Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

Marine litter and underwater noise top the agenda of PRESSURE 14-2021, the HELCOM Working Group dealing with pressures on the Baltic Sea

The PRESSURE 14-2021 participants

Marine litter and underwater noise topped the agenda of PRESSURE 14-2021, the meeting of the HELCOM Pressure Working Group dealing with pressures on the Baltic Sea, and which was held online from 13 to 16 April 2021. 

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. 

The BSAP update is well on track at HELCOM 42-2021, the annual meeting of the Helsinki Commission

Screenshot of the HELCOM 42-2021 online meeting

More milestones on the now imminent update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) were reached during the 42nd Meeting of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM 42-2021), held online from 17 to 18 March 2021, keeping the work on the new plan well on track and within the planned schedule. 

second full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented at the meeting. Further refinements will now take place in the various HELCOM bodies tasked with the drafting of the update. The BSAP, in addition to actions and measures, will now also include a list of environmental hotspots that will need to be resolved as part of the plan’s implementation.

The updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is due to be adopted during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting which will be hosted by Germany and is scheduled to take place on 20 October 2021 in Lübeck, Germany. HELCOM Ministerials take place every three years and bring together the competent Ministers from the HELCOM countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment.

Several key processes and documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP and serving as supporting tools to reach its objectives were also green-lighted for further development at HELCOM 42-2021. These include the draft Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the draft Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030.

The HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved, in principle, the draft HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Due to be adopted in June 2021 by the HELCOM decision-makers pending final refinements, the plan will contain a set of regional and national actions for the monitoring and management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea.

On hazardous substances, the Contracting Parties agreed to modernize the overall HELCOM framework dealing with the issue, to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by a relentless 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.

Serving as a basis for this decision, HELCOM had, earlier in 2020, drafted a strategic regional policy document on hazardous substances, in cooperation with the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre and with the support of the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).

In a bid to improve response to spills in the Baltic Sea, the Contracting Parties also adopted the revised HELCOM Response Manual as well as the draft Multi-regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume 2. Both manuals are primarily intended for the authorities dealing with transboundary maritime incidents affecting the waters of several countries and are intended to facilitate the coordination of international response efforts.

At HELCOM 42-2021, the revised HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6 Rev on integrated wildlife response planning in the Baltic Sea area was also adopted. The Recommendation lays out options and strategies for the response to maritime accidents such as oil spills in order to guarantee a swift mobilization of resources to safeguard and attend to affected wildlife.

To improve the protection of habitats and species in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM Contracting Parties further agreed to cooperate with FAO and IUCN in organizing a regional HELCOM workshop on “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) in early 2022. OECMs are geographically defined areas other than marine protected areas (MPAs) but that have a positive effect on the conservation of biodiversity.  

The meeting was also an opportunity for the HELCOM Executive Secretary, Rüdiger Strempel, to highlight the achievements of the organization in 2020, noting, in his statement, that “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Corona pandemic, HELCOM work progressed largely as planned in 2020.” The HELCOM Activities report for the year 2020 was also presented on the same occasion.

The outcomes of the recently held HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2021 “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” (HSC2021) were also presented. In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the HSC2021, held as an online workshop, also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the BSAP update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach. The results of the HSC2021 are now due to be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM groups for further consideration. 

The HELCOM 42-2021 meeting was chaired by the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, Lilian Busse, Germany and the Vice-Chair of HELCOM 2020-2021, Mr. Johannes Oelerich, Germany. Attended by all Contracting Parties, it was also the first official meeting for the newly appointed Heads of Delegation of Lithuania and Poland and, Ms. Agnė Lukoševičienė from the Ministry of Environment of Lithuania, respectively Ms. Ewelina Fałowska from the Ministry of Infrastructure of Poland. 

First draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan is unveiled to HELCOM decision-makers at HOD 59-2020

Entering a final stretch, another major milestone was crossed last week when the first full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented to the organization’s decision-makers during the autumn meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 59-2020) that took place online.

Building on the existing plan, the updated BSAP is expected to maintain and adapt the current structure and segments that seek to reflect the pressures stemming from land (“Eutrophication” and “Hazardous substances and litter”) and from our activities at sea (“Sea-based activities”) as well as the state of the environment (“Biodiversity and ecosystems”).

In addition, the updated plan is due to feature a segment on horizontal actions having an incidence on the four main segments. These are climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, and financing.

Furthermore, all measures and actions contained in the new plan are intended to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. 

The updated BSAP is expected to be adopted by the Ministers of the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting that will be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.

With its set of targets for protecting biodiversity and reducing the pressures affecting the Baltic, as well as its number of concrete measures, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM ecological objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for attaining good environmental status in the Baltic. 

The original plan, adopted in 2007, can be credited with significantly reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, improving the protection of biodiversity, and boosting cleaner and safer shipping practices. 

At HOD 59-2020, the decision-makers also approved a draft of the HELCOM Science Agenda that is meant to support the implementation of the BSAP and other HELCOM processes, by identifying the scientific knowledge needs related to the Baltic marine environment and which are foreseen to surface in the next 10 years.

Meant to be launched alongside the new BSAP, the first draft of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategywas also presented during the meeting. In a bid to curb eutrophication, the strategy seeks to minimize the run-off of nutrients, stemming mainly from agricultural sources such as fertilizers, to the Baltic Sea by keeping them in a closed loop. 

