Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

PROTECT BALTIC site: hub for Baltic Sea biodiversity protection

Today, we unveil the official PROTECT BALTIC website, a significant milestone in the Horizon Europe project. PROTECT BALTIC is a collaborative effort with support from 17 dedicated partner organizations and coordinated by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM). The project aligns with the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the EU mission to Restore our Ocean and Waters, which underscores the need for united actions to protect and revitalize marine and freshwater ecosystems and preserve their rich biodiversity. 

PROTECT BALTIC is a direct response to the urgent need to expand marine protected areas in the Baltic Sea to 30%, with 10% under strict protection. 

Three decades of concerted efforts have resulted in 14-17% of the Baltic Sea under protection, with minimal strict protection measures in place. The region now faces dual challenges, with the clock ticking to double the current coverage by 2030. However, efforts should not solely be placed on expanding the network, but on improving it.

With this urgency and scope in mind, the project has a crystal-clear mission: to employ strategic planning and ecologically relevant approaches for enhancing and optimizing the existing network of marine protected areas. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to deliver positive biodiversity outcomes.

To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of forthcoming efforts, PROTECT BALTIC is committed to:

  • Developing a robust infrastructure and knowledge base for a data-driven, ecoregion-scale evidence base to inform strategic planning, measures, and long-term management.
  • Establishing a regionally agreed protection optimization framework to enhance governance and transboundary cooperation, including mutually agreed protection and restoration objectives.
  • Identifying the current baseline of protection efforts across the entire sea basin.
  • Pinpointing gaps in protection and restoration efforts by comparing the desired state with the current status.
  • Offering concrete, replicable support to empower Baltic Sea member states to strategically fill these gaps, harmonize their actions, and realize the full potential of protection and restoration efforts.

The launch of the website represents a significant step for the project, serving as a dynamic and comprehensive hub for a wide range of resources, information and tools that are integral for the project’s mission. The website will be regularly updated with the latest developments, progress reports, and news related to PROTECT BALTIC so that users have access to real-time information on the project’s progress and achievements.

For detailed information about the project and its progress, visit the newly launched website:


Paul Trouth
Communications Coordinator, PROTECT BALTIC 
+358 447106202

This news item was originally posted here.

MEDIA RELEASE: Regional assessment highlights ongoing challenges for the Baltic Sea ecosystem

Helsinki, 31 October 2023 – The Baltic Sea is facing increasing challenges due to climate change and biodiversity degradation driven by eutrophication, pollution, land use, and resource extraction, according to a report published by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) today.   

The State of the Baltic Sea 2023 summarises the main findings from the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3), which provides a comprehensive overview of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem health during 2016 to 2021.

Little to no improvement of the Baltic Sea environment occurred during the assessment period, the report finds. Key pressures on the Baltic Sea ecosystem include eutrophication, pollution from hazardous substances, land use and overfishing, but several other pressures also add to the total impact. However, measures to reduce pressures on the Baltic Sea are working, when they are implemented.

Jannica Haldin, HELCOM Deputy Executive Secretary and the overall coordinator of the assessment said:

“The findings serve as a sobering reminder that the Baltic Sea faces critical challenges stemming from human activities. HOLAS 3 represents the most comprehensive overview of the state of the Baltic Sea environment ever produced, and this knowledge must now be translated into informed action. The importance of transboundary cooperation, a shift towards genuinely environmentally sustainable practices and long-term commitment cannot be overstated.”

HELCOM’s 2021 Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is a cornerstone in addressing these challenges and remains highly relevant. The plan includes measures that HELCOM countries have agreed on to strengthen biodiversity, reduce environmental pressures, and improve the overall health of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. The BSAP aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, underscoring the need for coordinated action.

Key highlights from the report:

  • Environmental deterioration: Despite efforts to improve the Baltic Sea environment, the assessment period (2016-2021) showed little to no improvement. Several indicators, including pelagic and benthic habitats, fish stocks, waterbirds, and marine mammals, did not meet their threshold values, with some showing a worsening trend.
  • Impact of human activities: Pressures on the Baltic Sea ecosystem include eutrophication, pollution from hazardous substances, overfishing, and habitat destruction. These pressures are adversely affecting the ecosystem, leading to a decline in the overall state of biodiversity.
  • Cost of inaction: The poor environmental status of the Baltic Sea clearly impacts a wide range of ecosystem services on which we depend, affecting the profitability of fisheries and tourism for example. Achieving good environmental status in national marine waters by 2040 has been estimated to be worth 5.6 billion euros per year to the people around the Baltic Sea.
  • Regional measures: The assessment reveals that when regional measures are implemented, they have a positive impact on the environment. Reductions in nutrient inputs and hazardous substances, as well as actions for biodiversity conservation, have shown signs of success in some parts of the Baltic Sea.
  • Climate change: Climate change is increasingly affecting the Baltic Sea region, leading to rising water temperatures, reduced ice cover, and more extreme weather events. This amplifies the need for measures to enhance ecosystem resilience and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
  • Ecosystem-based management: The assessment emphasizes the importance of ecosystem-based management and transformative changes across various socioeconomic sectors interacting with or affecting the Baltic Sea environment.


