Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Survey: Help us improve our HELCOM Map and Data Service

Are you a HELCOM Map and Data Service (MADS) user? Would you like to help us improve our data portals? If so, we would like your feedback! Please take a few moments and take our MADS End-user Survey. The survey will only take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and will remain open until 14 May. Your responses will be kept confidential. 

Does the HELCOM Map and Data Service meet your needs? Is data easy to find in the Metadata Catalogue? What data layers do you use? How would you improve the user interface? Your response to these questions and more will help us enhance this important data sharing platform. 

The survey has been developed in consultation with partners of the Baltic Data Flows project. The project, co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union, seeks to enhance the sharing and harmonisation of data on the Baltic marine environment.     

“Baltic Sea Day” Forum in Saint Petersburg attracts 400 participants, with Baltic Sea Action Plan, hazardous substances, maritime spatial planning and climate change taking centre stage

Attended by about 400 people in person and several hundred more online, the XXI International Environmental Forum “Baltic Sea Day” was held from 23 to 24 March 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia as a hybrid event, with a main focus on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), both on its current achievements and its now imminent update.  

“The BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM environmental objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for a healthy Baltic Sea,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, in his opening plenary address, adding that the update of the plan is already well set to uphold this legacy. The BSAP is due to be updated later this year at the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting.

Besides the BSAP, several round table sessions were dedicated to other pressing issues such as hazardous substances, and specifically on the modernizing of the HELCOM framework dealing with the issue. HELCOM is currently reviewing its processes on hazardous substances to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by the introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

During the forum, other key discussions touched on river basin management and marine spatial planning, as well as on the implementation of projects conducted by way of cross-border cooperation.

Close attention was also paid to the adaptation to climate change, notably in connection with the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in 80 cities of the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) as well as in light of current trends in Russia.

“Traditionally, the Forum brings together scientists, representatives of government and business, public organizations and everyone who understands their responsibility to future generations for preservation of the unique ecosystem of the Baltic Sea,” said Ivan Serebritsky, the Deputy Head of the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg during his opening remarks. 

Held in a hybrid online and in-person format, the “Baltic Sea Day” Forum was coordinated by the Government of Saint Petersburg, Russia and the State Company “Mineral”, with support from HELCOM, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg.

“There’s a long tradition of HELCOM involvement in the Baltic Sea Day Forum that has been held annually since 2000 in Saint Petersburg,” said Strempel, adding that during its 20-year history, the forum has become a key platform for the environmental dialogue at the regional and global level. 

The BSAP update is well on track at HELCOM 42-2021, the annual meeting of the Helsinki Commission

Screenshot of the HELCOM 42-2021 online meeting

More milestones on the now imminent update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) were reached during the 42nd Meeting of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM 42-2021), held online from 17 to 18 March 2021, keeping the work on the new plan well on track and within the planned schedule. 

second full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented at the meeting. Further refinements will now take place in the various HELCOM bodies tasked with the drafting of the update. The BSAP, in addition to actions and measures, will now also include a list of environmental hotspots that will need to be resolved as part of the plan’s implementation.

The updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is due to be adopted during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting which will be hosted by Germany and is scheduled to take place on 20 October 2021 in Lübeck, Germany. HELCOM Ministerials take place every three years and bring together the competent Ministers from the HELCOM countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment.

Several key processes and documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP and serving as supporting tools to reach its objectives were also green-lighted for further development at HELCOM 42-2021. These include the draft Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the draft Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030.

The HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved, in principle, the draft HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Due to be adopted in June 2021 by the HELCOM decision-makers pending final refinements, the plan will contain a set of regional and national actions for the monitoring and management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea.

On hazardous substances, the Contracting Parties agreed to modernize the overall HELCOM framework dealing with the issue, to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by a relentless introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

Serving as a basis for this decision, HELCOM had, earlier in 2020, drafted a strategic regional policy document on hazardous substances, in cooperation with the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre and with the support of the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).

