The new video explains in a nutshell, why the Holistic Assessments on the State of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS) are so important. The next assessment, HOLAS 3, will be released in 2023.
For getting a sufficient level of information on the state of the entire sea area, and for seeing any improvement or deterioration caused by current human activities, such large-scale assessments must be prepared at regular intervals. The HOLAS assessments provide regular updates on the environmental situation in the Baltic Sea and, with each report captures a ‘moment’ in the dynamic life history of the Baltic Sea.
The forthcoming HOLAS 3 report highlights a broad range of aspects, covering the state of the ecosystem, environmental pressures and human well-being. It contributes to a vast sharing of knowledge, and to the development of knowledge, both within and across topics.
The focus of the assessment is to show results of relevance at the regional scale, and large-scale patterns between geographic areas.
The light and white corn product has been used again in a severe context, when the Baltic Sea nations prepared for the worst to happen in the international oil spill response exercise BALEX DELTA, held in August 2022. Popcorn simulates oil, which floats on the water’s surface and may quickly disperse into vast areas, especially with high winds.
The annual drill was hosted this year by Germany, the exercise was a success, and the video about it is worth a watch.
* * * Held every year since 1989, the HELCOM BALEX DELTA is an annual operational exercise designed to test the readiness for responding to pollution incidents such as oil spills or chemical leakages from shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea. It checks our alarm procedures, the know-how and operational capability for responding to spills, and the cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries.
More than 200 participants joined online to learn more about the regional effects of climate change in the Baltic Sea, on the first day of the Baltic Stakeholder Conference (BSC2022) on 26 September 2022. The recording is now available. The full outcome, including the summaries of the second day workshops, will be uploaded to the event web page later.
The effects of climate change are already evident in the Baltic Sea. However, they are often not easy to understand and can be difficult to distinguish from other anthropogenic pressures. There is large variation between different regions in the Baltic Sea, ruling out simple management solutions.
One key purpose of the Conference was to present the key outtakes of the Climate Change in the Baltic Sea Fact Sheet, as well as present the outcomes of the HELCOM Blue Carbon Workshop. Moreover, the 1-hour panel was organized to particularly stimulate and gather views on climate change mitigation and adaptation from policymakers, research community and other stakeholders in the Baltic Sea region.
The Conference was moderated by Jannica Haldin, Deputy Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Delivered by: Sebastian Unger, First Marine Commissioner, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection of Germany; Marcus Reckermann, Head of the International Baltic Earth Secretariat; and Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary, HELCOM
Humankind is in essence fully dependent on healthy oceans as allies in the fight against climate change. It is crucially important to tackle the current triple crises of climate change, biodiversity and pollution also impacting the Baltic Sea marine environment.
Collaboration between HELCOM and Baltic Earth, a key alliance underlying the Conference, has lasted for close to twenty years and can be viewed as a model for channelling scientific findings into the regional political process. The most recent joint publication of the two organizations is the 2021 Climate Change Fact Sheet.
Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage, states the 2022 IPCC Assessment Report. The global community, following e.g. the Paris Agreement context, as well all the commitments made at the national level, play a crucial part on climate change mitigation, while the regional level efforts, such as the new climate actions set in the 2021 HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan update, are prominent in tackling the challenges regionally, at a sea basin level.
Climate Change in the Baltic Sea – state of affairs
Diving deeper into the topic through keynote presentations (available here):
Baltic Earth/HELCOM fact sheet on climate change in the Baltic Sea. Markus Meier, Chair of the Baltic Earth Science Steering Group, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde
Blue Carbon in the Baltic Sea Region – Excerpts from HELCOM Workshop 2021. Manuela Krakau, Scientific Officer, German Environment Agency (UBA)
Climate projections for the Baltic Sea Region. Erik Kjellström, Climate researcher, Swedish Meteorological Hydrological Institute (SMHI)
Johanna Källén Fox, Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
Markus Meier, Chair of the Baltic Earth Science Steering Group, Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde
Henna Rinne, Senior Specialist, Ministry of the Environment of Finland
Evija Šmite, Chair of HELCOM, Deputy Director General and the Director of Fisheries Control Department, State Environmental Service of Latvia
Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary, HELCOM
What is the added value of regional level work to climate change mitigation?
