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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
As of 1 July 2020, Germany has taken over the chairmanship of HELCOM from Finland for a period of two years, setting goals and priorities for combating the threats and pressures impacting the Baltic Sea.
“The overarching goal remains the best
possible protection of the Baltic Sea,” said Svenja Schulze, Minister of the
Environment of Germany, in her
video address introducing the German chairmanship of HELCOM, further adding
that all efforts should also consider aspects of “sustainability, relevance for
the climate and biological diversity, and suitability.”
As is customary for the chairing Party,
Germany has identified several
strategic directions for its chairmanship of HELCOM, focussing on
strengthening marine biodiversity and addressing pressing challenges such as
climate change, munitions on the seafloor and underwater noise.
Germany will also lead the finalization of
the update of the Baltic Seas Action Plan (BSAP) and its implementation, as
well as devote attention to strengthening regional cooperation and ocean
governance. Germany also intends to “make HELCOM fit for the future”, notably by
introducing more resource-saving and efficient working methods.
Lilian Busse from the German Environment Agency (UBA) has been designated by Germany as its Chair for HELCOM. Before joining UBA as Head of the Division on Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems, Busse worked at the California Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, she has close to 20 years of experience working on marine environmental protection and related matters.
A particularity of its chairmanship, Germany will, in addition to the Chairperson, also have two Vice-Chairs hailing from the two German federal states bordering the Baltic Sea, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The Vice-Chairs are Johannes Oelerich (Schleswig-Holstein) for the first year, and Andreas Röpke (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) for the second year.
“Germany is taking over the chairmanship as
a team,” said Busse.
The chairing Party usually sets the
strategic directions for HELCOM under its tenure, and convenes and chairs the
meetings of the Helsinki Commission and the Heads of Delegation, the highest
decision-taking bodies in HELCOM. Germany will furthermore host the next
Ministerial Meeting in October 2021.
Updating and implementing the BSAP – making progress on specific requirements;
Trying new solutions for well-known, pressing challenges;
Strengthening marine biodiversity; and
Understanding and responding to climate change and the Baltic Sea.
Prior to Germany, Finland chaired HELCOM from 2018 to 2020 and had set its own priorities on advancing the BSAP update process, the reduction of nutrient inputs, the effects of climate change, and the links between HELCOM and the UN Agenda 2030, especially the integration of SDG 14 in HELCOM processes.
“On the Finnish priorities, we committed to
leading the updating the Baltic Sea Action Plan and to finding common solutions
to formulate an ambitious and realistic updated plan,” said Saara
Bäck, the outgoing Chair of HELCOM, adding that “[we] achieved just
that, with the update process well on track despite the crisis having hit hard
across the entire Baltic Sea region – a feat that I cannot be prouder of and
which I would personally like to thank the entire HELCOM community for.”
Under the Finnish chairmanship, HELCOM
notably agreed on the vision and objectives of its Regional Nutrient Recycling
Strategy, crucial for closing nutrient loops, reducing nutrient surpluses and
avoiding nutrient runoff to the sea – the main cause of eutrophication.
Together with Baltic Earth, HELCOM also
launched the EN
CLIME network to gain a better understanding of how climate change affects the
Baltic, with a view to develop policy responses meant to strengthen the sea’s
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection
Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an
intergovernmental organization (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the
Baltic Sea area, consisting of ten members: the nine Baltic Sea countries
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and
Sweden, plus the European Union. A platform for environmental policy making at
the regional level, HELCOM works for a healthy Baltic Sea. Its mandate stems
from a regional treaty, the Helsinki Convention, whose implementation it
oversees. The HELCOM Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.
The Helsinki Convention was signed in
1974 by the Baltic Sea coastal countries to address the increasing environmental
challenges from industrialisation and other human activities, and that were
having a severe impact on the marine environment. The Helsinki Convention
includes the protection of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution from
land, air and sea. It also commits the signatories to take measures to conserve
habitats and biological diversity and to ensure the sustainable use of marine
resources. The Helsinki Convention was updated in 1992 to take into account the
geopolitical changes and emerging environmental challenges in the region. The
current version was ratified in 2000.
Baltic Sea Action Plan
To help reach its environmental
objectives, HELCOM has established the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) in 2007.
The BSAP is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measure and actions for good status
of the Baltic Sea’s environment. The BSAP’s current focus areas are
eutrophication, hazardous substances, biodiversity and maritime activities. The
BSAP will be updated in 2021, to adjust the current actions and to widen its
scope on issues such as climate change, marine litter, loss of seabed and
Yet another milestone was reached on the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), with the HELCOM Contracting Parties agreeing on 2030 as the new target year for the plan. The decision was taken at the 58th Meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 58-2020) that was held online from 9 to 10 June 2020.
