Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Regional maritime spatial planning moves further ahead during the joint HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group meeting

HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 22-2021 was held online from 20 to 21 April 2021.

Regional coordination on maritime spatial planning (MSP) was once more the leitmotif of the latest joint HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group meeting, the 22nd Meeting of the joint HELCOM-VASAB Maritime Spatial Planning Working Group (HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 22-2021) which was held online from 20 to 21 April 2021.

As part of the efforts to establish a regional MSP framework in the Baltic Sea area, it was agreed to forward the draft of the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030 (MSP Roadmap) to the HELCOM decision-makers, the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD), for endorsement. The MSP Roadmap is due to be adopted later this year during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2021 to be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021. The goal of the roadmap is to facilitate and follow up the implementation of various national maritime spatial plans in the Baltic Sea as well as to lay the groundwork for their revision within an adaptive spatial planning process. 

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and related MSP actions were also addressed during the meeting. The BSAP is due to be updated during the MM2021 and will contain a horizontal action segment on MSP, containing the measures from the existing plan that are yet to be implemented as well as new ones. 

Updates on the various national maritime spatial plans were also given during the meeting, with almost all Baltic Sea countries either already having MSP plans in place or currently finalizing them. Denmark published its first maritime spatial plan earlier this March, and Poland had its plan adopted by its Council of Ministers this April.

The draft outline of a regional forum of MSP experts, the Planner’s Forum, was also presented during the meeting. Developed by the Capacity4MSP project that is led by VASAB, the aim of the forum, which may be hosted under the HELCOM-VASAB MSP Working Group as an expert body, is to establish a long-lasting platform for the exchange of practical knowledge on MSP. 

Furthermore, recommendations on the role of MSP in preserving marine cultural heritage was presented by the BalticRim project. 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. Representatives of the Baltic Sea countries agreed to investigate how MSP could support preservation of underwater cultural heritage.

The Meeting was attended by all HELCOM Contracting Parties with the exception of Lithuania. Observers from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also participated, as did invited guests from Spatial Foresight GmbH, the EU MSP Assistance Mechanism, the Finnish Environment Institute, the BalticRIM project, the Institute for Historical Coastal Research of Wilhelmshaven, Germany, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. 

“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. 

“Break down the silos” and “We know enough to act”: HELCOM holds its stakeholder conference on ecosystem-based management

Screenshots of the digital whiteboards used by the HSC2021 participants

In an effort to advance the implementation of ecosystem-based management (EBM) in the Baltic Sea region, HELCOM held its Stakeholder Conference 2021 (HSC2021) “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” on 11 March 2021 as an online workshop. 

“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.

HELCOM publishes maps on fish habitats

HELCOM just published several maps on essential fish habitats, publicly available online on HELCOM’s Map and Data service. The maps were produced under the recently concluded Pan Baltic Scope project on maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Baltic Sea region and to which HELCOM was a partner.

The maps show potential spawning areas of cod, sprat and herring, which are the commercially most important fish species in the Baltic Sea region, as well as key areas for European and Baltic flounder, perch and pikeperch. 

“With the maps on essential fish habitats, we now have another tool at our disposal to identify and evaluate marine areas of greater ecological importance,” said SLU Aqua’s Lena Bergström who was responsible for this component within the Pan Baltic Scope project. 

Combined with corresponding data for other ecosystem components, the maps on essential fish habitats can be used to identify regions of high ecological value and areas which have the potential to deliver various essential ecosystem services.

The maps can be found under Biodiversity section of the HELCOM Map and Data service: 

The maps can also be downloaded as raster files from the HELCOM Metadata catalogue.

The Pan Baltic Scope project was co-founded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund of the European Union. In the project, HELCOM notably collaborated on a data sharing activity to support regional cooperation and transboundary coherence in MSP which lead to the development of BASEMAPS, a web-based tool showing decentralized MSP data through open standard services.

The ecosystem approach conquers global maritime spatial planning event in Riga

Panel discussion at the MSP Forum 2019 in Riga. © HELCOM

Not just one or two but three events on maritime spatial planning (MSP) were combined in the “Global meets regional” Maritime Spatial Planning Forum in Riga between 19 and 21 November, showing the importance that MSP is gaining in the Baltic Sea region.

