The new video explains in a nutshell, why the Holistic Assessments on the State of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS) are so important. The next assessment, HOLAS 3, will be released in 2023.
For getting a sufficient level of information on the state of the entire sea area, and for seeing any improvement or deterioration caused by current human activities, such large-scale assessments must be prepared at regular intervals. The HOLAS assessments provide regular updates on the environmental situation in the Baltic Sea and, with each report captures a ‘moment’ in the dynamic life history of the Baltic Sea.
The forthcoming HOLAS 3 report highlights a broad range of aspects, covering the state of the ecosystem, environmental pressures and human well-being. It contributes to a vast sharing of knowledge, and to the development of knowledge, both within and across topics.
The focus of the assessment is to show results of relevance at the regional scale, and large-scale patterns between geographic areas.
The implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea were some of the key topics on which the HELCOM decision makers advanced during their fall meeting, the 61st Meeting of the Heads of Delegation (HOD 61-2021), held online from 8 to 9 December 2021.
To facilitate the implementation of the 2021 BSAP, several measures were agreed on at HOD 61-2022, including the preparation of a technical guidance document and the review of the structure of HELCOM. Planning of the implementation of the BSAP actions has already started in some of the main HELCOM groups.
Also related to the BSAP, the decision makers agreed on the implementation procedures and prioritization of actions regarding the Revised Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter (RAP ML), which is the main instrument for achieving the BSAP’s objectives on marine litter. A workshop on the RAP ML implementation is planned for April 2022.
Following its approval at HOD 61-2022, a project on strengthening the HELCOM framework on hazardous substances will start in July 2022 for a duration of 18 months. The project will notably develop an action plan for HELCOM work on hazardous substances by 2024, as provided for in the hazardous substances and litter segment of the 2021 BSAP. More broadly, the project will also support further HELCOM assessment work.
At HOD 61-2022, the HELCOM decision makers also ensured that the Third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) remains on track, in particular by approving the updated workplan, numerous additional indicators to be used in the assessment, and the organization of several workshops in early 2022 to facilitate the assessment process.
One of the pillars of HELCOM work and policy making, the HELCOM Holistic Assessments provide a comprehensive overview of the ecosystem health of the entire Baltic Sea over a specific time span. The third Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS 3) covers the assessment period 2016–2021. The results of HOLAS 3 are expected to be published in 2023. The next HOLAS assessments will also serve to keep track of the implementation and the effectiveness of the BSAP.
Several HELCOM recommendations were also endorsed during the meeting, with a final adoption expected at the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March of next year. In addition, the terms of reference for several HELCOM bodies were also updated or approved.
The organization of several events was also approved during the meeting, such as the joint HELCOM and Baltic Earth Stakeholder Conference (HSC2022), which will be dedicated to climate change and is slated to be held online on 9–10 March 2022
What are the benefits of the WOA II for the global ocean?
Lars Sonesten: I think that the main benefit of WOA II is that it takes the alarming status of and our concerns about the seas and coastal areas to the highest political level worldwide. Hopefully, this may inspire national and regional authorities and organisations to increase their efforts to counteract the deterioration of our common seas.
What are the benefits of WOA II for the Baltic Sea region in particular?
First of all, it puts the environmental status of Baltic Sea into a global context, and makes it possible to compare with other sea areas. In addition, I think that our long experience as a regional sea convention in monitoring and joined assessing the status, as well as taking measures to combat the deterioration may serve as a good example for other sea areas.
What was your personal involvement in the WOA II process?
I was involved in writing the two chapters on inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances to the seas (chapters 10 and 11, respectively), with special responsibility on the atmospheric inputs of hazardous substances. As the chairman of HELCOM Pressure and OSPAR Input, I had an interest to share and incorporate as much relevant information as possible that is related to the Baltic Sea as well as the Northeast Atlantic.
