Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

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

Baltic Data Flows: New HELCOM project seeks to harmonize and harvest environmental data at a pan-Baltic level

In a bid to harmonize, harvest and share data about the Baltic marine environment at a regional level, HELCOM launched the Baltic Data Flows project in October 2020. 

“With Baltic Data Flows, we will be able to put together the different pieces of the Baltic data puzzle,” said Joni Kaitaranta, HELCOM’s data coordinator who oversees the project. 

“There’s already a lot of data on the Baltic scattered out there and there is a long tradition of reporting this data to HELCOM by the Contracting Parties according to data formats developed over time,” observed Kaitaranta. 

“By combining the data into a regional data product, we will get a pan-Baltic and holistic perspective, which will not only be useful for research and environmental assessments, but also for maritime spatial planning and blue growth-oriented development,” he said.

Baltic Data Flows will enhance the existing harmonization and sharing of data on the marine environment originating from existing sea monitoring programmes. Extending a previous pilot system by project partners ICES and SMHI, it will do so by harvesting national data on the marine environment in order to produce harmonized, regional datasets in a more automated and efficient way.

The project will also seek to enhance the capacity and ICT infrastructure of the competent national authorities for harmonising and sharing collected environmental monitoring data on the Baltic Sea by supporting development of database platforms.

Baltic Data Flows also seeks to increase capacities on quality control and publication of open data within the national organisations and providers hosting environmental data, notably by promoting the implementation of the FAIR principles stating that data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

To support wider dissemination of data collected within the Baltic, the harmonised datasets will eventually be harvested to and made accessible via the European Data Portal (EDP) by using DCAT-AP compliant metadata catalogues.

Co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union’s Innovation And Networks Executive Agency(INEA) and led by HELCOM, the project will run for three years through September 2023. Further partners are ICESLHEISMHISpatineoStockholm University, and SYKE.

Job offer: project coordinator for the Baltic Data Flows project

Please note: application 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 Coordinator for the Baltic Data Flows project.

The appointment is planned to be full time, starting preferably on 18 January 2021 through the end of the project on 30 September 2023. The monthly salary is 3.000 € per month. Please note that the HELCOM salaries are exempt from Finnish income tax.

The tasks are expected to be carried out independently. However, the Project Coordinator will cooperate with the HELCOM staff involved, who will provide comments and general guidance on the overall HELCOM framework.

The tasks require understanding of marine‐related data collection processes and the concept of public and distributed open data. The selected candidate is expected to familiarize herself/himself with the HELCOM data collection and harmonisation processes and practices as well as the objective and concept of the European Data Portal.

Please apply by 2 November 2020.


World Migratory Bird Day: video message by Rüdiger Strempel

Video message by Rüdiger Strempel, HELCOM Executive Secretary, on the occasion of World Migratory Bird Day

Migratory birds are true connectors, reminding us of how ecosystems are intricately intertwined even when worlds apart.

In the Baltic Sea, migratory water birds are a key component of the food web. They are also indicators of the health of the marine environment.

Of the roughly 100 migratory water bird species that call the Baltic their home – and be it for a brief stop-over only – about a quarter are on our Red List of endangered species.

Indeed, waterbirds are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. 

We know for instance that some birds do not return to their original wintering habitats if wind energy facilities have been installed there.

Accidental bycatch in fishing nets of birds diving for food is also a cause for concern.

When planning what we do at sea, we therefore need to carefully consider migratory birds too, taking into account their habitats and migration corridors. 

Applying ecosystem-based management will help to strike a balance between our activities and the needs of waterbirds for resting, breeding or wintering. 

We do benefit from the sea and its resources, but we also have a responsibility to maintain it in a healthy state.

On this World Migratory Bird Day, let’s remember that “Birds Connect Our World”. Wherever we are, migratory birds remind us that we are part of a greater whole. 

In protecting their environment, we’re also protecting our own.


More on World Migratory Bird Day:
https://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org

HELCOM publishes maps on fish habitats

HELCOM just published several maps on essential fish habitats, publicly available online on HELCOM’s Map and Data service. The maps were produced under the recently concluded Pan Baltic Scope project on maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Baltic Sea region and to which HELCOM was a partner.

The maps show potential spawning areas of cod, sprat and herring, which are the commercially most important fish species in the Baltic Sea region, as well as key areas for European and Baltic flounder, perch and pikeperch. 

“With the maps on essential fish habitats, we now have another tool at our disposal to identify and evaluate marine areas of greater ecological importance,” said SLU Aqua’s Lena Bergström who was responsible for this component within the Pan Baltic Scope project. 

Combined with corresponding data for other ecosystem components, the maps on essential fish habitats can be used to identify regions of high ecological value and areas which have the potential to deliver various essential ecosystem services.