Notes to editors

About HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS): A comprehensive holistic assessment on the state of the Baltic Sea is conducted once every six years. The reports result from collaborative efforts among HELCOM member states, scientific experts, and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Baltic Sea. They serve as a cornerstone of HELCOM’s work and policymaking, assisting in the monitoring of the implementation and the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

The third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3) focuses on the years 2016-2021 and includes results at various levels of detail, including monitoring data, indicator reports and thematic assessments. HOLAS 3 represents the most comprehensive assessment of the Baltic Sea environment to date. State of the Baltic Sea summary report highlights and synthesizes the main findings of the various assessment products.

About HELCOM: The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) and a regional sea convention (the Helsinki Convention) in the Baltic Sea area. A regional platform for environmental policy making, HELCOM was established in 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution. The Helsinki Convention has 10 Contracting Parties which are also the members of HELCOM. These include all Baltic Sea states and the European Union. The headquarters of HELCOM, the Secretariat, is in Helsinki.


Eeva Nyyssönen
Communication Secretary, HELCOM
+358 40 647 3996


State of the Baltic Sea 2023 report

Registration is now open for the State of the Baltic Sea 2023 report launch event

The third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3) provides a comprehensive overview of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem health during the assessment period from 2016 to 2021.

On 31 October 2023, HELCOM will host an online event to mark the release of the much-awaited State of the Baltic Sea 2023 summary report. The summary report consolidates and integrates results from various assessment products within HOLAS 3, including five thematic assessments and the indicator reports.   

The event will commence with a presentation of key findings from HOLAS 3, followed by a panel discussion on the results and their policy implications, titled ‘Now that we know, where do we go?’. The discussion will be moderated by Gun Rudquist from the Baltic Sea Centre, Stockholm University. Audience is invited to submit questions for the panellists and HELCOM experts.

Speakers at the event include Rüdiger Strempel (HELCOM), Jannica Haldin (HELCOM), Lone Munk Søderberg (Danish Ministry of Environment), Dominic Pattinson (OSPAR), Michel Sponar (European Union) and Johanna Källén Fox (WWF).

For more information, please visit the event page. Advance registration is required. The event will also be recorded and made available online for those who cannot attend live.


Eeva Nyyssönen
Communication Secretary
+358 40 6473996

HELCOM to co-host a workshop on submerged munitions in the Baltic Sea at this year’s EUSBSR Annual Forum

The 14th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) will take place in Riga on 4-5 October 2023. The theme of this year’s forum is Safe and Sustainable Baltic Sea Region for Future Generations, with special focus on climate affairs, green energy and future generations.

As part of the forum’s programme, HELCOM will co-host a workshop with Pomorskie Region and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) on Submerged munitions in the Baltic Sea – environmental, security and other challenges on 4 October at 15:00-16:30 EEST. HELCOM’s Executive Secretary Rüdiger Strempel will be one of the speakers in the workshop.

Additionally, HELCOM will showcase its work related to maritime spatial planning (MSP) and hazardous substances at the expo area of the Networking Village on 5 October, which will take place at the Small Guild.

For more information about the forum and HELCOM’s presence there, please visit the event page.

HOLAS 3 thematic assessments unveil Baltic Sea ecosystem health

After several years in the making, HOLAS 3 thematic assessments on the state of the Baltic Sea have been published, covering the period of 2016–2021. The thematic assessments are part of the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3), providing a holistic view of the Baltic Sea ecosystem health. 

The holistic approach highlights the interconnectedness of various environmental factors and their impact on the ecosystem. The five assessment reports each focus on a specific topic, addressing the state of biodiversity, environmental pressures, eutrophication, and the relationship between humanity and nature. The findings offer valuable insights for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders alike.

The results of HOLAS 3 have been published in stages, commencing in March 2023, and the process will culminate in the publication of the summary report State of the Baltic Sea, expected at the end of October 2023.