For creating a healthy ecosystem that is resilient, we need cooperation, as we all know that the sea knows no boundaries. The less we do in mitigation, the more we will have to do in the adaptation later. Blue carbon could be a good goal.
Baltic Sea region is rather specific in many respects, there are many stressors acting on the ecosystem both at sea and from land which differ from any other place in the world.
Having a regional perspective in climate adaptation certainly has added value of, as many aspects – mitigation, Marine Protected Areas, climate refugees, among others – really make it necessary to consider climate change in regional account.
The Climate Change Fact Sheet concisely sets the scene for the work that needs to be done, and it takes well into account the complexities of different human uses, biodiversity etc. Identifying the links is essential in the Baltic Sea protection and HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan has nicely included them.
One should “think globally, act regionally”, not only locally. Regional cooperation is crucial and necessary, and a well-functioning regional organization is fundamental in succeeding in it.
Baltic Sea Region has traditionally cooperated, beyond HELCOM, for centuries. Other advantages are avoid duplication of efforts and maximizing synergies, for more efficient results.
No time to lose
We also have a problem with time scales: impacts of climate change are documented to come faster than expected. Will we lose the natural Baltic Sea carbon storage capacity faster than we can act?
Moreover, climate change is also complex in terms of needs for society and environment to leave space for nature “do its job” to naturally recover, which takes time.
We must act with limited knowledge already now; the uncertainties are large, but we know now more than, there is a lot of information that we can already now use in marine management. And at the same time, we constantly increase our knowledge.
The problem of climate change has been known for decades and we are now on the crises stage. Nevertheless, we also have good goals and targets already in place in the Baltic Sea region, we are definitely not starting from scratch neither regionally or nationally.
The costs of inactions must be made aware of, all of us have a way to make our voices heard higher in the political agenda – and stay there.
Applications are invited for the post of Communication Secretary at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) Secretariat to take care of the external communication and public relations activities of HELCOM. The post, which is based in Helsinki, Finland at the Commission’s Secretariat, will be become vacant on 1 February 2023.
Candidates with the required expertise and qualifications are invited to submit their application no later than 14 November 2022.
The lively panel discussion of the side event, Delivering global commitments in the Baltic Sea Region, raised particular praise during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, held from 27 June to 1 July 2022. The key outcome summary of the side event has now been published.
The participants of the side event, organized by the Baltic Sea countries and partner organizations, discussed the role of effective regional marine governance in achieving SDG 14 and presenting HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan as a best-practice example.
As a case in point, the side event used Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and, areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas – the so-called Other Effective Conservation Measures or OECMs. The programme of the event is available at the event webpage.
Voluntary commitments for the Ocean Conference are initiatives voluntarily undertaken by for instance governments, NGOs, financial and academic institutions, as well as the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations.
The UN Ocean Conference 2020 was postponed due to COVID 19. Some new HELCOM voluntary commitments have now been submitted (as of August 2022) to the UN Ocean Conference Registry of Commitments. Some of the commitments have been modified from the 2020 proposals while some are newly created.
In a special video, three key experts as well the executives of HELCOM Secretariat explain about HELCOM achievements and goals, and how they have been created to support reaching the Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life under water.
The recently updated online tool HELCOM Explorer allows to easily see how HELCOM cooperation bears fruit, and how the countries’ actions are being fulfilled when reaching the majority of their ambitious HELCOM targets and the ultimate goal: Baltic Sea in good ecological state.
The actions listed in the Explorer include the entire updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (2021), HELCOM Ministerial Meeting commitments from 2010 onwards as well as selected HELCOM Recommendations. The updated BSAP contains 199 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it includes new actions on emerging or previously less highlighted pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance.
“As the HELCOM Explorer provides a comprehensive overview and a great amount of information on both joint and national actions, with easy filtering tools, it is quite a unique system in regional marine governance. Moreover, it is a very concrete indicator of transparency for our stakeholders and to the broader audiences”, says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.