The event that attracted 300 participants from over 40 countries was a grouping of the 4th International MSP Forum, the 3rd Baltic MSP Forum, and the final conference of the Pan Baltic Scope project. It focussed heavily on the ecosystem approach as well as transboundary planning between countries and frameworks.

“For HELCOM, maritime spatial planning is one of the tools at our disposal for achieving good environmental status of the Baltic Sea,” noted Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, in his recap remarks.

“By promoting the ecosystem approach, [we] add the human dimension to the ecosystem, both in terms of the benefits we derive from the sea, and regarding the pressures our activities exert on the marine environment,” he said.

According to Strempel, the forum also impressively demonstrated “the broad range of disciplines and topics of relevance to and affected by MSP.” Indeed, legal issues, environmental impacts, economic and social dimensions, green infrastructure, and ecosystem services all prominently featured on the forum’s agenda, confirming the complexities and the multidisciplinary nature of MSP.

The forum furthermore served as the final conference of the EU-funded Pan Baltic Scope project on advancing MSP in the Baltic Sea region and where HELCOM led the work on economic and social analyses, and cumulative impacts.

In the project, HELCOM also collaborated on a data sharing activity to support regional cooperation and transboundary coherence in MSP. At the forum, HELCOM presented BASEMAPS, a web-based tool showing decentralized MSP data through open standard services.

“With BASEMAPS, planners can finally access a catalogue of transnational MSP data published by official data providers,” said Joni Kaitaranta, HELCOM’s data manager. The tool seeks to facilitate the development of coherent plans across the Baltic Sea region.

BASEMAPS is the result of both the Baltic LINes and Pan Baltic Scope projects, with the first focussing on input data – the data needed to produce the plans –, and the second on output data, showing national MSP plans in a harmonized way following HELCOM-VASAB guidelines on transboundary MSP output data structure in the Baltic Sea to support cross-border coherence of plans.

The forum was organized in conjunction with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC UNESCO), VASAB, Pan Baltic Scope and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE).

And who said three: in a MSP-dominated week, the forum took place back to back with an EU MSP expert meeting on Monday, 18 November and the Capacity4MSP project partner meeting on Friday, 22 November – bumping up the count to an actual five MSP events in Riga. 

Watch Rüdiger Strempel’s recap video

Ecosystem-based management and maritime spatial planning are furthered at HELCOM-VASAB meeting in St Petersburg

As maritime spatial planning is sharpening up in Baltic Sea region, planners and policy makers advanced on environmentally-friendly management of human sea-based activities during the last HELCOM-VASAB meeting held in St Petersburg, Russia from 28 to 29 October 2019.

“The HELCOM-VASAB Working Group is a unique platform for developing ecosystem-based management, pooling the efforts of both planners and environmentalists for better maritime spatial planning (MSP) in the Baltic Sea region,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky who oversees MSP at HELCOM.

In MSP, ecosystem-based management, or the ecosystem approach, aims at linking the conservation of marine resources with an integrated management of different human maritime activities. This approach helps to reduce the cumulative impacts on the environment caused by multiple human activities.

In St Petersburg, ecosystem-based management was a central topic as reflected by the meeting outcome, along the exchange on the state of national maritime spatial plans.

All Baltic Sea countries are currently developing maritime spatial plans or looking into the matter, with the majority already having adopted their plans and some even embarking on their revision.

As laid out in its roadmap for MSP, HELCOM-VASAB promotes the coordination between national MSP efforts to avoid incompatibilities of plans between countries within the Baltic Sea region.

MSP is also expected to feature more prominently in the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions to reach a good environmental status of the Baltic Sea and that is due to be updated by 2021. When the initial BSAP was adopted in 2007, there weren’t many concrete MSP activities in the region yet. At HELCOM-VASAB, it was therefore agreed that MSP finds its rightful place in the updated BSAP.

“In the Baltic Sea area, most MSP activities came to life because of the commitments made under the BSAP. Now that the region has advanced on MSP, we can see its full potential for helping us to reach our environmental goals for our sea,” said Frank-Kamenetsky.

Presented by Pan Baltic Scope during the meeting, the concept of green infrastructure (GI) showed possible ways on how to integrate MSP in the update of the BSAP. By mapping habitats and biotopes that provide essential ecosystem services, green infrastructure is an attempt to effectively link biodiversity to spatial planning.