About WOA II
The Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II) assesses the state of the global ocean in the period of 2016 to 2020. Carried out by the UN’s Regular Process with the support of more than 300 experts, it covers environmental, economic and social aspects about the marine environment. While the first cycle (WOA I) focused on establishing a baseline, the WOA II follow-up effort also evaluates trends should support policy development and decision-making at the national, regional and global levels. Several HELCOM experts participated in the development of the WOA II, and the results of various HELCOM assessments such as HOLAS II and PLC were also used in the report.
“It is acceptable for us to benefit from the Baltic Sea as we too are part of the ecosystem, but this also comes with the responsibility to maintain our sea in a healthy state,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM during his opening remarks.
Ecosystem-based management addresses the management of human activities in a holistic manner and in relation with the marine environment, correlating our doings with the pressures they may cause on habitats and species. The aim is to maintain our sea in a healthy state so that it can continue to provide valuable ecosystem-services.
Attracting about 100 participants from all over the Baltic Sea region and organized in collaboration with Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB) and the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM), the HSC2021 touched on the policy, science and society-related aspects of EBM. The stakeholders particularly focussed on the challenges related to EBM implementation and possible solutions to overcoming these.
“Thinking and working in silos” was frequently mentioned throughout the workshop as a main barrier to sound EBM implementation in the Baltic Sea region, with participants calling for better cross-sectoral integration, cooperation and coherence, including across the various regional to local government levels.
According to the participants, good EBM implementation further requires better communication and knowledge on the matter at all levels, to increase a shared understanding of the issues at hand. One recommendation was to improve the dialogue between science and those tasked with implementing EBM in practice. Increased stakeholder involvement across the board could also foster ownership of the EBM process and drive its implementation.
Also, starting with small, easy-to-manage pilot projects could help gather valuable insights on EBM processes in order to replicate them in other regions or to scale them up once more knowledge on implementation processes has been gained.
“We know enough to act” was another view widely shared by the HSC2021 participants, highlighting that the main bottlenecks impeding a wider EBM roll-out weren’t so much due to the lack of policies and science but to their concrete application.
In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the workshop also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach, including the update of the Roadmap on HELCOM activities on the ecosystem approach.
The results were presented to the members of the Helsinki Commission at their most recent meeting (HELCOM 42-2021), which was held from 17 to 18 March 2021. The outcomes of the HSC2021 will now be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM bodies dealing with the update of the BSAP, the HELCOM Science Agenda and the HELCOM Roadmap on EA, among other processes.
Good environmental status, or GES, and a Baltic Sea in healthy state are at the core of the HELCOM BLUES project that was officially launched online from 2 to 4 February 2021. Co-funded by the European Union and led by HELCOM, the Baltic-wide effort will run through 2022, for a total period of two years.
To help attaining GES in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM BLUES project will support the development of new and regionally coordinated measures addressing various pressures affecting the sea. It will also back assessments of the state of the Baltic through improved monitoring, notably on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise.
“HELCOM BLUES is an opportunity to fill the gaps we have identified so far during our journey towards good environmental status in the Baltic Sea,” said Jannica Haldin, the overall project manager and HELCOM senior expert dealing with biodiversity matters. HELCOM is concluding its first analysis ever of the sufficiency of measures (SOM) currently in place for easing the pressures on the sea, with the results expected to inform the work of the new project.
“GES is a Baltic-wide objective, and we can only achieve it through a collective effort and regional cooperation,” said Jana Wolf, the HELCOM project coordinator in charge of the day-to-day operations of HELCOM BLUES. In total, 14 partners and seven subcontractors with various backgrounds such as policy, research, academia or civil society and hailing from six Baltic Sea countries are involved in the project.
On the MFSD, the specific requests expressed by the EU in its initial call for project proposals – which is at the origin of HELCOM BLUES – were taken into account, notably on the development of effective regional measures to reduce existing pressures to the Baltic Sea, with a focus on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise. Furthermore, all results of the project will be made accessible to the Baltic Sea countries who are also EU member states to support their national obligations under the MSFD.
