Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Baltic Data Flows: New HELCOM project seeks to harmonize and harvest environmental data at a pan-Baltic level

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.

Co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union’s Innovation And Networks Executive Agency(INEA) and led by HELCOM, the project will run for three years through September 2023. Further partners are ICESLHEISMHISpatineoStockholm University, and SYKE.

The update of the Baltic Sea Action plan takes another concrete step with the launch of two key initiatives on the sufficiency of measures to reach good environmental status

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…

HELCOM expert interview: Heini Ahtiainen on Economic and Social Analysis (ESA)

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?

​HELCOM case study showcases the potential of the OpenRisk guideline for maritime risk assessments related to oil spills

HELCOM has recently published a for the Baltic Sea showing the potential of the recently developed OpenRisk guideline for assessing maritime risk related to oil spills.The case study is part of the that led to the development of a containing several open-access methods for maritime risk management. “The basic idea of the case study is to demonstrate, in practice, the usefulness of the OpenRisk toolbox and associated guidelines for assessing the risk of accidental oil spill,” said Valtteri Laine, the OpenRisk project manager and co-author of the study.The Baltic Sea case study focuses on maritime incidents in two test areas. The first one includes the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea, and the second one part of the sea areas south of Sweden and east of mainland Denmark.The study is based on data provided by HELCOM, and by Denmark, Finland and Sweden.The OpenRisk Baltic Sea case study is also available both as and as .The three other OpenRisk partners – the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (), the Finnish Environmental Agency () and the Norwegian Coastal Administration () – also .The OpenRisk project was co-financed by the European Union. ·        ·        ·       

HELCOM has recently published a case study for the Baltic Sea showing the potential of the recently developed OpenRisk guideline for assessing maritime risk related to oil spills.

Coastal fish assessments will continue in the Baltic Sea with renewed HELCOM project

 Members of the FISH-PRO III project in Helsinki on 13 February 2019. © HELCOMCoastal fish assessments will continue to be carried out in the Baltic Sea with renewed commitment from the HELCOM countries, as shown during the first meeting of the  that was held in Helsinki from 12 to 14 February 2019. The focus of the meeting was to finalize the revised monitoring guideline for coastal fish in HELCOM, and to follow up on the development work of the indicators used for the assessments of coastal fish.”The Helsinki meeting took us a step further in the development of additional indicators for coastal fish,” said Jens Olsson, project manager of FISH-PRO III and chair of the meeting.The current  on coastal fish notably evaluate the abundance of typical species of fish, such as perch and flounder, in the coastal areas of the Baltic Sea. They also evaluate the status of key functional groups such as piscivores, cyprinids and mesopredators.FISH-PRO III – the Continuation of the Project for Baltic-wide assessment of coastal fish communities in support of an ecosystem-based management – follows the FISH-PRO II project. Findings from FISH-PRO II were recently published in the . HELCOM thematic assessments on coastal fish have been produced since 2006. Attended by participants from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, the meeting was instrumental in outlining the project’s thematic areas of work and workplan for the coming years. Furthermore, the assessments produced by FISH-PRO III will also feed the . 

Coastal fish assessments will continue to be carried out in the Baltic Sea with renewed commitment from the HELCOM countries, as shown during the first meeting of the FISH-PRO III project that was held in Helsinki from 12 to 14 February 2019.

Strengthening capacities for global ocean assessments is the central theme at UN conference in New York

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.

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.

HELCOM report on coastal fish in the Baltic Sea finds that only half of the assessed areas are in a good state

 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)

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.

BONUS and HELCOM advance the environmental agenda of the Baltic Sea and bolster cooperation with other sea basins at key conference