Green infrastructure is a network of natural or semi-natural ecosystems that offer valuable services. They provide natural resources – think clean air, water and food –, regulate the environment and climate, as well as add a cultural and social value, for instance through recreational opportunities. 

Further development of the green infrastructure concept was included in the HELCOM-VASAB Work Plan for 2020-2021 to be submitted to the HELCOM countries for final approval.

The 19th meeting of joint HELCOM-VASAB Working Group on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) took place during the XVIII Annual Strategic Planning Leaders Forum that, every autumn, attracts over 1000 participants from Russia and beyond.

The HELCOM-VASAB Working Group was established in 2010 to ensure cooperation among the Baltic Sea Region countries for coherent regional maritime spatial planning processes in the Baltic Sea.

Read the meeting outcome

Maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea region just became easier with the web-based tool BASEMAPS



To make their plans, maritime spatial planning (MSP) practitioners need transboundary data that is up-to-date and reliable. Working with a centralized database is often the only option to get a large amount of harmonized data. However, these centralized databases are not always up-to-date.

In 2012, to address data reliability and accuracy, the BaltSeaPlan project recommended building a tool for decentralized MSP data from the Baltic Sea region, based on marine spatial data infrastructure (MSDI). In 2016, based on this recommendation, the BalticLINes project started the development of such a decentralized but more up-to-date system. The final product, BASEMAPS, was released in 2019.


BASEMAPS is a web-based tool to access Baltic MSP decentralized data through open standards services. MSP practitioners can access for the first time a catalogue of transnational MSP data published by official data providers.

BASEMAPS makes use of the open geospatial services standardized by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). These tools are web map services (WMS) to view map images and web feature services (WFS) to deliver data. Likewise, the tool works also with other kind of services such as ArcGIS Rest and Download services.

What can users do with BASEMAPS?

MSP authorities and practitioners can view and download datasets, view their metadata, click on geographical features to get information, and zoom in to get more details of the area. Additionally, data providers can manage their own data in an administration panel. This password-protected panel provides an user-friendly interface for registered users to add, edit and delete data services.

Besides showing data from different national sources, BASEMAPS is being developed further in the Pan Baltic Scope project to view national MSP plans in a harmonized way. This feature will be available in BASEMAPS at the end of 2019. For more information click here.

Who developed BASEMAPS?

BASEMAPS was developed during the Interreg funded project Baltic LINes. This project aimed at propose planning solutions for linear infrastructures (cables), renewable energy and shipping lanes. There were 15 partners led by BSH.

HELCOM led a work package to develop a tool to access decentralized data based on a MSDI that later got the name BASEMAPS. The work was supported by Aalborg University.


Ecosystem approach in maritime spatial planning is the central focus at joint HELCOM-VASAB meeting

To boost coherence in maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea region, the 18th Meeting of the joint HELCOM-VASAB Maritime Spatial Planning Working Group (HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 18-2019) was convened in Hamburg, Germany from on 27 to 28 March 2019.The ecosystem approach and cross-border consultations were identified as some of the key elements for improved regional coherence in maritime spatial planning (MSP).In maritime spatial planning (MSP), the ecosystem-based approach assures sustainable use of marine resources through correlating the impact our activities may have on the environment, taking into account the full array of interactions occurring in the marine ecosystem.At the meeting, it was also advised to consider the forthcoming recommendations of the Pan Baltic Scope project that are due by end of 2019. is a two-year EU-funded project on MSP in the Baltic Sea region that seeks to support national MSP processes in advancing the implementation of the ecosystem-based approach at the Baltic Sea regional level.The meeting was hosted by the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg, Germany. It was chaired by the Co-Chairs of the Working Group, Ms Katarzyna Krzywda from Poland and Mr Joacim Johannesson from Sweden.

To boost coherence in maritime spatial planning in the Baltic Sea region, the 18th Meeting of the joint HELCOM-VASAB Maritime Spatial Planning Working Group (HELCOM-VASAB MSP WG 18-2019) was convened in Hamburg, Germany from on 27 to 28 March 2019.

Mapping of essential fish habitats gets underway in joint HELCOM-Pan Baltic Scope workshop

Experts in marine biology and maritime spatial planning came together in Riga from 12 to 13 December in a workshop addressing essential fish habitats in the Baltic Sea, with the goal to map the most significant areas.

