Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Intercalibration between laboratories measuring nutrients and heavy metals is carried out, report published

To improve on the quality of monitoring data in the Baltic Sea, an intercalibration of analyzing methods of nutrients and heavy metals was recently carried out involving 22 laboratories across the region. The results were published in a report.

Financed by HELCOM, the intercalibration was carried out by the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy (DCE) of Aarhus University, on behalf of the HELCOM Pollution Load Compilation (PLC-8) project.

“For accurate Baltic-wide assessments of nutrient and metal concentrations, intercalibration between laboratories is crucial as it guarantees the compatibility of reported data, basically allowing us to compare apples with apples,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, the coordinator of the HELCOM Pollution Load Compilation (PLC) projects. 

HELCOM now regularly organizes intercalibration campaigns at the beginning of each PLC project, to assure compatibility of reported data regarding nutrients and heavy metals. The latest campaign was already the third of its kind.

“The more we intercalibrate, the better data we get,” said Frank-Kamenetsky. “The good results of the recent intercalibration exercise confirm the trend of a continuous improvement of environmental monitoring data produced by the HELCOM countries.”

The outcome of the HELCOM decision-makers spring meeting is now available

Screenshot of HOD 60-2021

The outcome of the latest meeting of the HELCOM decision-makers, the 60th Meeting of the Heads of Delegation(HOD 60-2021) that was held online from 3 to 4 June 2021, is now available. 

During HOD 60-2021, the HELCOM Heads of Delegations notably fine-tuned the latest draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) that is due to be adopted during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 in October of this year.  

Several key documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP were also endorsed at HOD 60-2021, such as the revised HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter and the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy. Others were the Guidelines for Sea-Based Measures to Manage Internal Nutrient Reserves in the Baltic Sea Region, and the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Roadmap 2021-2030.

The prolongation of one of HELCOM’s three time-limited main working groups, the Joint HELCOM-VASAB Maritime Spatial Planning Working Group (HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG) was also decided, extending the group’s activity to 2030, in line with the timespan of the Regional MSP Roadmap 2021-2030.

The decision-makers also advanced on the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Addressing both monitoring and the management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea, the new plan will come in the form of a HELCOM recommendation containing a set of specific actions to be implemented at the regional and national levels. 

The revised HELCOM Recommendation 23/5 on the reduction of discharges from urban areas by the proper management of storm water systems was also adopted during the meeting. 

HOD 60-2021 further provisionally approved the HELCOM RED LIST II project proposal for reviewing and updating the HELCOM Red List of species and the one for habitats. HELCOM RED LIST II is due to run from 2022 to 2024.

HELCOM also welcomed its latest observer, the Nordic Boating Council (NBC), during the meeting. With the NBC, HELCOM now counts 64 observers

Attended by all Contracting Parties and chaired by Lilian Busse, the current chair of HELCOM, HOD 60-2021 further welcomed the new Vice-chair of HELCOM, Andreas Röpke from the Ministry for Agriculture and Environment of the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He takes over from Johannes Oelerich from the Ministry of Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature and Digitalization of the German federal state Schleswig-Holstein. 

On 16 May 2021, we’re celebrating the International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise

The “International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise” is celebrated on the third Sunday in May of each year, to raise awareness of the alarming situation of the harbour porpoise, a rather unique marine mammal. And indeed: it is the only cetacean that calls the Baltic Sea its permanent home. 

In the Baltic Sea region, harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) were actively hunted until the end of the 19th century. Although this practice has stopped, their populations declined rapidly since the middle of the 20th century. They are now heavily impacted by other human pressures, most notably by-catch in fishing gear, but also pollutants, habitat deterioration and disturbance caused by underwater noise. 

The “International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise” (IDBHP) was declared an international observance by the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (UNEP/ASCOBANS).

Read more about the harbour porpoise:


Watch the video address by Rüdiger Strempel on the occasion of the “International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise” 

Three questions to… Lars Sonesten on the Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II)

Lars Sonesten is the Head of Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). He is the Chair of the HELCOM Pressure Working Group as well as the Chair of the OSPAR INPUT Working Group. He was a member of the WOA II expert team.

