Additionally, HELCOM will showcase its work related to maritime spatial planning (MSP) and hazardous substances at the expo area of the Networking Village on 5 October, which will take place at the Small Guild.
For more information about the forum and HELCOM’s presence there, please visit the event page.
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 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 SeaAction 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.
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.
To improve on the quality of monitoring data in the Baltic Sea, an intercalibration of analyzing methods of nutrients and heavy metals was recently carried out involving 22 laboratories across the region. The results were published in a report.
“For accurate Baltic-wide assessments of nutrient and metal concentrations, intercalibration between laboratories is crucial as it guarantees the compatibility of reported data, basically allowing us to compare apples with apples,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, the coordinator of the HELCOM Pollution Load Compilation (PLC) projects.
HELCOM now regularly organizes intercalibration campaigns at the beginning of each PLC project, to assure compatibility of reported data regarding nutrients and heavy metals. The latest campaign was already the third of its kind.
“The more we intercalibrate, the better data we get,” said Frank-Kamenetsky. “The good results of the recent intercalibration exercise confirm the trend of a continuous improvement of environmental monitoring data produced by the HELCOM countries.”
A revised full version of the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML) was presented at PRESSURE 14-2021. Based on the initial plan that was adopted in 2015 and incorporating the lessons learnt from all previous implementation efforts, the updated version is due to be adopted in October 2021 during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021, alongside the new Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).
PRESSURE 14-2021 further recognized the successful implementation of some of the actions under the current RAP ML, notably on including HELCOM guidelines on marine litter in national and local waste prevention and waste management plans, as well as sharing best practices on waste management.
Other completed actions under the RAP ML include the development of best practices on the disposal of scrapped pleasure boats and handling of expanded polystyrene, the identification of key practical aspects of prevention of litter, and the retrieval and the management of ghost nets, among others.
On underwater noise, a factor affecting species that are reliant on hearing, such as harbour porpoises, seals and some species of fish, wide support was expressed for the draft Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise that is currently under development. The plan is due to be adopted with the BSAP later this year, along with an accompanying HELCOM Recommendation.
PRESSURE 14-2021 further developed recommendations on the regional policy document on hazardous substances that provides guidance on the upcoming HELCOM framework for hazardous substances. The framework is being developed to provide a more efficient and future-proof response to threats to the marine environment stemming from hazardous substances, especially from new chemicals.
During the meeting, the topics of physical damage to the seafloor, the next HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS III), the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, eutrophication and issues pertaining to nutrients such as the Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the HELCOM framework on internal nutrient load management were also discussed.
The meeting was attended by all HELCOM Contracting Parties and observers from Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), European Federation of National Associations of Water and Wastewater Services (EurEau), Race for the Baltic, and John Nurminen Foundation, as well as by invited guest from Baltic Nest Institute (BNI) and the City of Helsinki.
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.
In a bid to better understand the effects of certain hazardous substances on the Baltic Sea, HELCOM, in collaboration with Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre, has compiled the latest science on selected chemical contaminants.
“We must identify the major sources of the hazardous substances and understand how they move in the ecosystems to be able to do something about the problem,” said Emma Undeman, a researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the reports.
The reports give insights into the sources and pathways to the sea of the addressed substances, as well as on how their concentrations have changed in the Baltic Sea over time.
Dioxins and PCBs, mainly by-products from industrial processes, primarily stem from atmospheric emissions, further persisting in the environment and accumulating in the food chain. This is a particular cause for concern since these substances are known for their adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems of living organisms.
The levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDE) – which are now either banned or regulated but were heavily used in the past as additives to prevent ignition and delay spread of fire such as in furniture and curtains – seem to be declining, but trends show that it could take up to 40 years for these contaminants to reach safe levels in the Baltic Sea.
With regard to PFOS and PFAS, used for instance in metal coatings such as Teflon or in firefighting foams, the main pathways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from contaminated sites via groundwater and drainage ditches. Research on PFOS in Baltic Sea biota further indicates that transport to the sea has dropped but that concentrations have not yet declined, pointing towards a high persistence in the marine environment.
Diclofenac, a widely used painkiller that is water soluble, mainly enters the sea through wastewater treatment plants which have a low removal rate of the drug. Despite good absorption by the human body when ingested, diclofenac is overused, leading to significant excretions reaching sewer systems. Some of the diclofenac in wastewater may also originate from dermal application which has a low absorption rate by the body.
The four reports support the update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions for restoring good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment. The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.
Information from the reports will notably serve to evaluate the efficiency of currently implemented measures under the present BSAP, and for suggesting additional measures needed to improve the Baltic Sea’s state in regard to the reduction of concentrations of hazardous substances.
In a bid to address the Baltic Sea’s eutrophication problem, about 40 experts on agriculture and wastewater attended a workshop in Helsinki last week to elaborate concrete actions and measures under HELCOM’s Nutrient Recycling Strategy.
“The aim of the [Nutrient Recycling Strategy] is to make better use of the nutrients already available [such as manure] and to reduce the [introduction] of new mineral nutrients into the cycle,” said Sari Luostarinen, the Chair of HELCOM Agri Group dealing with sustainable agricultural practices.
In 2018, the HELCOM members agreed, at the Ministerial level, to elaborate a Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy by 2020. Its objective is to reduce nutrient loading to the Baltic Sea by avoiding nutrient runoff by circulating the nutrients within the food chain.
“Agriculture remains a large source of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff to the sea,” said Susanna Kaasinen, HELCOM’s expert on agriculture and nutrients. According to the results of the recent State of the Baltic Sea report, 97 % of the Baltic Sea area suffers from eutrophication, mainly caused by excessive nutrient loading stemming from agriculture.
In Helsinki, during the workshop on nutrient recycling measures, the experts came up with a large variety of possible ideas for measures and actions which will now be considered by the HELCOM Agri and Pressure groups.
“The vision and objectives of the Nutrient Recycling Strategy were already defined in 2019,” said Kaasinen. “Now is the time to translate these into concrete actions and measures,” she said, adding that some of the proposals from the workshop could also be used for the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).
The BSAP is due to be updated by 2021 and is expected to heavily focus on eutrophication, among biodiversity, hazardous substances and litter, and sea-based activities.
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