The outcomes of the project will also underpin the implementation of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan that is due to be adopted in October 2021 by providing monitoring data and guidance on the implementation of measures.
It will also support HELCOM’s next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS III) covering the period of 2016 to 2021. The project will notably provide improved assessment data, for instance by improving the capacity for biodiversity reporting and the development of indicators on marine litter and underwater noise.
In a bid to harmonize, harvest and share data about the Baltic marine environment at a regional level, HELCOM launched the Baltic Data Flows project in October 2020.
“With Baltic Data Flows, we will be able to put together the different pieces of the Baltic data puzzle,” said Joni Kaitaranta, HELCOM’s data coordinator who oversees the project.
“There’s already a lot of data on the Baltic scattered out there and there is a long tradition of reporting this data to HELCOM by the Contracting Parties according to data formats developed over time,” observed Kaitaranta.
“By combining the data into a regional data product, we will get a pan-Baltic and holistic perspective, which will not only be useful for research and environmental assessments, but also for maritime spatial planning and blue growth-oriented development,” he said.
Baltic Data Flows will enhance the existing harmonization and sharing of data on the marine environment originating from existing sea monitoring programmes. Extending a previous pilot system by project partners ICES and SMHI, it will do so by harvesting national data on the marine environment in order to produce harmonized, regional datasets in a more automated and efficient way.
The project will also seek to enhance the capacity and ICT infrastructure of the competent national authorities for harmonising and sharing collected environmental monitoring data on the Baltic Sea by supporting development of database platforms.
Baltic Data Flows also seeks to increase capacities on quality control and publication of open data within the national organisations and providers hosting environmental data, notably by promoting the implementation of the FAIR principles stating that data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.
To support wider dissemination of data collected within the Baltic, the harmonised datasets will eventually be harvested to and made accessible via the European Data Portal (EDP) by using DCAT-AP compliant metadata catalogues.
The has taken another concrete step with the launch, in February, of two central initiatives, namely the ACTION project and the HELCOM Platform on Sufficiency of Measures (HELCOM SOM Platform). Working closely together and drawing on interdisciplinary expertise from across the Baltic Sea region, both initiatives will be analysing if the measures that are currently in place are sufficient to achieve good environmental status for the Baltic Sea. The initiatives are a direct result from the decision taken earlier in 2018 by the HELCOM Ministers during the last , which provided the mandate to update the BSAP beyond its end date in 2021.”The new initiatives will provide the scientific underpinning to the next steps that will be decided to achieve good environmental status for the Baltic Sea,” said HELCOM Executive Secretary Monika Stankiewicz. The recent concludes that, in general, the Baltic Sea is still in a poor state, despite improvements and signs of recovery. Through the new initiatives, HELCOM and its partners will develop an approach for a regional analysis on the sufficiency of measures, to identify potential gaps in achieving HELCOM goals and objectives, and to estimate the cost-effectiveness of tentative new measures to fill these gaps. One approach to measure the gaps will be to develop “business as usual” (BAU) scenarios that will provide a better understanding of how far we are from achieving good environmental status when only implementing the currently agreed upon measures. The assessment of the sufficiency of measures will be a data-driven process, with expert-based evaluations complementing the analyses where required.The natural conditions – such as weather patterns – that influence the achievement of good environmental status (GES) in the Baltic Sea region will also be taken into account, including impacts of projected changes in climate. “While new measures to bridge the gap might be needed in the future, the current focus still remains on strengthening the implementation of the already agreed upon measures,” reminded Stankiewicz.About the HELCOM SOM Platform and the ACTION projectBoth the HELCOM SOM Platform and the ACTION project work closely together on the implementation of the sufficiency of measures analyses that will feed the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update process.The HELCOM SOM Platform is constituted of experts drawn from various . It is chaired by Mr Urmas Lips from the Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. The Vice-chair is Ms Soile Oinonen from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).Co-funded by the EU, the ACTION project is led by HELCOM, with its partners being the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Aarhus University (AU), Tallinn University of Technology (TTU), Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), University of Tartu (UT), and Klaipėda University, Marine Research Institute (KU).ACTION will run from January 2019 to December 2020. In addition to contributing to the update of the BSAP, it can also be used by HELCOM countries that are also EU members for updating and implementing their Programme of Measures.