Joint actions are carried out together by all HELCOM Contracting Parties, for example creating a new Recommendation, joint management guidelines, or assessments of environmental status. National actions are implemented at the country level, and they include e.g. incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.
The Explorer allows for easy overview browsing, but also for more detailed filtering, according to the details of the actions in the Baltic Sea Action Plan such as segment, theme, or target year. The tool further provides information on why the action is needed (rationale), what pressures or activities are addressed by the action in question, and, for some, what is the potential effect of the measure to reduce pressures or improve the state of the Baltic Sea. All data is available for download.
The HELCOM Explorer tool to track the progress on the implementation of HELCOM commitments was first launched in 2016, and the interface was updated in 2020.
The reporting on the implementation of the joint actions is done by relevant HELCOM Working Groups and the reporting on the national actions by the countries. The first reporting on the implementation of actions in the 2021 BSAP is planned to take place in 2025, followed by the second reporting round in 2029.
Associate Professional Secretary
About the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP)
The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and actions for achieving good environmental status of the sea, ultimately leading to a Baltic Sea in a healthy state.
Initially adopted by the HELCOM Contracting Parties in 2007, the 2021 BSAP is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on that are still to be implemented, while, in addition, includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns.
Guided by the HELCOM vision of “a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities”, the updated BSAP is divided into four segments with specific goals: biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and sea-based activities.
About HELCOM Recommendations
One of the most important duties of the Helsinki Commission is to make Recommendations on measures to address certain pollution sources or areas of concern. Since the beginning of the 1980s HELCOM has adopted some 260 HELCOM Recommendations for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The implementation of various HELCOM recommendations by the HELCOM Contracting Parties plays an important role in achieving the objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM Explorer covers the reporting on the implementation status of selected HELCOM Recommendations.
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 decreasing number of harmful spills in the Baltic is likely a result of intensive aerial surveillance, even if the density of shipping has grown. It acts as a deterrent, as the vessels are aware that they are constantly being watched”, comments Markus Helavuori, Professional Secretary of HELCOM.
Over the years, the aerial surveillance activity in the countries has substantially improved. For example, the remote sensing equipment on board aircrafts and satellite surveillance is in good use to enable bigger area coverage and optimization of flights effectiveness. While in 2021, staff absence caused by covid-19 and technical reasons caused a dip in the annual flight hours, overall, the high number of annual flight hours has been maintained.
Aerial surveys of oil spills have been carried out by Contracting Parties of HELCOM with standardized methods for several years, covering nearly the entire Baltic Sea. That is why it has been a substantial part of the HELCOM indicator on oil spills affecting the marine environment and, the confidence of the indicator evaluation has been considered high. The update of all HELCOM indicators will soon be finished as they form an elementary part of the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3), to be released in 2023.
Collecting data on the frequency, size and nature of such spills is essential to understanding the environmental impacts of different kinds of substances on the Baltic Sea. Out of the 52 mineral oil spills identified in the Baltic Sea by air in 2021, the overwhelming majority (98%) were smaller than one cubic metre (1 m3) – small sizes of detected spills being another long-standing trend.
Interactive dashboard on observed discharges in the Baltic Sea (1998-2021)
An interactive data visualization dashboard has been developed by the HELCOM Secretariat to offer users a more open and analytical view into the aerial surveillance dataset (dashboard accessible here). This dashboard presents data on detected spills of mineral oil in the Baltic Sea from 1998 until 2021. Reporting on spills of other substances and unknown substances is also included from 2014 onwards. The dashboard has been developed using ‘Power BI’ a data visualization software by Microsoft.
The dashboard is interactive meaning that users can filter data based on fields of interest. Users can drill-down into the dataset by simply selecting a data field via the visual, dropdown, or map.
About aerial surveillance for spills in the Baltic Sea
Currently coordinated by the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS), the surveillance of spills started in 1989 to detect spills of mineral oil. Since 2014, spills of other and unknown substances have been added to the reporting, among them garbage, litter and floating objects. Spills of unidentified chemical substances and novel fuel types warrant particular attention with regard to improving detection and response capabilities, especially in light of higher risks for accidents as a result of increased marine traffic and extreme weather conditions due to climate change.
Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII, Regulation 7), the HELCOM Contracting Parties – the nine Baltic countries and the European Union – have agreed to monitor pollution incidents and spills, making “necessary assessments of the situation and [taking] adequate response action in order to avoid or minimize subsequent pollution effects.”
The HELCOM Recommendation 34E/4 further advises to monitor the whole of the Baltic Sea area with regular airborne surveillance, to develop and improve the existing remote sensing systems, and to coordinate surveillance activities which take place outside territorial waters.
Associate Professional Secretary
(Maritime, Response, Fish)
International partners practice at sea and on the shore
The Bay of Mecklenburg and the beach of Warnemünde are the scene of the largest oil spill-response exercise in the Baltic Sea, BALEX, from 22nd until the 25th of August 2022. During this international exercise, multi-discipline specialists and crew members from countries in the Baltic Sea region train their skills on combating widespread oil spills. As the Baltic Sea is one of the most vulnerable sea areas in the world, it is crucial to prepare for the worst.
The organizing of BALEX exercises rotates annually between all bordering states of the Baltic Sea. This year Germany is the host country. Central Command for Maritime Emergencies in Cuxhaven, responsible party for national maritime emergencies, leads the exercise.
About 400 specialists from different countries and 17 vessels are involved in the exercise, supported by helicopters and the German surveillance airplane “DO-228“.
The regional cooperation has long roots. This year, international units consist of diverse organizations from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden as well as the European Safety Agency (EMSA).
At the German side, the Navy, Federal Police, the Water and Shipping Directorate, five fire departments as well as the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies join forces.
The exercise plan is multi-sectional and spreads over four days. Main components are a Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) scenario in vicinity of the Kadet trench, between Germany and Denmark (23 August) and an oil spill event that demands counter pollution in Mecklenburg bay.
The exercise is crucial in improving the communication and the series of operations between the involved units of all participating organizations and international attendees. The BALEX DELTA drill is sometimes topped with onshore response, like this year, and it has elements of other exercises such BALEX ALPHA (table-top), BALEX BRAVO (alarm), BALEX CHARLIE (functional), etc.
What is BALEX DELTA
Held every year since 1989, the HELCOM BALEX DELTA is an annual operational exercise designed to test the readiness for responding to pollution incidents such as oil spills or chemical leakages from shipping accidents in the Baltic Sea. It checks our alarm procedures, the know-how and operational capability for responding to spills, and the cooperation between the Baltic Sea countries.
As of 1 July 2022, Latvia will be the Chair of HELCOM until 30 June 2024. The chairmanship rotates between Contracting Parties every two years, in alphabetical order.
Ms Evija Šmite, Deputy Director General and the Director of Fisheries Control Department, State Environmental Service of Latvia starts as the new Chair of HELCOM. She has worked on matters regarding marine environment protection and fisheries control in the public administration of Latvia since 1997.
The priorities of the Latvian Chairmanship will focus on:
HELCOM as an effective and well-functioning organisation of regional cooperation which is capable of action, including in unforeseen and force majeure situations.
Implementation of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP 2021), with particular attention paid to:
protection of marine biodiversity
advancing ecosystem based sustainable marine management by integration of environmental objectives with socio-economic goals
Strengthening the role of regional cooperation in the context of international ocean governance.
Ms. Ilona Mendzina has been selected as the Vice-Chair. She is the Deputy Director of the Nature Protection Department, and the Head of Species and Habitats Protection Division of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development.
A new HELCOM leaflet summarizing German chairmanship
Coincidingly, a leaflet on current HELCOM work and to celebrate the conclusion of the German Chairmanship, ending on 30 June 2022, is now free for downloading in our website:
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 offering all staff members the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to achieving our common goals. For more information about HELCOM, please visit our home page: www.helcom.fi.
We are currently seeking to recruit an enthusiastic expert to strengthen our team as a Project Researcher in the field of hazardous substances, specifically on the Biological Effects of Contaminants (marine/aquatic/environmental contaminants).
