ports. Co-developed with OSPAR and recently updated, the tool covers both the North and Baltic Seas.

The collaboration between HELCOM and OSPAR comes at a time when both organizations are actively seeking to strengthen their partnership, a fact particularly welcomed during HOD 59-2020.

Experts from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina also presented their recent discussion paper on underwater archaeology “Traces under Water”, highlighting the mutual benefits of protecting both the marine environment and underwater heritage from the common pressures arising from ammunitions, ghost nets and eutrophication.

Chaired by Germany, HOD 59-2020 was attended by participants from all Contracting Parties, by Observers from Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association Europe (CLIA Europe), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and by invited guests.

Baltic Sea Action Plan: HELCOM revamps its tool for tracking implementation progress

HELCOM has recently refreshed its HELCOM Explorer tool, an online and open-access database displaying the progress by the HELCOM countries made on the implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

“With the freshly revamped HELCOM Explorer, it’s now much easier to see where we currently stand on the progress we’re making on the agreed actions and measures under the BSAP,” said Susanna Kaasinen who coordinates BSAP activities at HELCOM.

The BSAP is HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions and measures for achieving good environmental status in the Baltic Sea, addressing eutrophication, hazardous substances, maritime activities and biodiversity. 

The BSAP contains both regional actions that are to be implemented jointly by all HELCOM Contracting Parties such as creating new HELCOM Recommendations, as well as national ones that are to be implemented at the country-level such as incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.

Updated on a regular basis, the HELCOM Explorer tool shows the implementation status of both joint and national actions. It also presents the status of selected HELCOM Recommendations as well as on related commitments made at the HELCOM Ministerial Meetings in 2010, 2013 and 2018.

In October 2020, about 70 percent of the joint regional actions and 26 percent of the national actions from the Baltic Sea Action Plan were reported as being fully implemented by all HELCOM Contracting Parties. 63 percent of the national actions were reported as partly accomplished.

The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.

Job offer: Project researcher in economic and social analyses

Project researcher in economic and social analyses to support the third HELCOM holistic assessment of ecosystem health (HOLAS III) in the Methodology Development Project

Please note: recruitment closed

We are currently seeking to recruit an experienced professional and enthusiastic person to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat in Helsinki, Finland, as a Project Researcher on economic and social analyses of the marine environment.

The appointment is planned to be full time, starting preferably on 18 January 2021 through the end of the project on 31 March 2022. The monthly salary is 2.800 € per month. Please note that the HELCOM salaries are exempt from Finnish income tax.

The tasks require a background in environmental economics or a corresponding field. Previous expertise and knowledge of ecosystem services, ecosystem accounting, and interdisciplinary work are needed.

The Project Researcher’s task is to implement the activities in the work package on economic and social analysis. The activities include:

  • developing approaches and collecting information for identifying and assessing marine and coastal ecosystem services to improve the implementation of the ecosystem approach;
  • developing an approach for conducting a marine ecosystem accounting pilot study for the Baltic Sea to describe and quantify interactions between the economy and marine environment based on recent EU work and existing methods and approaches;
  • exploring the possibilities to develop indicators for drivers in the Baltic Sea region, for factors that drive changes in human activities and sectors utilizing the marine environment;
  • developing connections between economic and social analyses and environmental assessments of HOLAS III, and the elements within economic and social analyses.

Please apply by 23 November 2020