The update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) has taken another concrete step with the launch of two central initiatives, the ACTION project and the HELCOM SOM Platform. Launched in Helsinki during the end of February, both will focus on…
Heini Ahtiainen is a project researcher on Economic and Social Analyses at the HELCOM Secretariat and project coordinator of the ACTION projectQuestion: What has economic and social analysis (ESA) to do with the flounder? Or: why has ESA become prevalent in HELCOM work?Heini Ahtiainen: In order to better comprehend the pressures on the Baltic, and how we can achieve good environmental status for our sea, we also need to understand the behaviour and actions of people. We get a lot out of the sea, but our activities can have damaging impacts on the marine environment. Often, the economic and social cost of this damage is not assessed. This is where ESA comes in: it reveals the cost of the environmental degradation. It also quantifies the benefits us humans could gain from a sea in a healthy state. Why should environmental benefits be quantified?When expressed in monetary terms, the environmental benefits of a healthy sea become comparable to any other economic activity. This helps to put things into perspective, especially when developing policies that also concern the marine environment, for instance in maritime spatial planning, where previous priorities were sometimes detrimental to the marine environment. How can ESA guide environmental policy-making?When developing measures to improve the marine environment, ESA can provide a good indication on the least cost way of achieving good environmental status. These cost-effectiveness analyses can greatly help to prioritize measures, to see what actions yield the highest results at low or reasonable financial effort. These are the measures most likely to succeed because they are the most implementable.What about the ecosystem-based approach?ESA is an integral part of the ecosystem-based approach. It shows the linkages between human activities, the environmental status of the sea, and human wellbeing. ESA also helps to highlight the ecosystem services provided by the sea that have a value – both economic, social and cultural – for us humans. Fish stocks for fisheries, or an attractive seascape for recreational activities are good examples.How is HELCOM involved in ESA work?HELCOM recently concluded a major assessment of the Baltic Sea, with the results published in the . For the first time, the economic and social contribution of the Baltic Sea to our economies and well-being was analysed comprehensively. The report also contains an analysis of the cost of degradation: benefits lost if GES not attained. HELCOM is also involved in an EU-funded project on maritime spatial planning in the region, . There, among other activities, we are collecting information on the impacts of marine spatial planning on economic, social and ecosystem services. HELCOM also runs an comprised of members from all Contracting Parties. Last but not least, the recently launched EU-funded that is led by HELCOM will develop ESA approaches for the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).Speaking of… What has ESA to do with the BSAP update?ESA contributes directly to the analysis of sufficiency of measures (SOM). It helps to see if good status is achievable with existing measures. For the update of the BSAP, it will be crucial to know what previous and current measures yielded what results, and at what cost. For potential new measures, cost-effectiveness analyses will help us to identify those which make most sense. The cheaper and more effective the measure, the better for attaining the ecological objectives of the BSAP.
Heini Ahtiainen is a project researcher on Economic and Social Analyses at the HELCOM Secretariat Question: What has economic and social analysis (ESA) to do with the flounder? Or: why has ESA become prevalent in HELCOM work?