In a bid to improve response to spills in the Baltic Sea, the Contracting Parties also adopted the revised HELCOM Response Manual as well as the draft Multi-regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume 2. Both manuals are primarily intended for the authorities dealing with transboundary maritime incidents affecting the waters of several countries and are intended to facilitate the coordination of international response efforts.

At HELCOM 42-2021, the revised HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6 Rev on integrated wildlife response planning in the Baltic Sea area was also adopted. The Recommendation lays out options and strategies for the response to maritime accidents such as oil spills in order to guarantee a swift mobilization of resources to safeguard and attend to affected wildlife.

To improve the protection of habitats and species in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM Contracting Parties further agreed to cooperate with FAO and IUCN in organizing a regional HELCOM workshop on “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) in early 2022. OECMs are geographically defined areas other than marine protected areas (MPAs) but that have a positive effect on the conservation of biodiversity.  

The meeting was also an opportunity for the HELCOM Executive Secretary, Rüdiger Strempel, to highlight the achievements of the organization in 2020, noting, in his statement, that “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Corona pandemic, HELCOM work progressed largely as planned in 2020.” The HELCOM Activities report for the year 2020 was also presented on the same occasion.

The outcomes of the recently held HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2021 “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” (HSC2021) were also presented. In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the HSC2021, held as an online workshop, also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the BSAP update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach. The results of the HSC2021 are now due to be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM groups for further consideration. 

The HELCOM 42-2021 meeting was chaired by the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, Lilian Busse, Germany and the Vice-Chair of HELCOM 2020-2021, Mr. Johannes Oelerich, Germany. Attended by all Contracting Parties, it was also the first official meeting for the newly appointed Heads of Delegation of Lithuania and Poland and, Ms. Agnė Lukoševičienė from the Ministry of Environment of Lithuania, respectively Ms. Ewelina Fałowska from the Ministry of Infrastructure of Poland. 

First draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan is unveiled to HELCOM decision-makers at HOD 59-2020

Entering a final stretch, another major milestone was crossed last week when the first full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented to the organization’s decision-makers during the autumn meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 59-2020) that took place online.

Building on the existing plan, the updated BSAP is expected to maintain and adapt the current structure and segments that seek to reflect the pressures stemming from land (“Eutrophication” and “Hazardous substances and litter”) and from our activities at sea (“Sea-based activities”) as well as the state of the environment (“Biodiversity and ecosystems”).

In addition, the updated plan is due to feature a segment on horizontal actions having an incidence on the four main segments. These are climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, and financing.

Furthermore, all measures and actions contained in the new plan are intended to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. 

The updated BSAP is expected to be adopted by the Ministers of the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting that will be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.

With its set of targets for protecting biodiversity and reducing the pressures affecting the Baltic, as well as its number of concrete measures, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM ecological objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for attaining good environmental status in the Baltic. 

The original plan, adopted in 2007, can be credited with significantly reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, improving the protection of biodiversity, and boosting cleaner and safer shipping practices. 

At HOD 59-2020, the decision-makers also approved a draft of the HELCOM Science Agenda that is meant to support the implementation of the BSAP and other HELCOM processes, by identifying the scientific knowledge needs related to the Baltic marine environment and which are foreseen to surface in the next 10 years.

Meant to be launched alongside the new BSAP, the first draft of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategywas also presented during the meeting. In a bid to curb eutrophication, the strategy seeks to minimize the run-off of nutrients, stemming mainly from agricultural sources such as fertilizers, to the Baltic Sea by keeping them in a closed loop. 

More good news: the Heads of Delegation announced the removal of HELCOM Hot Spot n°42, the Riga wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), from its list of pollution sites

More than EUR 200 million were invested in the plant over the last 20 years, leading to a significant reduction of the discharges of nutrients and hazardous substances to the Baltic via the Lielupe river. The WWTP is now complying with EU regulations and almost fully meets the more stringent HELCOM targets on water purification. 

The Riga WWTP had been added to the list of significant pollution sites due to insufficient treatment of wastewater and a large share of untreated municipal wastewater being released to the environment. 