A comprehensive holistic assessment on the state of the Baltic Sea is conducted once every six years. The reports result from collaborative efforts among HELCOM member states, scientific experts, and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Baltic Sea. They serve as a cornerstone of HELCOM’s work and policymaking, assisting in the monitoring of the implementation and the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

Thematic assessments 2023

HELCOM Thematic assessment of economic and social analyses 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of spatial distribution of pressures and impacts 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of hazardous substances, marine litter, underwater noise and non-indigenous species 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of biodiversity 2016-2021 (Main report compressed)

HELCOM Thematic assessment of eutrophication 2016-2021

Vacancy: Professional Secretary (WG GEAR, WG BioDiv, WG Fish) at the HELCOM Secretariat 

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 the Implementation of the Ecosystem Approach (WG GEAR), Working Group on Biodiversity, Protection and Restoration (WG BioDiv) and Working Group on Ecosystem-based Sustainable Fisheries (WG Fish). Closing date: 4 Dec 2023

The post, which is based in Helsinki, Finland, will become vacant on 1 July 2024. For the full vacancy announcement, go here.

Annual international oil spill exercise BALEX takes place in the Gulf of Riga

BALEX 2022. Photo: Havariekommando

The annual international Baltic Sea pollution response exercise BALEX 2023 is set to take place in the Gulf of Riga and its coastal region from 30 August to 1 September 2023.

The exercise aims to test the coordinated operation of the Baltic Sea response fleet units in addressing pollution incidents at sea. It will involve 11 military and civilian vessels from eight Baltic Sea countries: Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Latvia. These vessels are equipped with specialized pollution recovery equipment.

The coordination of BALEX rotates annually between the Baltic Sea states, and this year the exercise is organised by the State Environmental Service of Latvia, in cooperation with the Latvian National Armed Forces Coast Guard Service, and the State Fire and Rescue Service.

The participating Baltic Sea states’ agencies responsible for pollution response are aiming to enhance cooperation and communication among vessels carrying out the recovery of oil pollution at sea, examine the use of oil recovery equipment for shoreline the pollution incidents and the involvement of volunteers in rescuing animals.

BALEX 2023 will commence with a table-top simulation of an accident involving hazardous and noxious substances. The scenario is based on an actual accident where the engine room of a container ship caught fire  near the Latvian coast in the Gulf of Riga.

During the second day of the exercise, practical drills will focus on an oil pollution accident and mitigating its impact in the Gulf of Riga and on the coast north of the port of Skulte. The scenario entails a fictional oil tanker grounding in the Gulf of Riga, leading to the spillage of diesel fuel, heavy fuel oil and marine fuel.

In parallel with BALEX on 31 August 2023, the Multipurpose Maritime Operation (MMO) led by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which has been taking place in the central and eastern part of the Baltic Sea will be completed.  

The annual international marine pollution response exercise in the Baltic Sea BALEX is held in accordance with the 1992 Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (the Helsinki Convention). This convention mandates cooperative responses and preparedness among the Baltic Sea States for large-scale accidents. The BALEX exercise has been held every year since 1989.

For more information please contact Laura Mazmača, Senior Inspector, State Environmental Service of Latvia. Tel. +371 29544526,

New project sets sail to fulfill MSP planners’ dreams

Earlier this year, HELCOM joined a new initiative aimed at easing the lives of Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) planners, while supporting sustainable use of human and natural capital in the Baltic Sea Region. The EU-funded Baltic Sea2Land project focuses on addressing the complexity of land-sea interactions and the overlapping jurisdictions of various public authorities, necessitating multi-level governance.

Manuel Frias, who coordinates the project at HELCOM, explains the project’s goal with a metaphor: “Public authorities, together with Sustainable Blue Economy sectors such as fishery and tourism, can be likened to a sailing boat, where the many stakeholders act as the ship’s crew. They must collaborate effectively to avoid collisions and navigate towards their intended destination. To ensure smooth sailing through these stormy land-sea interaction waters, a guiding system, a navigator, is required.”

The key output of the project is the Sea2Land Navigator, a tailored platform providing guidance and decision-making support for public authorities and Sustainable Blue Economy stakeholders, particularly MSP planners at various levels and competences.

“Land-sea interactions in Maritime Spatial Planning are difficult to grasp. We are designing a decision-making tool that will make the life of an MSP planner easier”, Frias says.

Led by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of Latvia, the project has 13 partners and six associated organisations from six countries in the Baltic Sea Region, including ministries, regional planning authorities, representatives of cities, and NGOs, and international actors.  HELCOM takes the lead in two activities, which focus on coordinating the design and development of the Sea2Land Navigator.

Funded by Interreg Baltic Sea Region, the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2025. HELCOM’s share of the 3.45 million € budget is 267.500€.