The maps can be found under Biodiversity section of the HELCOM Map and Data service: 

The maps can also be downloaded as raster files from the HELCOM Metadata catalogue.

The Pan Baltic Scope project was co-founded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund of the European Union. In the project, HELCOM notably collaborated on a data sharing activity to support regional cooperation and transboundary coherence in MSP which lead to the development of BASEMAPS, a web-based tool showing decentralized MSP data through open standard services.

HELCOM publishes reports on chemical contaminants

In a bid to better understand the effects of certain hazardous substances on the Baltic Sea, HELCOM, in collaboration with Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre, has compiled the latest science on selected chemical contaminants.

The results were published in four reports, namely on dioxins and PCBsbrominated flame retardantsPFOS and PFAS, and diclofenac.

“We must identify the major sources of the hazardous substances and understand how they move in the ecosystems to be able to do something about the problem,” said Emma Undeman, a researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the reports. 

The reports give insights into the sources and pathways to the sea of the addressed substances, as well as on how their concentrations have changed in the Baltic Sea over time.

Dioxins and PCBs, mainly by-products from industrial processes, primarily stem from atmospheric emissions, further persisting in the environment and accumulating in the food chain. This is a particular cause for concern since these substances are known for their adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems of living organisms.

The levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDE) – which are now either banned or regulated but were heavily used in the past as additives to prevent ignition and delay spread of fire such as in furniture and curtains – seem to be declining, but trends show that it could take up to 40 years for these contaminants to reach safe levels in the Baltic Sea.

With regard to PFOS and PFAS, used for instance in metal coatings such as Teflon or in firefighting foams, the main pathways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from contaminated sites via groundwater and drainage ditches. Research on PFOS in Baltic Sea biota further indicates that transport to the sea has dropped but that concentrations have not yet declined, pointing towards a high persistence in the marine environment.

Diclofenac, a widely used painkiller that is water soluble, mainly enters the sea through wastewater treatment plants which have a low removal rate of the drug. Despite good absorption by the human body when ingested, diclofenac is overused, leading to significant excretions reaching sewer systems. Some of the diclofenac in wastewater may also originate from dermal application which has a low absorption rate by the body. 

The four reports support the update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions for restoring good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment. The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.

Information from the reports will notably serve to evaluate the efficiency of currently implemented measures under the present BSAP, and for suggesting additional measures needed to improve the Baltic Sea’s state in regard to the reduction of concentrations of hazardous substances. 

Download the reports:

BALEX DELTA 2020: Regional response to major maritime incidents is being tested in Estonian waters

Estonian helicopter landing on Finnish vessel Turva during the BALEX DELTA 2020 exercise.
Photo: Marit Mätik/Ministry of Interior of Estonia

The 2020 edition of the annual BALEX DELTA exercise is taking place today, 26 August 2020 off the coast of Tallinn, Estonia, testing the readiness of the Baltic Sea countries to respond to major maritime incidents such as oil and chemical spills.

This year, the exercise scenario will involve a collision between two oil tankers in Estonian waters, simulating a large-scale pollution event with a spill of 200 tonnes of oil and missing crew members at sea, triggering a search and rescue (SAR) action. 

Besides host Estonia providing several ships and equipment including a surveillance plane and a helicopter, Denmark, the EU, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden are also participating and sending vessels.

“Major accidents are not frequent in the Baltic Sea but BALEX DELTA is one of the tools at our disposal to keep us ready for the worst case,” said Markus Helavuori who oversees response activities at HELCOM.

The BALEX DELTA exercises have been held every year since 1989 to check and improve the operational capacity and skills of the Baltic Sea countries to respond to maritime incidents affecting the waters of HELCOM countries. 

They help the HELCOM countries “to maintain the ability to respond to pollution incidents threatening the marine environment of the Baltic Sea Area” as formulated in the Annex VII on Response to Pollution Incidents of the Helsinki Convention.

During the exercises, both ships, cleaning equipment and procedures required for response operations at sea and on the shore are tested.

The BALEX DELTA 2020 edition is coordinated by the Estonian Police and Border Guard. The exercise is Estonia’s third, with previous ones held in 1997 and 2007.

The Ministers of the Interior of both Estonia and Finland are also attending the exercise.  

#BALEXDELTA

Vacancy at HELCOM: Professional Secretary for Pressure, Agri and MSP Working Groups

Applications are invited for the post of Professional Secretary at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) Secretariat to coordinate the work related to three subsidiary bodies of HELCOM: Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area (Pressure), the Group on Sustainable Agricultural Practices (Agri) and the HELCOM-VASAB Working Group on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP WG). The post, which is based in Helsinki, Finland, will become vacant on 1 July 2021.