The HELCOM Heads of Delegation further approved the draft of a key regional instrument for fighting pollution incidents at sea, the Joint Inter-Regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume II. A guideline for addressing and coordinating response to major accidents such as oil or chemical spills, the manual is expected to be adopted during the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March 2021.

On shipping, and more specifically on the management of ballast water which is a major source of introduction of alien species to the Baltic Sea, the Heads of Delegation further approved the revised HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on the granting of exemptions under International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (JHP).

The procedure is supported by an online decision tool that gives shipping professionals a quick overview of the risk of introducing non-indigenous species (NIS) through ballast water between two ports. Co-developed with OSPAR and recently updated, the tool covers both the North and Baltic Seas.

The collaboration between HELCOM and OSPAR comes at a time when both organizations are actively seeking to strengthen their partnership, a fact particularly welcomed during HOD 59-2020.

Experts from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina also presented their recent discussion paper on underwater archaeology “Traces under Water”, highlighting the mutual benefits of protecting both the marine environment and underwater heritage from the common pressures arising from ammunitions, ghost nets and eutrophication.

Chaired by Germany, HOD 59-2020 was attended by participants from all Contracting Parties, by Observers from Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association Europe (CLIA Europe), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and by invited guests.

Job offer: project coordinator for the Baltic Data Flows project

Please note: application closed

We are currently seeking to recruit an experienced professional and enthusiastic person to strengthen our team at the international HELCOM Secretariat in Helsinki, Finland, as a Project Coordinator for the Baltic Data Flows project.

The appointment is planned to be full time, starting preferably on 18 January 2021 through the end of the project on 30 September 2023. The monthly salary is 3.000 € per month. Please note that the HELCOM salaries are exempt from Finnish income tax.

The tasks are expected to be carried out independently. However, the Project Coordinator will cooperate with the HELCOM staff involved, who will provide comments and general guidance on the overall HELCOM framework.

The tasks require understanding of marine‐related data collection processes and the concept of public and distributed open data. The selected candidate is expected to familiarize herself/himself with the HELCOM data collection and harmonisation processes and practices as well as the objective and concept of the European Data Portal.

Please apply by 2 November 2020.

The update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan and UN Voluntary Commitments are addressed at HELCOM’s annual meeting

The high-level representatives attending HELCOM 41-2020. © HELCOM
Back row, from left to right: Nuritdin Inamov (Russia), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania) and Harry Liiv (Estonia).
Front row, from left to right: Veronica Manfredi (EU), Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden), Saara Bäck (Chair of HELCOM), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Rüdiger Strempel (Executive Secretary of HELCOM).

Actions for a healthier Baltic Sea and HELCOM’s Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2020 were addressed in Helsinki during the Annual Meeting of the Helsinki Commission – the 41st Meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM 41-2020) – that took place from 4 to 5 March 2020.

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and its update were one of the central themes of the event that also featured a high-level segment attended by high-level representatives such as state secretaries and other high-ranking ministerial representatives of the Baltic Sea countries and the EU. Only Ministerial Meetings rank higher on the HELCOM meeting scale.

“Building on the political will expressed by the ministers in 2018, we are now progressing from words to action, as 2019 marked the beginning of more concrete work on the new BSAP,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, in his statement.

Initially set to achieve its objectives by 2021, the BSAP is due to be updated in 2021 as mandated by the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the Ministerial Meeting held in Brussels in 2018. The past months were characterized by translating the political will expressed in 2018 into a concrete roadmap and actions towards the update, such as the analysis of sufficiency of existing measures

In Helsinki, the high-level representatives recognized that clear progress has been made under the current BSAP during the past 13 years. However, they also acknowledged that the level of implementation has not been fully satisfactory and stressed the need to ensure and accelerate the implementation of the actions under both the current and updated BSAP.

Nevertheless, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation, as well as a wide array of science-based actions and measures. The updated BSAP is expected to include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss of and disturbance to the seabed, among other pressures.

At HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives particularly highlighted the importance of recognizing climate change as a cross-cutting topic and the need for more knowledge on the impacts and consequence of climate change, therefore regarding the BSAP as an “instrument to strengthen the resilience of the Baltic Sea ecosystem and minimize negative effects of climate change on society,” as stated in the meeting outcome.

Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition as the current plan and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The outcome of the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020, held the day before HELCOM 41 and aimed at gathering input from stakeholders on the BSAP update and that was, was also presented during the session of the high-level representatives who particularly lauded the quality of the engagement of the stakeholders. A total of 49 potentially new BSAP actions were proposed during the event. 

Furthermore, at HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives agreed on submitting five Voluntary Commitments by HELCOM to the 2020 UN Ocean Conference, concurring on: 

  1. updating of the Baltic Sea Action Plan by 2021, 
  2. the development of a HELCOM Science Agenda to contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science, 
  3. strengthening cooperation with other Regional Seas Organisations, 
  4. offering strong support for global efforts to address the marine litter problem on a global level, and 
  5. organizing a workshop on ecosystem-based management in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. 

The voluntary commitments are part of HELCOM’s concrete efforts on global outreach and on advancing the global ocean agenda. 

During the meeting, a number of HELCOM Recommendations were also adopted or revised by the Contracting Parties, such as the Recommendation on Deep-Sea Pilotage in the Baltic Sea (Recommendation 41/1) and the HELCOM Recommendation on the use of national manure standards (adopted in principle). 

A roadmap on the collection of fisheries data to assess incidental bycatches and fisheries impact on benthic biotopes in the Baltic Sea was also agreed on during the meeting, as was the project proposal on the monitoring of pollution loads to the Baltic Sea (PLC-8).

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, with Rüdiger Strempel, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. Germany will assume the chair of HELCOM from 1 July 2020 until 30 June 2022, taking over from Finland.

HELCOM 41-2020 also saw the nomination by Germany of Lilian Busse, Head of the Division of Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems of the German Environment Agency, as Chair of the upcoming German chairmanship. Germany will take over from Finland on 1 July 2020, for a period of two years.

The representatives further took note of Germany’s will to increase the political visibility of HELCOM work during its chairmanship, with the BSAP being at the centre of the work, further supporting the Parties in its implementation, and extending invitations to civil society and stakeholders to participate in HELCOM processes.

The high-level segment of HELCOM 41-2020 was attended by Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Harry Liiv (Estonia), Veronica Manfredi (EU), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Nuritdin Inamov (Russia) and Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden).

Baltic Sea Action Plan: New actions are proposed during HELCOM stakeholder event

Over 120 participants attended the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 © HELCOM

Concrete actions for a healthier Baltic Sea were proposed in Helsinki this week during the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 that aimed at gathering feedback from stakeholders on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions, which is due to be updated by 2021.

A total of 49 new actions to be considered for inclusion in the updated BSAP were voiced during the conference, touching upon a variety of topics such as hazardous substances, marine litter, shipping and other sea-based activities, as well as eutrophication and biodiversity.

Climate change was also heavily emphasized during the conference, as was the issue of implementation of BSAP actions at the national level, where stakeholders felt more progress should be made. Better collaboration between ministries and authorities also featured highly on the participants’ wish list, along breaking “thinking in silos” in favour of a more holistic view of protection of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.

The conference, titled “For a sustainable Baltic Sea: The Baltic Sea Action Plan beyond 2021”, and that attracted over 120 participants from different organisations such as governments, NGOs, academia and industry, was a direct result of the decision recorded in the HELCOM Ministerial Declaration 2018 to include stakeholders in the BSAP update process.

According to the declaration, the BSAP update should “be strongly communicated with stakeholders, enable knowledge sharing between science and policy across all levels, be developed in a participatory and transparent way at the regional and local levels, including all appropriate stakeholders.”

Although its environmental objective to each good environmental status by 2021 is unlikely to be achieved, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic. 

“No other plan or programme offers the same long-term vision and strategic orientation, the same agreement on a holistic set of science-based actions and measures for a healthy Baltic Sea, the same regional and cross-sectoral acceptance,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, during the conference.