What are the benefits of the WOA II for the global ocean?

Lars Sonesten: I think that the main benefit of WOA II is that it takes the alarming status of and our concerns about the seas and coastal areas to the highest political level worldwide. Hopefully, this may inspire national and regional authorities and organisations to increase their efforts to counteract the deterioration of our common seas.

What are the benefits of WOA II for the Baltic Sea region in particular?

First of all, it puts the environmental status of Baltic Sea into a global context, and makes it possible to compare with other sea areas. In addition, I think that our long experience as a regional sea convention in monitoring and joined assessing the status, as well as taking measures to combat the deterioration may serve as a good example for other sea areas.

What was your personal involvement in the WOA II process?

I was involved in writing the two chapters on inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances to the seas (chapters 10 and 11, respectively), with special responsibility on the atmospheric inputs of hazardous substances. As the chairman of HELCOM Pressure and OSPAR Input, I had an interest to share and incorporate as much relevant information as possible that is related to the Baltic Sea as well as the Northeast Atlantic.

About WOA II

The Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II) assesses the state of the global ocean in the period of 2016 to 2020. Carried out by the UN’s Regular Process with the support of more than 300 experts, it covers environmental, economic and social aspects about the marine environment. While the first cycle (WOA I) focused on establishing a baseline, the WOA II follow-up effort also evaluates trends should support policy development and decision-making at the national, regional and global levels. Several HELCOM experts participated in the development of the WOA II, and the results of various HELCOM assessments such as HOLAS II and PLC were also used in the report.

Read the WOA II reports

Regional maritime spatial planning moves further ahead during the joint HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group meeting

HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 22-2021 was held online from 20 to 21 April 2021.

Regional coordination on maritime spatial planning (MSP) was once more the leitmotif of the latest joint HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group meeting, the 22nd Meeting of the joint HELCOM-VASAB Maritime Spatial Planning Working Group (HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 22-2021) which was held online from 20 to 21 April 2021.

As part of the efforts to establish a regional MSP framework in the Baltic Sea area, it was agreed to forward the draft of the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030 (MSP Roadmap) to the HELCOM decision-makers, the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD), for endorsement. The MSP Roadmap is due to be adopted later this year during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 to be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021. The goal of the roadmap is to facilitate and follow up the implementation of various national maritime spatial plans in the Baltic Sea as well as to lay the groundwork for their revision within an adaptive spatial planning process. 

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and related MSP actions were also addressed during the meeting. The BSAP is due to be updated during the MM2021 and will contain a horizontal action segment on MSP, containing the measures from the existing plan that are yet to be implemented as well as new ones. 

Updates on the various national maritime spatial plans were also given during the meeting, with almost all Baltic Sea countries either already having MSP plans in place or currently finalizing them. Denmark published its first maritime spatial plan earlier this March, and Poland had its plan adopted by its Council of Ministers this April.

The draft outline of a regional forum of MSP experts, the Planner’s Forum, was also presented during the meeting. Developed by the Capacity4MSP project that is led by VASAB, the aim of the forum, which may be hosted under the HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group as an expert body, is to establish a long-lasting platform for the exchange of practical knowledge on MSP. 

Furthermore, recommendations on the role of MSP in preserving marine cultural heritage was presented by the BalticRim project. 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. Representatives of the Baltic Sea countries agreed to investigate how MSP could support preservation of underwater cultural heritage.

The Meeting was attended by all HELCOM Contracting Parties with the exception of Lithuania. Observers from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also participated, as did invited guests from Spatial Foresight GmbH, the EU MSP Assistance Mechanism, the Finnish Environment Institute, the BalticRIM project, the Institute for Historical Coastal Research of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Vacancy announcement: Communications trainee

We are currently in search of an enthusiastic trainee to support our communication activities at the international HELCOM Secretariat. The position involves both media production and content development tasks related to HELCOM’s institutional communications and the upcoming HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 (MM2021) that will take place in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021. The trainee will also be involved in communication activities related to the updated HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) that is due to be adopted during the MM2021. 