During the meeting, the HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved the work plan and preliminary timetable of the BSAP, currently set to be launched during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting planned for October 2021.
Further on the BSAP, HOD 58-2020 also supported the inclusion of actions related to monitoring of the marine environment, climate change, awareness raising, financing, and economic and social analysis.
The prolongation of the Expert Working Group on Oiled Wildlife Response (EWG OWR) until 2021 was also agreed on, along with its new terms of reference. The EWG OWR seeks to increase capacities to oiled wildlife response through joint regional standards, cooperation and training.
On HOLAS III, the third holistic assessment of the state of the Baltic Sea, a provisional timeline and preliminary plan were also agreed on during HOD 58-2020. HOLAS III will cover an assessment period from 2016 to 2021, with the final results to be presented in 2023. The last holistic assessment was instrumental for the update of the BSAP, presenting a comprehensive overview of the state of the Baltic Sea and the pressures affecting it.
The Heads of Delegation expressed their appreciation for the accomplishments achieved by HELCOM under the Finnish chairmanship, set to end in June 2020, notably on advancing the BSAP update process, as well as work on the reduction of nutrient inputs, the effects of climate change, and the links between HELCOM and the UN Agenda 2030, especially the integration of SDG 14 in HELCOM processes.
“Finland is handing over the HELCOM chairmanship to Germany, where I am sure it will be in the best of hands – after all, HELCOM is one big family of likeminded siblings all working very hard towards achieving the same goal, namely a Baltic Sea showing good ecological status,” said Saara Bäck, the outgoing Chair of HELCOM.
Germany will take over the chairmanship from HELCOM in July 2020, for a period of two years. A particularity of its chairmanship, Germany will, in addition to the Chairperson, also have two Vice-Chairs hailing from the two German federal states bordering the Baltic Sea, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
“The overarching goal remains the best possible protection of the Baltic Sea,” said Svenja Schulze, Minister of the Environment of Germany, in her video address introducing the German chairmanship and shown during HOD 25-2020, further indicating that the update of the BSAP will play a central role during the German tenure. Other priorities include issues such as marine protected areas, ammunitions on the seabed, and increasing the visibility of HELCOM.
Lilian Busse from the German Environment Agency (UBA) has been designated by Germany as its Chair for HELCOM, seconded by Vice-Chair Johannes Oelerich (Schleswig-Holstein) for the first year, and Vice-Chair Andreas Röpke (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) for the second year.
We are currently in search of an enthusiastic expert to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat as Administrative Assistant. The position is to support the Administrative Officer in the administration of the Secretariat. While the tasks are mainly focused on finances, they also include tasks related to HR and general administration of the office.
assisting in closing of accounts and preparing the financial statement;
tasks related to accounting, invoicing, reporting and follow-up;
support in budgeting;
tasks related to HR and general administration (e.g. preparing contracts, reports and applications);
support in developing the administrative tools of the Secretariat;
other administrative tasks as assigned.
Qualifications and experience
Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (e.g. business administration, public administration, economics) or corresponding education;
minimum of two years of relevant professional experience from financial and administrative tasks;
knowledge of accounting practices and systems;
ability to work independently, take responsibility and initiatives;
excellent organizational and administrative skills and proven ability to deliver to tight timelines;
excellent social and team skills;
A thorough knowledge of the English and Finnish languages as well as high competence in IT skills are essential.
Application period has closed. Please do not apply.
HELCOM is currently in search of an enthusiastic and experienced expert to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat as fixed-term Associate Professional Secretary. The position of Associate Professional Secretary involves both administrative/assisting tasks and content/substance tasks related to the fields of activities of HELCOM.
The administrative tasks consist mainly of supporting the relevant Professional Secretaries in preparing multilateral meetings and communication within HELCOM and its different working groups and networks.
The substantive tasks are mainly related to biodiversity (covering habitats to species, ranging from plankton to marine mammals), pressures on the marine environment stemming from human activities (e.g. eutrophication and benthic habitats), conservation, monitoring and assessment. However, changes in the substance areas are possible.
The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission – HELCOM) is an intergovernmental organization (Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden) with its headquarters (Secretariat) in Helsinki, Finland, working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.
At present, we are around 30 staff members at the HELCOM Secretariat, and our working language is English. We offer an open, friendly, dynamic and energetic, often fast-paced, international working environment that challenges everyone to contribute their best to our common goals.
Ottilia Thoreson is a Programme Director at WWF Baltic (WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme)
From WWF’s and your perspective, what will be the biggest challenge(s) for the Baltic Sea’s environment in the future?
