Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

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

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.

Help us prevent litter at sea: Survey on mass releases of balloons and use of plastic confetti outdoors

Released balloons are a part of the litter problem.

Mass balloon releases and confetti are sometimes used outdoors to celebrate special occasions. While they may look pretty, pieces of them often end up on beaches and in the sea, contributing to the marine litter problem and becoming a serious hazard to marine animals and birds.

KIMO International and HELCOM invite you to take part in a survey, which collects information from each Baltic nation on mass releases of balloons and of plastic confetti outdoors. The results will contribute to a report which will help to complete the picture of the situation in countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. Moreover, the information will feed into HELCOM’s regional work against marine litter.

By completing this survey, you will be contributing to the achievement of actions RL12 and RL13 of HELCOM’s Regional Action Plan on marine litter, as well as joining the global community working in support of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.1 Life below water.

The survey takes only about 10 minutes to complete. The individual answers will be handled anonymously. Please answer by 31 August 2022.

Your participation is key to understanding the extent of problem and how it can best be addressed. Thank you for your contribution!

If you have any questions or comments please email:

HELCOM joins UN initiative on marine litter

HELCOM has recently become a member of a United Nation initiative on land-based pollution, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML).

Bringing together various stakeholders dealing with marine litter and microplastics challenges, the GPML partnership was launched at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012. The GPML is hosted under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The GPML further seeks to facilitate the implementation of the commitments expressed in the Manila Declaration, under which 65 countries pledged to develop policies to reduce and control wastewater, marine litter and pollution from fertilizers.

Marine litter and microplastics are of particular concern in the Baltic Sea. In response, HELCOM has adopted its own Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML) in 2015. The plan is currently under review. 

HELCOM is also involved in an EU-funded initiative on microplastics, FanpLESStic-sea, for which it has recently published a review of existing research and policies on the tiny plastic particles.

The updated HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), due to be adopted in October 2021, is also expected to include new objectives and measures on marine litter.

FanpLESStic-sea: New research project focuses on reducing microplastics in the Baltic Sea

(FanpLESStic press release)A new research project will focus on decreasing and removing microplastics in the Baltic Sea. The project will increase knowledge and understanding about dispersal pathways and sources through measurements in different flows in society, as well as cost-effective methods to reduce microplastics.  Marine littering is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time and plastic is one of the most common types of garbage in the sea. FanpLESStic is a new research project, working with preventing and decreasing the pollution of microplastics in water and the Baltic Sea. Microplastics are plastic particles that are smaller than 5 mm in size. “This is an exciting project ranging from knowledge to technology and decision making. We hope that it will give concrete benefit to an extremely important marine environment: the Baltic Sea. The water has no boarders and it is therefore important that we do this together with our colleagues in the Baltic countries” says Marinette Hagman, Research Manager at Sweden Water Research. The project has three key targets: increased knowledge of where microplastics come from and their transport pathways Evaluation of technology that can reduce microplastic or reduce microplastic leakage before reaching watercourses,increased knowledge and commitment of decision makers through suggestions on how to implement cost-effective methods to reduce microplastics.”We do not know much about microplastics today. In order to make reliable analyzes of the amount of microplastics in the water, we need to standardize our measurement methods. Without that, it is difficult to determine how much plastics there is in the environment, where it comes from and how we can work to reduce it” says Marinette Hagman.About the projectFanpLESStic project is including partner organizations in eight countries with coast to the Baltic sea (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia).The total budget of the project is 2 968 068,80 euro with financial support by the EU Interreg program.Project period is from January 1st 2019 to June 30th 2021. Project coordinator is Sweden Water Research and responsible project manager is Carina Svensson, with solid experience of international projects.  FanpLESStic-sea seeks to reduce microplastic leakage, by following main outputs ***Facts about microplastics in marine environmentsMarine littering is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time and plastic is one of the most common types of garbage in the sea. Microplastics are plastic particles that are smaller than 5 mm in size. One problem with our knowledge about microplastics is that today there is no standard for measuring, sampling and analyzing microplastics in different forms, which makes it difficult to compare results. Without reliable analytical methods, the amount of plastic in the environment can not be determined, which means that it is not possible to determine which source is most important and what impact they have.***Partners in FanpLESSticDenmark: Aalborg University, Finland: Natural Resources Institute Finland and Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission, Latvia: Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology, Lithuania: Siauliai Chamber of Commerce, Industry and CraftsNorway: Salt Lofoten AS Poland: Gdanks Water Utilities Ltd. and Gdansk Water Ltd., Russia: State Autonomous Institution of the Kaliningrad region “Environmental Center “ECAT-Kaliningrad”, Sweden: Sweden Water Research and Luleå University of Technology***ContactMarinette Hagman, Research Manager, Sweden Water Research: phone +46-(0)10-490 98 17,  marinette.hagman@nsva.seCarina Svensson, Project Manager, Sweden Water Research: +46-(0)72-226 95 94,

A new research project will focus on decreasing and removing microplastics in the Baltic Sea. The project will increase knowledge and understanding about dispersal pathways and sources through measurements in different flows in society.