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).
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 success of the Baltic Sea region in nominating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the emerging plans regarding Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs) will be in key focus in a side event on 30 June 2022, taking place during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
The aim is to present marine protection as a concrete example of the instrumental role of the regional sea conventions in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life under water – in particular and other global commitments in general, at the macro-regional and sea-basin levels.
The side event will present HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) 2021–2030 as a best practice example for an ecosystem-based approach to marine management from science to action. The BSAP provides concrete tools for reaching the regional commitments, such as the establishment of a coherent MPA network, and the “30/10 target” referring to the expansion aim of the MPA coverage to 30 % of the Baltic Sea, with one third being strictly protected. The latter has a straight link to processes under Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
In addition to MPAs, the event focuses on the areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas, so called Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), as referred to in Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Main organizers of the event are the Ministries of the Environment of Estonia and Germany (HELCOM Chair).
UN Ocean Conference, postponed due to the covid pandemic, will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. from 27 June until 1 July, 2022.
If you are or have been dealing with green technologies and alternative fuels in shipping, the HELCOM Green Team needs your help for identifying the main barriers, obstacles and challenges that are hindering their development in the Baltic Sea region. Share your views by 3 May 2022, using our survey.
The survey, which has been ongoing since 2018, is part of the HELCOM Green Team reporting mechanism that seeks to gather constant feedback from shipping stakeholders on green technologies and alternative fuels. The results, compiled once a year, are used to facilitate knowledge and information sharing among the private sector, decision makers and the general public, and to promote an early introduction of new technological solutions and alternative fuels.
The results of the 2022 compilation are due to be presented at the next HELCOM Green Team meeting. The outcome of this meeting will then be forwarded to the HELCOM Maritime Working Group with proposals for further action to be taken.
It should take you about 10 minutes to complete the survey. All answers are handled anonymously.
Aliens in the Baltic Sea? Not if shipping managers utilize the free online tool developed by HELCOM and OSPAR to minimise the introduction of non-indigenous species (NIS, also known as alien species) via the ballast water of ships. The tool has recently been updated as part of the Interreg COMPLETE project.
“The updated tool now makes it even easier to evaluate the risk of introduction of alien species by ships traveling between two ports in the HELCOM-OSPAR area,” said Manuel Sala-Pérez, the COMPLETE project’s coordinator at HELCOM.
Alien species often travel with ballast water in ships, being sucked up into ships in one port and then discarded in another where they could potentially proliferate, take over habitats and disrupt the food chain and existing biodiversity. “For fragile marine ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea, NIS can be a serious issue,” cautioned Sala-Pérez.
The free online tool, the so-called Ballast Water Exemptions Decision Support Tool, assesses the risk of introduction of NIS in a simple way, yet based on the latest scientific knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of species as well as the environmental characteristics of each port.
“The online tool is now more user-friendly and contains improved GIS functionalities and data visualisations,” said Sala-Pérez, adding that it also includes updates to the underlying technology such as databases and algorithms. “It should be the go-to tool for whoever is dealing with ballast water management in the Baltic and North Seas.”
COMPLETE is an EU INTERREG Baltic Sea Region project aimed at minimizing the introduction and spread of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens by shipping, notably via ballast water and biofouling. In the project, HELCOM led the activity tasked with updating the NIS online tool.
Intended for shipowners, port operators, local administrations as well as municipal wastewater companies, the Technical Guidance was developed to facilitate the management of wastewater from ships to better comply with IMO regulations on wastewater handling in the Baltic Sea region.
In 2011, the IMO designated the Baltic Sea a Special Area for sewage discharges from passenger ships, directing passenger ships operating in the Baltic Sea and not equipped with an on-board sewage treatment facility to discharge their sewage – or black water – at port, in a so-called port reception facility (PRF).
“Initial experiences show that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” said Susanne Heitmüller, the Chair of HELCOM Maritime, the HELCOM working group that deals with shipping-related topics. “Almost each port, with its own, specific infrastructure requirements, needs a tailored solution,” she added.
The current lack of experience with sewage handling in ports requires the development of new and innovative approaches to manage these new challenges. The Technical Guidance for the handling of wastewater in ports was produced to fill this gap and offer a wide range of possible options to several scenarios ships and ports may face.
“The Technical Guidance sets out probable problems a port may encounter, and presents possible solutions on the different aspects of the management of wastewater from ships,” said Heitmüller.
Under the IMO regulations, all newly built passenger ships after June 2019 are required to comply to stricter rules on wastewater discharges, while older passenger ships will have to comply to the same rules by June 2021, with some exceptions until June 2023 for ships en route directly to or from a port located outside the Baltic Sea and to or from a port located east of longitude 28˚10′ E.
According to the rules, passenger ships which carry more than 12 passengers will have to either discharge sewage into port reception facilities, or alternatively at sea – provided that nutrients have been reduced by 70% for nitrogen and 80% for phosphorus through on-board treatment.
Untreated wastewater has been identified as an important source of both hazardous substances and nutrients, the main cause of eutrophication leading to unwanted growth of blue-green algae that upset the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity.