Despite expressed ambitions, countries are still not delivering on the political leadership necessary to achieve the original commitments of the BSAP. Decisions are still taken sector-by-sector, ministry-by-ministry, without applying a holistic, integrated approach, resulting in uncoordinated, conflicting and inefficient policy objectives and implementation. Regional and national work to restore the health of the Baltic Sea still mainly involves the environmental ministries, although necessary actions fall under the responsibility of a number of sector ministries, as for example maritime infrastructure, fisheries and agriculture, who are driven by other ambitions than improving the health of the Baltic Sea.
One of the biggest challenges for the Baltic Sea is and will continue to be for countries to apply an ecosystem-based approach to managing human activities and pressures to ensure they stay within the carrying capacity of the marine ecosystem. This means that policies driven in the region need to be cohesive as to not undermine the objective to reach good environmental status of the catchment and marine environments. As long as countries keep managing the resources and environment in silos by the different sectors undermining progress, there will be little change to the current state of the Baltic Sea.
What’s, in your opinion, the best way to go about these challenges?
NGOs from across the Baltic Sea region have presented a Shadow Plan to the Contracting Parties at the recent HELCOM High Level and Commission meeting. The Shadow plan lists our recommendations for how to secure and revive the health of the Baltic Sea and increase resilience to climate change. As the 2021 deadline passes, countries must strive to address the present challenges still not achieved and make sufficient progress to meet the legal requirements set by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, along with global requirements on the Sustainable Development Goals and revised Convention of Biological Diversity.
Overall, HELCOM has had much focus on setting recommendations. With the limited time we have to improve the environment and meet the climate targets, the Helsinki Convention needs to develop new implementation mechanisms, including a monitoring and evaluation system to give countries clear targets to fill and to be held accountable to.
Ecosystem Based Management must be set as the fundamental approach that requires transboundary integration across ecosystem boundaries – countries must plan across the land-sea interface. This will require stronger political will and countries to work across ministries and agencies to coordinate ocean use within planetary boundaries. Countries need to recognise that the use of the marine environment and its resources must restore, protect and maintain the diversity, productivity and resilience of the core functions of the marine ecosystems and be based on clean technologies, renewable energy and circular material flows.
Along with policy, business must become a stronger engine in the transition to sustainability through financial incentives. By ensuring principles are extended to producer responsibility applied across the entire life cycles of materials, and with schemes to hold industries accountable for the downstream impacts of their products.
Update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan: how big of an opportunity?
This year has many deadlines of legal frameworks to be met on national, regional and global level, with far too many countries missing their mark to attain the objective of a good environmental status for both the terrestrial and marine environment. World leaders are set to take critical decisions on the climate and the environment, under the revision of the UN global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the revised UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), to move global societies to a more sustainable path. 2020 is the year which offers the opportunity to effectively join the dots between climate, biodiversity, and financial sector to help improve the contribution of oceans and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It is timely and much needed to update the BSAP to take stock and acknowledge new pressures to the Baltic that can be addressed in a regional manner, update the regional objectives to be synergistic with EU and global commitments, and to meet the new challenges that have come to light in the nexus between ocean and climate. The BSAP can give regional guidance and momentum for countries to fulfil their climate targets under the Paris Agreement, and include marine conservation measures to their Nationally Determined Contributions that provide significant benefits for both climate mitigation and adaption and improvement to the Baltic Sea environment. To achieve this HELCOM needs to break the silos present within countries’ environmental and resource management, to better link the sea-climate interlinkages within governmental departments, academia and other entities for assisting in systematic and effective inclusion of marine and climate practitioners.
What should particularly be considered in the BSAP update, with a view on achieving GES?
The MSFD is a ‘framework directive’ allowing EU Member States the flexibility to interpret GES, meaning they define targets and measures for its descriptor indicators in their own way. Therefore, the achievement of GES relies heavily on the interpretation, harmonization and implementation of the MSFD by the Baltic Sea countries. Not to mention Russia is not obliged to meet the same requirement for its national waters, as a non-EU Member. The ambiguity in the Directive’s text has led to different interpretations by the countries in defining GES. This has created uncertainty, discrepancies and different levels of conformity and governance difficulties.
We know that no country will achieve their GES within the agreed time frame. Governments must shift their priorities and see the investment gains resulting from their actions to improve the GES rather than the cost of addressing the marine impacts faced today. The maritime spatial plans that are being developed by the respective countries is a fundamental tool to meet the legal frameworks of GES by identifying the most suitable way of managing sectors considering ecological, economic and social objectives. Applying effective maritime spatial plans, which safeguard the capacity of marine ecosystems to mitigate human-induced changes to marine ecosystems and processes, can be key to improving the state of the sea and establishing resilience to the impacts of climate change. There also needs more ambitious targets for marine protected areas, and not only acknowledging MPAs in the maritime spatial plans but actively reserving space for the development of a coherent network of MPAs.
HELCOM has been progressive in the region by setting guidelines for maritime spatial planning, with countries preparing to complete their plans for 2021. Similarly, HELCOM should set GES to also be compatible across the region making it a stronger tool for achieving the overall MSFD, with policy coordination and integration.