​To draw from the lessons of their respective initiatives for improving the Baltic Sea environment, and  invited stakeholders from the region to the  that took place in Copenhagen on 6 November 2018. With a focus on blue growth and the economic benefits of healthy seas, the aim of the conference was also to bridge the gap between science and policy for the improvement of the ecological state of the Baltic Sea.The conference also reinforced synergies and links between HELCOM, BONUS and key strategic actors in northern European regional seas, notably ,  and . Drawing from the achievements and lessons learned from the  (BSAP) – HELCOM’s strategic tool to restore the good ecological status of the Baltic Sea – and BONUS – a regional marine research and development programme, the BONUS-HELCOM conference set the premises for increased cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and beyond. At the conference, BONUS announced its transition towards the wider Baltic and North Sea Support and Coordination Action (BANOS CSA) that will broaden its scope from the Baltic Sea to more European regional seas. “The regional seas surrounding the European continent might seem very different, but they all provide the same marine ecosystem services,” said Andris Andrusaitis, BANOS CSA Coordinator and current BONUS Acting Executive Director, further stressing on the need for regional cooperation to address common pressures on the seas.”What happens in the Baltic should not stay in the Baltic. We have to actively engage in processes beyond the Baltic Sea and share our know-how in ocean conservation to impact on the global agenda,” echoed Monika Stankiewicz, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM.According to both Andrusaitis and Stankiewicz, BANOS CSA will advance cooperation between the Baltic and North Sea sub-basins, and is a an important step towards a stronger involvement of the Baltic Sea region at a worldwide level, notably on providing solutions for global ocean management.Set to start in November 2018, BANOS CSA is constituted of major research and innovation funds and organizations from 12 countries, as well as of four transnational bodies – HELCOM, ICES, JPI Oceans, and OSPAR. Funded within the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework and set to run for 30 month, BANOS CSA will enable joint Baltic Sea and North Sea research and innovation for healthier seas. “Our promise is to ensure that the future programme will achieve high level of scientific, administrative and financial integration, and generate strong impact as well as EU-level benefits,” said Andrusaitis. For its part, HELCOM also saw the conference as an occasion to gather views and experiences from its stakeholders on the update of the BSAP that is set to be renewed after 2021, its initial end date. “The joint BONUS-HELCOM conference is an opportunity to advance our plans on how to utilize the latest results of BONUS and other research projects for the purpose of the update of the BSAP,” said Stankiewicz.HELCOM and OSPAR have both recently published comprehensive assessments on the ecosystem health of the seas – the  and the  respectively. — HELCOMHELCOM is an intergovernmental organization made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. Founded in 1974, it is the governing body of the Helsinki Convention. Its primary aims are to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution, as well as to ensure safe maritime navigation. The official name of HELCOM is the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission.  BONUSIn the core of BONUS is a long-term collaboration that supports sustainable development and implementation of HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan, the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the EU Blue Growth Agenda and other national, regional and European policy developments. BONUS is funded jointly by the eight member countries around the Baltic Sea and the EU by a total of EUR 100 million for the years 2011-2020. In November 2018, the Baltic Sea and North Sea Coordination and Support Action started preparing a framework for launching the joint Baltic Sea and North Sea research and innovation programme in 2021. , Facebook and Twitter: BONUSBaltic For more information:Andris Andrusaitis, Acting Executive Director, BONUS, t. +358 40 352 8163, e: andris.andrusaitis@bonuseeig.fiMaija Sirola, Communications Manager, BONUS, t. +358 40 352 0076, e:   

​To draw from the lessons of their respective initiatives for improving the Baltic Sea environment, BONUSand HELCOMinvited stakeholders from the region to the Joint BONUS-HELCOM Conference: Research and Innovation for Sustainability

Nature conservation and monitoring of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem take centre stage in Copenhagen during STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018

​Nature conservation and monitoring of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem were the focus of attention during the  (STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018). The meeting was held in Copenhagen from 22 to 26 October 2018.During the event, it was agreed to broaden the workplan for the , notably on the follow-up of  (BSAP) measures, red-listed species and their link to specific habitat features, and non-indigenous species, among others.In regards to  (MPAs), the participants endorsed the establishment of a regional MPA management network under the auspice of HELCOM. The management network is intended to function as a platform for managers across the region, to share experiences and best practices.In Copenhagen, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Sweden furthermore presented their plans for designating new MPAs. HELCOM was the first regional seas convention in the world to reach the target of 10% of its total marine area to be covered by MPAs in 2010. Increasing the ambition level, where scientifically justifiable, HELCOM seeks to achieve 10 percent MPA coverage for every Baltic Sea sub-basin by 2020.  Baltic sea species were also addressed at STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, notably the , a cousin of the dolphin. Measures to minimize bycatch, one of the biggest threats to harbour porpoises, were discussed. Currently, only about 500 of these marine mammals are left in the Baltic Proper, a sub-basin of the Baltic Sea where they used to occur in large numbers.On Baltic sturgeon – one of the regionally extinct species on the  – an action plan for its reintroduction, recovery and protection was endorsed by STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, a first step for its final adoption by the HELCOM countries in 2019.The meeting participants also expressed their concern about the low numbers of ringed seal in the Gulf of Finland and called for increased efforts to conserve the species. At STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, several guidelines on monitoring the state of the Baltic Sea were also in principle endorsed, notably on dissolved oxygen in seawater and determining heavy metals in sediments. Monitoring the state of the Baltic Sea is key to understanding how the ecosystem reacts to the current measures for a healthy sea.Pressures on the Baltic Sea were also discussed, notably marine litter and underwater noise. On the latter, it was highlighted that more efforts are needed, specifically on determining threshold values. Underwater noise is one of the emerging pressures on the Baltic Sea environment.Norbert Häubner and Marie-Louise Krawack were elected as co-Chairs of the  for the next term until 2020, respectively chairing the monitoring & assessment, and biodiversity & nature conservation components of the group. They replace the previous co-Chairs Penina Blankett and Urmas Lips.

​Nature conservation and monitoring of the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem were the focus of attention during the Ninth Meeting of the HELCOM Working Group on the State of the Environment and Nature Conservation (STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018).