It is expected that the update of the BSAP will include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss and disturbance of seabed, among other pressures. Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The proposed actions gathered from the Stakeholder Conference will now be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM working groups for further consideration and possible additional development within HELCOM and the BSAP update processes.

Highlighting their role in achieving the global ocean targets, the world’s regional seas converge in Helsinki

Representatives and experts from the regional seas organisations met in Helsinki from 25 to 27 November 2019. © HELCOM

If not their waters, then at least the experts of the world’s regional seas converged in Helsinki in late November to share best practices on the Sustainable Development Goal related to oceans and seas, SDG 14, and to start preparations on its joint outlook report to be presented at the Ocean Conference 2020.

The HELCOM-hosted workshop that took place in Helsinki from 25 to 27 November was a follow up of the UN Regional Seas Programme‘s Annual Meeting held in Berlin earlier in October and also co-hosted by HELCOM. 

“Our organisations are truly the best place to translate the global visions into action at the regional level,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, during his opening remarks in Helsinki, referring to the driving role of the regional sea conventions and bodies on advancing the global environmental targets.

Two of the global frameworks, the SDGs and the Aichi targets, have long been important guidelines for HELCOM in working to conserve the global marine environment. 

“The SDGs and Aichi targets are, in fact omnipresent in our everyday work,” said Strempel, adding that “both have proven to be key to advancing the ocean agenda, and decisively influence the policies we develop, the strategies we devise, the actions we implement.”

“At HELCOM and in the Baltic Sea, we believe that the various regional seas mechanisms can learn a lot from each other,” said Strempel, further stressing that despite HELCOM not directly being linked to the UN system, it continually takes account of the relevant UN goals and processes.

Increasing collaboration with the UN Regional Seas Programme was one of the four HELCOM commitments made during the UN Ocean Conference 2017

The other commitments were to establish a NOx Emission Control Area (NECA) in the Baltic Sea, to strengthen the implementation of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan to support ocean-related SDGs, and to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in the Baltic Sea.

Organised by the UN Regional Seas Programme, facilitated by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and hosted by HELCOM, the workshop attracted 16 regional sea organisations from all over the world.

HELCOM expert interview: Andris Andrusaitis and Karoliina Koho on BONUS, BANOS and research funding

A hydrobiologist by training and a scientist interested in functioning of aquatic systems, Andris Andrusaitis joined the BONUS Secretariat in 2008 and currently serves as its Acting Executive Director. His responsibilities include the oversight and leading of BONUS’ strategic development. He also leads the implementation of the coordination and support action BANOS CSA “Towards the joint Baltic and North Sea research and innovation programme”.

A biogeologist by training with international research experience in wide range of marine environments, Karoliina Koho joined the BONUS Secretariat in January 2019 as a project officer and is the first point of contact in the coordination of BANOS CSA. 

Q: BONUS is wrapping up: The good, the bad and the ugly – what are your reflections on achievements, challenges…

Andris Andrusaitis: Looking back, I am quite proud of BONUS’ achievements, which has established itself as a transnational strategist and funder of research and innovation in the Baltic Sea region. With BONUS, we created a regional platform for synthesis of regional scientific knowledge and research that wouldn’t be possible at a national level alone.

When we started, in the Baltic Sea region, the scientific sector was already consolidated. Scientists knew each other well and were widely working together. But what was missing was cooperation on the funding of research. Funding was a major challenge, and still is today. In total, BONUS has covered 19 themes with about 100 million euros of funding over the past 16 years. That might seem like a lot at first glance, but it really isn’t. 

On research funding, we need to get better at involving private capital. We haven’t found a straight forward answer yet, but we eventually will need to address this issue. In general, we all would benefit from stronger linkages between academia and the private sector, not just for funding, but also for innovation and advancing science.

Establishing a well-functioning science funding organisation like BONUS takes time, as well as some trial and error. One really needs to be patient and in it for the long run. But with hindsight, we took all the right steps. Of course, we are now much cleverer than we were when we started with BONUS, which is good news for BANOS… 

Speaking of: BANOS. Who, what, where, when, why!