“We want to see where the important fish habitats are in the Baltic Sea,” said Lena Bergström from HELCOM who co-organized the workshop together with Latvia, adding that the maps will be a useful tool for better informed maritime spatial planning (MSP).

During the workshop, participants validated the proposed essential fish habitats maps, and provided recommendations for their further use in HELCOM. The maps will eventually be made available to maritime spatial planners as well as other users on HELCOM’s website.

Essential fish habitats are – as their name suggests – essential for the healthy development of fish during their entire life cycle, from spawning, nursery and feeding to maturity. These habitats play an important role in the entire food web chain and marine ecosystem.

Since most fish species use different habitat types for different periods of their life cycle, the workshop notably focussed on describing different categories such as spawning areas, nursery areas for larvae and juveniles, adult feeding areas, and migratory corridors.The information presented during the workshop will be further used in the , to develop a concept of for supporting maritime spatial planning in the HELCOM region.

A novelty in MSP, green infrastructure seeks to promote an ecosystem-based approach in maritime spatial plans that also integrates the ecosystem services rendered by the marine environment – the free benefits we humans gain from a sea in a healthy state. The workshop was co-organised by HELCOM and the Pan Baltic Scope project, and hosted by the Latvian Ministry of Environment.

Experts in marine biology and maritime spatial planning came together in Riga from 12 to 13 December in a workshop addressing essential fish habitats in the Baltic Sea, with the goal to map the most significant areas.

UN agrees to nine marine ecologically significant areas in the Baltic Sea

The nine new EBSAs in the Baltic Sea © HELCOMHelsinki, 30 November 2018 – A final step for nine ecologically unique marine areas in the Baltic Sea to be included in a global registry was taken during the held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 17 to 29 November 2018.Altogether, the nine so-called  (EBSAs) cover 23 percent of the Baltic Sea waters. Five are transboundary areas, spanning over waters of two or more countries. Describing these EBSAs was a commitment by HELCOM made at the UN Ocean Conference in New York in 2017, a pledge of the Baltic Sea region for advancing the  (SDG 14).The new EBSAs were identified in Helsinki earlier in February 2018 during the  convened by the UN Secretariat of the  (CBD) in collaboration with HELCOM, with financial support from Finland and Sweden.According to the  (CBD, also known as UN Biodiversity) that keeps the , EBSAs are “special areas in the ocean that serve important purposes, in one way or another, to support the healthy functioning of oceans and the many services that it provides.” EBSAs are usually characterized by unique biological features. Knowing the position of these areas will also facilitate maritime spatial planning (MSP), notably in transboundary areas. “Beyond the protection of unique biodiversity, the EBSAs in the Baltic Sea can greatly help to establish maritime spatial plans that are coherent across borders, eventually leading to greater efficiencies for managing our activities at sea and improving the state of the sea,” said Monika Stankiewicz, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary.  In addition to being of value to maritime spatial planning that is based on the , the EBSAs could also contribute to the red-listing of threatened species and biotopes, the evaluation of effectiveness and coherence of marine protected areas (MPAs) networks, and future .The description of the EBSAs was based on , including a large number of biogeographic, biological and physical datasets and analyses available in HELCOM. Since 2011, the CBD Secretariat has convened 13 regional EBSA workshops, assessing more than 74 percent of the world’s total ocean surface. A set of seven criteria is currently being used to describe EBSAs, notably focussing on uniqueness, vulnerability and biological diversity of the marine area.The  is held in in the seaside town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 17 to 23 November 2018, with national governments, regional organizations, and other key stakeholders from around the world engaging in discussions on the  and starting the momentum for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. ***The nine Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in the Baltic Sea:Northern Bothnian Bay Kvarken Archipelago Åland Sea, Åland Islands and the Archipelago Sea of Finland Eastern Gulf of FinlandInner Sea of West Estonian Archipelago South-eastern Baltic Sea Shallows Southern Gotland Harbour Porpoise Area Fehmarn Belt Fladen, Stora and Lilla Middelgrund *** CBD criteria for describing EBSAsUniqueness or RaritySpecial importance for life history stages of speciesImportance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitatsVulnerability, Fragility, Sensitivity, or Slow recoveryBiological ProductivityBiological DiversityNaturalness ***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 

A final step for nine ecologically unique marine areas in the Baltic Sea to be included in a global registry was taken during the UN Biodiversity Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 17 to 29 November 2018.