Find out more about the project here

BLOG: Regional cooperation is vital for addressing riverine litter

by Marta Ruiz

Photo by Catherine Sheila/Pexels

One of the earliest lessons I learned as a child was the importance of sharing, an ethos that still resonates with me today. As an adult, I have come to understand that cooperation is key, especially when it comes to addressing critical issues like marine litter.

Litter knows no boundaries, affecting not only in the Baltic Sea but also in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the North-East Atlantic. In 2016, it was estimated that 19-23 million tonnes — or 11%, of plastic waste generated globally — leaked into aquatic ecosystems, and this was predicted to reach up to 53 million tonnes annually by 2030.

In recognition of this shared problem, colleagues from these Regional Sea Conventions have been meeting since 2014 to informally discuss and exchange experiences on the implementation of the respective action plans on marine litter.

Monitoring for improved management

We already monitor beach litter, litter on the seafloor, and microlitter in sediments and water columns. However, national activities on riverine litter monitoring remain limited, and this is why inter-regional harmonisation is so vital. Once we monitor rivers with the same methodology regionally, we will obtain comparable data. These data will help us to identify the primary sources of riverine litter, the most frequently found items, as well as the areas of accumulation. Armed with this knowledge, we can devise the most appropriate mitigation measures to implement, primarily focussing on preventive ones, as these are more sustainable and cost-effective than remediation ones.

Laying the groundwork for further actions

This is where the Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML) comes into play. Adopted in 2021, the plan contains 28 actions addressing both land-based and sea-based sources of marine litter in the Baltic Sea.

Informed by the experiences gained through the first Action Plan (2015) and supported by data from the Second Holistic Assessment (HOLAS II) on the current state of marine litter in the Baltic Sea, the plan acknowledges the issue of riverine litter with a single action. Action RL3 aims to “establish a regional pilot project in collaboration with river basin authorities to assess input of macro litter by rivers to build sound regional knowledge base.”

While this action plan could be called modest in its approach to riverine litter, if successfully executed, it will pave the way towards an improvement in knowledge on this matter and will help determine the need to emphasise tackling riverine litter in the third Action Plan on Marine Litter.

Although it may be premature to discuss a third action plan, being prepared for the future and working collectively with colleagues from other Regional Sea Conventions will undoubtedly ensure our success on the challenges that lie ahead.


Mock Employee
Marta Ruiz

Associate Professional Secretary

New HELCOM indicator reports provide the latest evaluations of Baltic marine environment

The latest indicator evaluations on the status of the Baltic Sea marine environment have been published on the new HELCOM indicator website. The total number of indicators now amounts to 59, covering several major components of the Baltic Sea ecosystem including pelagic and benthic habitats, fish, waterbirds and marine mammals, as well as a number of human-induced pressures.

New indicators include the abundance and distribution of the harbour porpoise, the amount of beach litter, shallow water oxygen, as well as concentrations of copper, among others. Previously, there was no agreement or methodology in place to assess the status of these topics.

Several indicators also apply preliminary threshold values (for example, for underwater noise) and where possible, the threshold values have been made compatible with EU-wide processes. For the first time, threshold values for the number of drowned mammals and waterbirds in fishing gear (bycatch indicator) have been applied.

The HELCOM indicators support measuring progress towards regionally agreed targets and objectives defined in the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP). The indicators provide a mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the measures that have been put in place by regularly synthesizing common regional data into an evaluation of progress towards these goals and the BSAP vision. The evaluations contribute directly to the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3).

On the new website, the indicators can be filtered by type (driver/element/pressure/state), category (core/pre-core/supplementary) as well as policy relevance (BSAP segment and MSFD criteria). The development of the new HELCOM indicator website was implemented by the HELCOM BLUES project, co-funded by the European Union.

About HELCOM indicators

HELCOM indicators are developed to evaluate the status of biodiversity elements, evaluate other relevant environmental condition factors, evaluate human-induced pressures on the Baltic Sea, and support broader assessments and overviews in the region.

HELCOM indicators are measured in relation to regionally agreed threshold values, which are specific to each indicator. They may take the form of maximum, minimum or a range of values, and there can be variation in the threshold value(s) within an indicator (sub-regional) and between indicators.

The outcome of an indicator evaluation is expressed in terms of failing or achieving the threshold value and this is therefore indicative of if good environmental status is achieved or not for each specific indicator.

The indicators are selected based on ecological and policy relevance, measurability with monitoring data, and linkage to anthropogenic pressures. They are then developed by lead experts through regional cooperation, using the best available scientific knowledge. Each indicator is regularly reviewed and updated by technical and policy experts from across the region (HELCOM Expert and Working Groups). The work on introducing new indicators continues to cover all relevant topics and issues.

More information about the indicators can be found in the Indicator Manual.