Karoliina Koho: BANOS CSA – the consortium of the Baltic and North Sea Support and Coordination Action – will take BONUS a step further, namely towards the North Sea. Under what we like to call the “sister sea approach”, BANOS CSA is preparing to launch a joint Baltic and North Sea research and innovation programme by 2021. 

Despite both seas having different biochemical characteristics, with the Baltic Sea being a semi-enclosed brackish water body as opposed to a saltier and open North Sea, the similarities are numerous. Both seas are located in the same biogeographic region. Their waters are connected, leading to a natural migration of biota between them. 

Then, there are the pressures that are similar for both, such as climate change, eutrophication, acidification, or oil spills. It therefore makes a lot of sense to jointly address the Baltic Sea and the North Sea when it comes to research.

With BANOS, we want to create a joint strategic research agenda across the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Scoping tasks are already well underway, and so is the mapping of the national and transnational cooperation agenda and key priorities. Now, we are currently moving towards finalising the tasks within the drafting team. 

The planned programme will strongly focus on sustainable blue growth, underpinning EU and national policies and strategies on that topic within the region.

All in all, BANOS CSA should lead to a well-funded platform for the new joint research funding programme to take off. And just like BONUS, the new platform will be an enabler for policy-science interaction in northern Europe.

How can science be more relevant for policy making (and the other way around)?

Andris Andrusaitis: Policy-science interaction is paramount, as research and projects that we are funding need to have some sort of effect. At BONUS, we are tuning all our calls towards practical impacts and evidence-based policy. I believe that our projects have all delivered on that, with many BONUS projects influencing policy processes within the region.  

A good example is the collaboration between BONUS and HELCOM, with the Joint BONUS-HELCOM Conference: Research and Innovation for Sustainabilityheld earlier in November 2018 or the presentation of BONUS projects at HELCOM’s Annual Meeting in March 2019.

But policy-science interaction is not a one-way flow. There is also a top-down direction, where policy has to set its own agenda on science, research and innovation. Decision-makers need to express their own requirements for making better policies and taking informed decisions. 

Even if policy is often running on short-term election cycles, we must not forget the long-term perspective on the mitigation of pressures. For instance, environmental challenges such as climate change or eutrophication might take decades if not centuries to be fully resolved. Science clearly has its role in building a long-term understanding on how to best address the current environmental challenges. Without science, the current pressures on the environment won’t be resolved.

Do you have more examples of good interaction between policy and science?

Andris Andrusaitis: The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is a prime example of good policy-science interaction. The BSAP spans over several years, over several election cycles, and has been developed with the long-term in mind. Even its current update allows to fathom in new challenges. The update offers an opportunity to adjust the measures and actions to be fit for purpose, and to incorporate the latest scientific findings. 

The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is another good example of longer-term vision. It has a cross-sectoral and systemic approach to solving issues. It includes a variety of sectors and stakeholders, such as from maritime spatial planning, transport or fisheries. Working across and with all sectors involved in the marine environment will be a key to success. And so is working at the regional level, which we are now addressing with BANOS CSA.

Then, in our own house, it is worthwhile mentioning the BONUS COCOA project on coastal processes of biochemical transformation, that is looking into utilizing our coasts as natural filters to prevent nutrients and hazardous substances from entering the sea. BONUS COCOA had a substantial impact on environmental policies, such as the BSAP, by ensuring that management decisions are informed by science. It also triggered a strong engagement in policy discussions on geoengineering approaches to mitigate coastal hypoxia. 

Another good example is the BONUS BAMBI project on genetics and biodiversity. The project collects evidence on the capacity of species to adapt, notably to climate change. But what is interesting in BAMBI is that the project also includes a social science researcher, to ensure higher relevance for the policy sector and maximise concrete usability of the findings. 

Baltic Sea/Seas of Norden: what will be the hot topics in the years to come?

Andris Andrusaitis: In our line of work, we foresee a major interest on advancing the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA), with the thematic priorities on healthy seas, sustainable blue economy, and human well-being. The question is: what should we know to get there? What are the knowledge needs? The answers to this will surely guide the future research agenda in the Baltic and North Sea region. To connect these priorities, the ecosystem-based approach will highly feature on our agenda. Here, the considerations will be on how to connect us humans to the sea, for us to take advantage of its resources without disrupting its ecological balance.