Biological Effects of Contaminants project
The recent update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP 2021) and preparatory work leading up to this have identified the need for a strengthening of work related to the Biological Effects of Contaminants in HELCOM (i.e. in the Baltic Sea marine environment). The main focus of this work is to make significant steps towards achieving action HL13 in the BSAP 2021: ‘By 2028 develop further relevant monitoring for the biological effects of hazardous substances in order to facilitate a reliable ecosystem health assessment’. To support the fulfilment of this regionally agreed action and take steps towards it this project will initially focus on reviewing existing methodologies and exploring possible harmonisation, developing and testing an integrated approach that can be applied across the region, and developing a series of relevant recommendations for future use or future development regionally in this field.
The work builds on previous processes within HELCOM, including the following:
The Project Researcher’s task is to review suitable Biological Effects of Contaminants methodologies, carry out the development and testing of an integrated assessment approach for the region, and develop recommendations on future work and harmonisation options with relevance to the Baltic Sea (HELCOM) region. The activities include:
Developing an initial proposal/work plan for the tasks to be carried out;
Taking guidance from the relevant regional Experts within the EGs and WGs;
Carrying out relevant review and preparatory steps, e.g., taking stock of current status quo in HELCOM, reviewing relevant methodologies and indicators available and evaluating current integrated assessment approaches;
Drafting a summary of available methodologies and their potential for application;
Further developing and applying an integrated assessment approach for the region;
Evaluating best options for harmonisation and future work in the form of recommendations;
Supporting other associated processes as considered needed by relevant Secretariat staff.
The tasks are expected to be carried out independently. However, the Project Researcher will cooperate with the HELCOM staff involved, who will provide comments and general guidance on the overall HELCOM framework. The HELCOM Expert Group on Hazardous Substances (EG HAZ), in particular the recently formed sub-team focussing on Biological Effects, will support and guide the work. EG HAZ is an international network of regional experts that works to enhance regional collaboration and serves as a platform for information exchange. The work carried out in the project will also be reviewed and guided by relevant HELCOM Working Groups (WGs). Relevant work may also enter the Third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea report (see the 2018 version).
The Project Researcher is responsible for reporting and communicating of project work and outcomes to relevant HELCOM groups. In addition, the person may be requested to work in other processes and projects related to the same topics/field.
Qualifications and experience
The tasks require a background in the Biological Effects of Contaminants, including mixture and combined effects and statistical approaches for their identification. Expertise in a closely related field, such as marine biology, ecology, ecotoxicology, or environmental chemistry, will be beneficial. Documented expertise and knowledge related to the statistical evaluation of multiple drivers of physiological response in aquatic organisms, the impacts of contaminants in the marine/aquatic environment, and interdisciplinary work are also a significant benefit.
The successful candidate shall have:
University degree (minimum Master’s degree or equivalent) related to the Biological Effects of Contaminants or another related field;
Minimum of two years of relevant professional experience at the national or international level;
Familiarity and experience in several of the following:
Biological effects of environmental contaminants;
Mixture and combined effects in aquatic environments;
Use of biomarkers and bioindicators of animal health;
Statistical and analytical approaches for analysis of biological effects;
Environmental/marine policy at the national or international level;
Interdisciplinary work in environmental sciences.
Excellent organizational and administrative skills and proven ability to deliver to tight timelines;
Ability to work independently, take responsibility and initiative;
Excellent social and team skills;
as well as high competence in IT skills;
Experience in the following work will be considered an asset:
Projects related to the marine environment/Baltic Sea;
Environmental chemistry, stress ecology, ecotoxicology or similar;
Multivariate statistical analysis of large data sets;
National or international management of environmental contaminants;
Experience of international cooperation;
Policy implementation experience.
Terms of appointment
The appointment is planned to be full time, starting in September or early October 2022 and for a duration of 18 months. The monthly salary is 2.800 € per month. Please note, that the HELCOM salaries are exempt from Finnish income tax.
How to apply?
Candidates with the required expertise and qualifications are invited to submit their application (consisting of a CV and a motivation letter) via e-mail to email@example.com no later than 21 August 2022. Please write “Project Researcher HAZ Biological Effects” in the subject field of the message. Interviews are tentatively planned to take place at the Secretariat on 31 August 2022.
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