Applicants with the required expertise and personal qualities are invited to submit their application (consisting of a CV, a motivation letter and a portfolio of recent job-related and or study-related work) via e-mail no later than 15 May 2021.

Marine litter and underwater noise top the agenda of PRESSURE 14-2021, the HELCOM Working Group dealing with pressures on the Baltic Sea

The PRESSURE 14-2021 participants

Marine litter and underwater noise topped the agenda of PRESSURE 14-2021, the meeting of the HELCOM Pressure Working Group dealing with pressures on the Baltic Sea, and which was held online from 13 to 16 April 2021. 

A revised full version of the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML) was presented at PRESSURE 14-2021. Based on the initial plan that was adopted in 2015 and incorporating the lessons learnt from all previous implementation efforts, the updated version is due to be adopted in October 2021 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021, alongside the new Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP). 

PRESSURE 14-2021 further recognized the successful implementation of some of the actions under the current RAP ML, notably on including HELCOM guidelines on marine litter in national and local waste prevention and waste management plans, as well as sharing best practices on waste management. 

Other completed actions under the RAP ML include the development of best practices on the disposal of scrapped pleasure boats and handling of expanded polystyrene, the identification of key practical aspects of prevention of litter, and the retrieval and the management of ghost nets, among others. 

On underwater noise, a factor affecting species that are reliant on hearing, such as harbour porpoises, seals and some species of fish, wide support was expressed for the draft Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise that is currently under development. The plan is due to be adopted with the BSAP later this year, along with an accompanying HELCOM Recommendation.

PRESSURE 14-2021 further developed recommendations on the regional policy document on hazardous substances that provides guidance on the upcoming HELCOM framework for hazardous substances. The framework is being developed to provide a more efficient and future-proof response to threats to the marine environment stemming from hazardous substances, especially from new chemicals. 

During the meeting, the topics of physical damage to the seafloor, the next HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS III), the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, eutrophication and issues pertaining to nutrients such as the Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the HELCOM framework on internal nutrient load management were also discussed. 

The meeting was attended by all HELCOM Contracting Parties and observers from Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), European Federation of National Associations of Water and Wastewater Services (EurEau), Race for the Baltic, and John Nurminen Foundation, as well as by invited guest from Baltic Nest Institute (BNI) and the City of Helsinki. 

A new multi-regional manual for the response to maritime pollution incidents in the Baltic, Greater North Sea and Mediterranean gets jointly published by HELCOM and its partners

A multi-regional manual for the response to maritime pollution incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) was recently jointly developed by the Bonn AgreementHELCOM and REMPEC

The new Marine HNS Response Manual – Multi-regional Bonn Agreement, HELCOM, REMPEC offers a comprehensive operational guidance for first responders and decision makers on marine incidents involving HNS. It also replaces the HELCOM Response Manual Volume 2, as agreed by the Helsinki Commission during its latest meeting in March 2021 (HELCOM 42-2021).

The guidance includes specific annexes for the Mediterranean, Baltic and Greater North Sea. The decision to develop the manual was taken during the Thirteenth Inter-Secretariat Meeting between Regional Agreement Secretariats, DG ECHO and EMSA that was held in Lisbon, Portugal in 2017. 

The HNS manual was developed under the Western Mediterranean Region Marine Oil and HNS Pollution Cooperation(West MOPoCo) project in collaboration with the Bonn Agreement, HELCOM and REMPEC. Financed by the European Union’s DG ECHO, the project was further supported by CedreISPRA and ITOPF.

The manual was also presented during the closure event of the West MOPOCO project that was held online on 14 April 2021. West MoPoCo supports Algeria, France, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia, in collaboration with Monaco, in their cooperation on oil spills and HNS marine pollution. The project was supported by HELCOM.

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.