Also, we need to refocus on sustainability. As much as we have been talking about sustainable blue growth, there is a risk that “sustainable” part could be largely forgotten. Furthermore, we also need to address multi-stressor and cumulative impacts stemming from the combination of pressures such as excessive nutrient inputs, hazardous substances and climate change.

Currently, the centre of attention is on plastic pollution, which is good, but not necessarily the most pressing issue. On the other hand, if we manage to solve plastic pollution, we can start to look into more complex issues such as impacts of climate change, eutrophication and acidification. These really are the crucial questions, which will require massive efforts on modelling and projection, for us to understand the underlying mechanisms and develop solutions. Our focus should clearly be there.

At HELCOM key meeting, updates on the plan for a healthy Baltic Sea move forward

During HOD 55-2018 in Helsinki © Helcom 2018Helsinki — The update of the (BSAP) was a central topic at the (HOD 55-2018) held from 4 to 5 December 2018 at the HELCOM Secretariat in Helsinki, Finland. Initially set to end in 2021, the BSAP is HELCOM’s strategic tool for a healthy Baltic Sea that sets ecological targets and measures for achieving good environmental status of the sea.  At HOD 55-2018, the meeting participants notably focussed on the evaluation of the efficiency of current measures. Understanding what actions work and what don’t for a Baltic Sea in a better shape will be key for the update process.The BSAP’s continuation had already been decided by the HELCOM Ministers earlier in 2018, who then also agreed on a closer consideration of the , and in the update.In Helsinki, on pressures on the marine environment, the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HODs) also approved the latest assessment of nutrient input to the Baltic Sea covering the period from 1995 to 2016. The indicator shows progress in reduction of inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus, by 16 percent and 25 percent respectively.However, for the entire sea, the levels of maximum allowable inputs (MAI) of nutrients have been exceed, and the Baltic Sea remains heavily eutrophic notably due to the accumulation of nutrients over the past decades.To address this issue, and following up on the commitment made earlier in 2018 by the HELCOM Ministers to gain a better understanding of internal nutrient reserves and their management, the HELCOM Heads of Delegation agreed to establish a taskforce on sea-based measures for nutrient reduction.The HELCOM taskforce will elaborate a risk assessment framework and regional principles as guidance for internal nutrient reserves management.The HODs also welcomed the finalization of the (PLC-6) project, and agreed on the publication of its executive summary that notably shows nutrient input to the Baltic Sea and progress in their reduction. The current assessment, PLC-7, is ongoing and results are expected by end of 2020.The (PLC) is essential part of HELCOM work aimed at assessment of the environmental pressure on Baltic Sea marine ecosystem from land based pollution sources.On climate change, the Heads of Delegation established the new joint HELCOM-Baltic Earth Expert Network on Climate Change (EN CLIME). EN CLIME is expected to start its activities early 2019. HELCOM and Baltic Earth joined forces to work towards increasing the resilience of the Baltic Sea to the impacts of climate change.HOD 55-2018 also commended the outreach and advocacy role of HELCOM on the international stage. Offering best-practices and its expertise on ocean management at the global level, HELCOM currently contributes, among others, to the (WOA II), the , and the (EBSAs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Meeting was attended by participants from all and by observers from the Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) and CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Race For The Baltic and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).The Heads of Delegation are the nationally designated representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties.***Note for editors For immediate release About HELCOMHELCOM is an intergovernmental organization working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea, with its members – so-called Contracting Parties – being Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. HELCOM (short for the Helsinki Commission, and its official name, the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, also known as the Helsinki Convention. The Helsinki Convention was established in 1974 to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution. HELCOM’s vision for the future is 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. ***For more information, please contact:Dominik LittfassCommunication Secretary+358 40 647 3996 

The update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was a central topic at the 55th Meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 55-2018) held from 4 to 5 December 2018 at the HELCOM Secretariat in Helsinki, Finland.