Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

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.

Annual Report provides an overview of HELCOM activities in 2022

HELCOM Annual Report 2022 has been published. The report provides a comprehensive overview of our activities, including the achievements and challenges in the 17 different areas HELCOM works on.

In 2022, these included Species and habitats, Spatial conservation and MPAs, Agriculture, Nutrients, Hazardous substances, Marine litter, Dredging and seabed, Underwater noise, Shipping, Response to spills, Submerged hazards, Fisheries, Maritime spatial planning, Climate change, Economy and society, Monitoring and assessment as well as International processes.

The major events of the year for HELCOM included the strategic pause, change of chairmanship, and the preparations for holistic assessments of the state of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3).    

“At the beginning of 2022, COVID-19 gradually seemed to abate and, after two years of working in pandemic mode, hopes within HELCOM – as elsewhere – ran high that this might be the first relatively “normal” year since 2019. It was not. Inevitably, the current geopolitical crisis also seriously impacted our organization. However, it did not bring HELCOM to a standstill. Rather, new mechanisms for the work of the Commission were established, enabling continuity of operations.”

Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM

Download the full report here.

Launching the new HELCOM Map and Data Service

The new HELCOM Map and data service (MADS) website is now live. Thanks to the Baltic Data Flows project, the HELCOM MADS has undergone a significant refresh of its user interface and visualization functionalities. Improvements include a modern and responsive user interface along with new widgets such as query layer and export map.

The new HELCOM MADS with improved data layering and viewing functionality.

As with the previous MADS website, datasets are grouped under eight different ‘services’ that can be accessed using the free text search tool or by browsing the services layer tree (shown in the screenshot below). Multiple data layers can be added to the map explorer for conducting unique queries and analyses.

The data is also available in vector and raster formats and accessible as a service (ArcGIS Rest, OGC WMS, WFS). Each dataset is linked to the INSPIRE-compliant HELCOM Metadata catalogue record, where the data can be downloaded. 

The free text search bar and services layer tree navigation tool.

Following the selection of one or multiple datasets, the data is displayed on the map. The ‘map layers info’ box allows the further exploration of data through the selection of widgets, as shown in the screenshot below. In addition, up to 12 background maps can be selected to obtain the most relevant visualization for the user’s needs. Maps generated by users can then be printed or exported in various file formats.

Ideas for improvements were collected via user survey at the start of the project in April 2021. We are now collecting feedback on the new HELCOM MADS website to inform the project KPIs. Please take the survey here and tell us what you think (it will take less than 5 minutes).

Written by Matthew Richard, who is the Project Coordinator for the Baltic Data Flows project. This post was originally published on the Baltic Data Flows project website.

Multiple vacancies open for the PROTECT BALTIC project

We are currently recruiting project staff for an EU-funded PROTECT BALTIC project, a large-scale pan-Baltic project focused on marine protection.

For more information please visit the vacancy page.

Photo by Linda Eller-Shein at Pexels