The BSAP is scheduled to be updated in 2021 and currently contains a set of objectives on maritime activities under the main goal of achieving “Environmentally friendly maritime activities.”
On the sea-based objectives, actions are expected to also touch upon activities beyond shipping such as loss and disturbance of the seabed, fisheries and dredging. Pressing issues such as non-indigenous species, underwater noise, wastewater management and emissions from ships are also expected to prominently feature in the update.
To better accompany the BSAP’s update process, MARITIME 19-2019 agreed to set up a Correspondence Group that will begin its work in the course of autumn 2019. The group will reflect on existing actions and review proposals on new actions for the BSAP.
In addition to the BSAP, issues pertaining to ballast water and biofouling, emissions, waste, port reception facilities (PRF), and accidents were also discussed in Lisbon.
Furthermore, Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), who opened the meeting, emphasized the longstanding cooperation between EMSA and HELCOM, particularly highlighting the planned use of EMCIP data in the annual HELCOM reports on ship accidents in the Baltic Sea.
Anna Petersson, Sweden, who stepped down as Chair of the HELCOM Maritime Group, was thanked for her long-term dedication and excellent guidance from 2014 to 2019. She is followed by Susanne Heitmüller, Germany, who was elected along with the re-election of Vice-Chairs Natalia Kutaeva, Russia and Jorma Kämäräinen, Finland.
Despite 62 spills observed in 2018 being slightly higher than last year – with 52 incidents, the lowest on record – overall trends are pointing towards a steady decrease. Aerial surveillance of spills started almost thirty years ago in 1989, when 763 pollution occurrences were detected.
“Coupled to the AIS system that is in place in the Baltic Sea and that monitors movements of ships as well as cleaner shipping practices, aerial surveillance has proven to be an effective deterrent for illegal discharges at sea,” said Markus Helavuori, the HELCOM Professional Secretary for maritime affairs.
In 2018, mineral oil accounted for less than half of all detected spills. The majority of detections were classified as “other” and “unknown” substances, consisting for instance of chemicals, hazardous substances, vegetable oils or greywaters from ships – such as from showers and kitchens.
“The lack of appropriate sensor systems available to identify such spills by aerial surveillance are still of concern, as some of these substances may pose a threat to the marine environment,” said Helavuori.
Through the Helsinki Convention (Article 14, Annex VII, Regulation 7), the HELCOM members – 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.
Early September was shipping-intensive, with HELCOM participating in three events on maritime activities in Sweden.
HELCOM first promoted cleaner shipping at the Donsö Shipping Meet (DSM19), a biennial gathering of private sector and other stakeholders on shipping technologies where delegates from all over the world met on the Swedish island of Donsö from 3 to 4 September 2019.
HELCOM attended the DSM19 together with the Clean Shipping Project Platform (CSHIPP) that brings together projects and organisations to thrust ahead clean shipping in the Baltic Sea region. The objective of CSHIPP is to increase the impact of and connect the dots between the several Baltic Sea projects on clean shipping.
Also on Donsö, green fuel technology and cleaner shipping was on the agenda of the HELCOM Green Team meeting on 4 September 2019. HELCOM Green Team promotes public and private co-operation at national and Baltic Sea levels to enhance development and uptake of green technology and alternative fuels in shipping.
To better understand the main barriers hindering the adoption of green shipping technologies and alternative fuels in the Baltic Sea, Green Team earlier established a reporting mechanism that was reviewed during the meeting and which highlighted alternative fuels infrastructure, biofuels, financing and onshore power supply as particular challenges.
Last but not least, HELCOM participated in the Shipping and the Environment II conference in Gothenburg, Sweden from 4 to 6 September, where HELCOM held a policy workshop on the future needs on clean shipping in the Baltic Sea region. The results of discussions – notably about onshore power, use of scrubbers and biofouling – are intended to be presented to Maritime, the HELCOM working group dealing with shipping-related matters.
The conference also focussed on policies and strategies for a more environmentally sustainable shipping sector taking into account climate change, good air quality in coastal regions as well as good environmental status of marine and coastal land ecosystems in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Shipping is a major action area for HELCOM, with particular emphasis on safe navigation and environmentally friendly and sustainable maritime activities. HELCOM heavily focusses on reducing maritime pollution through providing guidance on issues such as ballast water, sewage from ships and emissions.
Routeing and safety of navigation in the Baltic Sea is another key HELCOM area, which will be addressed during the Group of Experts on Safety of Navigation (SAFENAV) group scheduled in Stockholm on 19 September 2019 as well as during the meeting of the Maritime Working Group to be held in Lisbon from 23 to 26 September 2019.
Furthermore, to prepare for accidental spills of oil and chemicals, the BALEX DELTA exercises are conducted every year by HELCOM members. This year, the exercises took place in Bornholm, Denmark.
Improving surveillance of spills and discharges at sea was a main subject at the Annual Meeting of the HELCOM Informal Working Group on Aerial Surveillance (IWGAS 2019) that was held in Tallinn, Estonia from 20 to 21 March 2019.
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