WWF is an observer in HELCOM: how has this worked out for WWF so far, or even for HELCOM?
As an observer in HELCOM, WWF gets a good overview and insight to the latest science, policy approaches and recommendations in the region, along with understanding countries’ political position on a wide array of issues that are to be tackled by the Contracting Parties addressed in the BSAP.
There are numerous working groups, position documents and reports produced within HELCOM. It is challenging as observers to engage in all areas of the BSAP due to limited WWF capacity and resources. Over the course of the current BSAP, lack of transparency has been an issue we have often flagged, along with monitoring of countries progress. Countries must be held accountable in their efforts or lack thereof to implement the actions of the BSAP. Current national reporting formats and database entries have not been coherent nor always given relevant progress on the measures. Thus Article 16 of the convention regarding reporting and exchange of information is not enough and should be updated. The secretariat must ensure transparency and accountability with clear standards for comparability and tracking of achievements. Not to mention user friendly for public access – as the public should have the right to know how countries are progressing to meet their commitments to achieving a healthy Baltic Sea.
It is positive to see that HELCOM has established a database to start following the progress in a more systematic manner and have recently produced a more thorough analysis of the implementation by showing clearly that countries national targets are still lagging behind, with merely 26% of the national actions fully implemented by all countries. The big question is what mechanism will be put in place in the updated BSAP to get countries to stop lagging and implement the commitments they have agreed to?
Do you feel HELCOM is receptive to its observers and stakeholders?
We have often felt HELCOM is positive to the contributions given by observers in the working groups, as we can often bring to light matters from the ‘ground’ which the intergovernmental bodies are not aware of in the respective countries. By being part of a wide network of civil society, NGOs work closely on environmental challenges and can help raise the awareness of these to HELCOM. As observers it is also important that we encourage transparency. We voice our concerns of the HELCOM work to the public and inform when the governments are not taking their responsibility to meet the commitments and policy objectives in the respective countries and out at sea, or more importantly when they let other interests take precedence to conserving nature and the ecosystem services humanity require in order to live and thrive in.
In terms of stakeholders, HELCOM is heavily focused on intergovernmental and science institutions for the progress and development of scientific knowledge and links to the policy work. Of the regional seas conventions, HELCOM has been progressive in engaging with some stakeholders, for example the transport authority and maritime shipping which has proven beneficial in driving policy change in the shipping arena when it comes to tackling air emissions and sewage waste from cruise and passenger ships. However, at the latest stakeholder meeting March 3rd, there was very low representation of the main marine sectors who are responsible for the cumulative effects to the Baltic; fisheries, renewable energies, tourism, agriculture, infrastructure, maritime shipping and defence. These are all important sectors in the regional economy and advancement towards sustainable management of the space and resources. In the future, the these sectors need to be included in an integrated manner. This is one of the fundamental elements to apply Ecosystem Based Management, for the contracting parties to encourage inclusive, multi-stakeholder participation for the long-term and adaptive management of marine resources.
HELCOM has recently joined the EMERGE project on shipping emissions in EU marine waters and was one of the 18 project partner organizations that attended its kick-off meeting in Laxenburg near Vienna, Austria from 24 to 26 February 2020.
Coordinated by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, EMERGE will quantify and evaluate the effects of potential emission reduction solutions for shipping in Europe, and develop effective strategies and measures to reduce the environmental impacts of shipping.
“Beyond producing data, the project will also develop several scenarios to help identify management options on how to best deal with all sorts of shipping emissions,” said Joni Kaitaranta, the HELCOM data coordinator handling the project at HELCOM. The outcomes of the project are expected to be further considered by the relevant HELCOM working groups.
As a project partner, HELCOM will mainly be involved in the work packages on hosting and publicizing spatial data outputs such as emission maps stemming from developed modelling framework and based on different management scenarios. HELCOM will furthermore participate in developing online tools for disseminating the outcomes and associated data to stakeholders, decision-makers and to the general public.
HELCOM has extensive experience in gathering and processing data on the marine environment and maritime activities, notably through its indicator work and its map and data service.
EMERGE will systematically analyze the complex interactions between technological options, pollutant emissions and dispersion, and environment. It will carry out measurements and modelling on actual vessels, along main shipping routes and in sensitive European marine regions.
Measurements will focus on abatement techniques and will include emissions to, and concentrations in water, air and marine biota. EMERGE will especially investigate how effectively available scrubbers reduce the effects of key pollutants.
For those who wonder why Laxenburg was chosen as the kick-off venue: besides hosting the premises of project partner IIASA where the event took place, the city is also (almost) the geographical centre of the project, effectively reducing CO2 travel emissions by the participants that were coming from all parts of Europe – ranging from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.