Monika Stankiewicz presenting HELCOM and the case of the Baltic Sea at the UN Regular Process multi-stakeholder dialogue event at UN headquarters in New York on 25 January 2019.To strengthen marine assessments around the world, the United Nations convened . HELCOM was invited to share its experience about assessing the Baltic Sea and managing a regional sea.HELCOM has recently concluded a major sea assessment spanning from 2011 to 2016, with the results compiled in the . During the conference, ocean-literacy emerged to be a central question, with calls by panellists and country representatives to the UN to increase, globally, what we know about the oceans and seas.The event in New York also highlighted the importance of good science-policy interaction at all levels for pertinent marine assessments.”Do researchers know what decisions makers need, and do decision makers understand what researchers can do,” asked Mr Ariel Troisi from the (IOC-UNESCO) in his opening keynote address, further stressing on the importance of bridging the gap between policy and science for better ocean assessments. “Ensuring policy relevance requires frequent interactions between scientists and managers – in the case of the Baltic Sea, HELCOM provides such a policy-science interface,” said Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of HELCOM, during her panel presentation.According to Stankiewicz, policy relevance must be a major consideration when doing assessments. “In the Baltic Sea, the assessments directly serve various requirements and policy needs the member countries have, whether stemming from regional, European or global processes.”Broadening the scope of assessments to economic and social considerations was another issue addressed during the event by several participants, with a consensus forming on the relation between oceans in good health and economic value.”Better social and economic analysis is a missing piece of the puzzle in further integrating the marine policies and sectorial policies, and also to link implementation of different Sustainable Development Goals,” said Stankiewicz.The recent HELCOM State of the Baltic Sea assessment includes economic and social analyses, with findings showing that losses linked to eutrophication, and losses to revenue from recreational activities due to a sea in a poor state, could amount to EUR 4.4 billion and EUR 2 billion annually respectively.Another key ingredient for successful ocean assessments showed to be strong regional cooperation, with Monika Stankiewicz stressing that “Regional Sea Conventions and Actions Plans and other regional bodies help to translate global requirements to national implementation,” said Stankiewicz.The conference – – was organized by the (Regular Process), and was open to representatives of States, United Nations organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and industry and civil society stakeholders.
To strengthen marine assessments around the world, the United Nations convened a capacity building conference in New York from 24 to 25 January 2019. HELCOM was invited to share its experience about assessing the Baltic Sea and managing a regional sea.
HELCOM recently published a report assessing coastal fish in the Baltic, the . According to the report, only about half of the assessed areas obtain a good status.In general, the overall status of varies between geographical areas, with the north of the Baltic faring slightly better than the south. Key species and piscivores show a better status in more northern areas of the Baltic, compared to the south of the sea. For cyprinids, the status is often insufficient due to overabundance, especially in the north-eastern part of the Baltic. “The report summarizes the current status of coastal fish communities in the Baltic Sea as derived from official monitoring programs of the ,” said Jens Olsson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and who led the report. “It also contains short reviews on the factors regulating the communities and potential measures for the restoration and protection of coastal fish in the Baltic Sea.”To date, measures to restore and support coastal fish communities have barely been evaluated. As highlighted in the report, fishing regulations including permanent or temporary no-take areas, gear regulations, and habitat protection and restoration are measures that have shown to have a positive effects on fish populations.Coastal fish communities are regulated by a plethora of both natural and human-induced factors such as fishing, habitat exploitation, climate, eutrophication and interactions between species in the ecosystem.In being in the central part of the food-web, coastal fish are of key ecological and socio-economic importance, and their status often reflects the general health of coastal ecosystems.Depending on the sub-basin, the assessed key species were mainly perch and, in some southern areas, also flounder. The monitored piscivorous fish were perch, pike, pike-perch, burbot, cod and turbot. In the cyprinid family, roach and breams dominated the catch assessed. In the few areas where cyprinids do not occur naturally, mesopredatory fish were assessed instead, such as wrasses, sticklebacks, flatfishes, clupeids and gobies.”The information contained in this report is a valuable basis for following up on the objectives of the and , as well as for the development of national management plans for coastal fish,” concluded Olsson. –For more information:Jens OlssonSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU Aqua)firstname.lastname@example.org
HELCOM recently published a report assessing coastal fish in the Baltic. According to the report, only about half of the assessed areas obtain a good status.
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