More good news: the Heads of Delegation announced the removal of HELCOM Hot Spot n°42, the Riga wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), from its list of pollution sites

More than EUR 200 million were invested in the plant over the last 20 years, leading to a significant reduction of the discharges of nutrients and hazardous substances to the Baltic via the Lielupe river. The WWTP is now complying with EU regulations and almost fully meets the more stringent HELCOM targets on water purification. 

The Riga WWTP had been added to the list of significant pollution sites due to insufficient treatment of wastewater and a large share of untreated municipal wastewater being released to the environment. 

The HELCOM Heads of Delegation further approved the draft of a key regional instrument for fighting pollution incidents at sea, the Joint Inter-Regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume II. A guideline for addressing and coordinating response to major accidents such as oil or chemical spills, the manual is expected to be adopted during the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March 2021.

On shipping, and more specifically on the management of ballast water which is a major source of introduction of alien species to the Baltic Sea, the Heads of Delegation further approved the revised HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on the granting of exemptions under International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (JHP).

The procedure is supported by an online decision tool that gives shipping professionals a quick overview of the risk of introducing non-indigenous species (NIS) through ballast water between two ports. Co-developed with OSPAR and recently updated, the tool covers both the North and Baltic Seas.

The collaboration between HELCOM and OSPAR comes at a time when both organizations are actively seeking to strengthen their partnership, a fact particularly welcomed during HOD 59-2020.

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.

Chaired by Germany, HOD 59-2020 was attended by participants from all Contracting Parties, by Observers from Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association Europe (CLIA Europe), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and by invited guests.

HELCOM Expert Interview: Sari Luostarinen on nutrients, eutrophication and agriculture

Sari Luostarinen is a Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (Luke) and is the current Chair of the HELCOM Agri group

Aren’t nutrients supposed to be good? What’s wrong with nutrients? 

Nutrients are vital for humans, animals and the environment as a whole. They are also vital for agriculture and food production. No crops can grow without nutrients. But as with most other compounds, too much in the wrong place causes problems. In our region for instance, the excess of nutrients has led to the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea.

In terms of eutrophication and nutrients, what is the current status in the Baltic Sea region?

The Baltic Sea is a vulnerable sea for many reasons. The nutrients it has received in the past are bound in the sediments and released under certain conditions, causing internal nutrient loading. At the same time, nutrient runoff from current human activities is adding to the problem. Of the latter, many point sources have been reduced, for example due to improved wastewater treatment. But it is more difficult to restrict diffuse loading such as from agriculture. Depending on the weather conditions and due to increasing temperatures, eutrophication and its consequences are worsening. More actions to control the nutrient load are needed.

In general, what would need to be done to curb eutrophication and nutrient inputs, especially in regard to agriculture?

As said, crops cannot grow without nutrients. Both phosphorus and nitrogen need to be available for crops on the fields to achieve good yields. Good yields also mean that most nutrients given as fertilizers end up in the harvested crop and little is lost to the environment. The amount of nutrients spread as fertilizers should be adequate, for instance adjusting quantities depending on the crop, the soil type and its nutrient content, as well as the timing of the spread. The use of animal manure as a fertilizer is the traditional way to recycle nutrients in food production. However, due to segregation of animal and crop production it may be either available in excess or in deficit depending on the region. More precise utilisation of manure nutrients, including replacing mineral fertilization with manure, is important for reducing agricultural nutrient load. Also, other measures, such as reduced tillage, catch crops, water protection zones, are also needed to manage nutrient losses.

What concrete steps is HELCOM currently taking on the nutrient issue from the agriculture perspective?

HELCOM is efficiently driving several measures to reduce agricultural nutrient losses to the Baltic Sea. As an example, HELCOM is preparing the introduction of recommendations for national manure standards. The aim is to ensure the availability of updated, scientifically proven data on manure quantities and nutrient contents in the Baltic Sea countries so that the manure data used in fertilization planning and thus the amount of manure spread on fields becomes more precise. This is expected to reduce nutrient runoff from the fields. Furthermore, on resource efficiency, HELCOM is also preparing a strategy for nutrient recycling in the Baltic Sea Region. Again, the aim is to introduce more efficient measures to make better use of the nutrients already available and to reduce the need to introduce new mineral nutrients into the cycle. For example, this could be achieved by processing manure, different wastes and their by-products into recycled fertilizers.

Handling of wastewater from ships in ports of the Baltic Sea is facilitated by new guidance

The handling of wastewater from ships in ports of the Baltic Sea just got easier with the newly published Technical Guidance for the handling of wastewater in Ports of the Baltic Sea Special Area under MARPOL Annex IV.

Intended for shipowners, port operators, local administrations as well as municipal wastewater companies, the Technical Guidance was developed to facilitate the management of wastewater from ships to better comply with IMO regulations on wastewater handling in the Baltic Sea region. 

In 2011, the IMO designated the Baltic Sea a Special Area for sewage discharges from passenger ships, directing passenger ships operating in the Baltic Sea and not equipped with an on-board sewage treatment facility to discharge their sewage – or black water – at port, in a so-called port reception facility (PRF). 

“Initial experiences show that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” said Susanne Heitmüller, the Chair of HELCOM Maritime, the HELCOM working group that deals with shipping-related topics. “Almost each port, with its own, specific infrastructure requirements, needs a tailored solution,” she added.

The current lack of experience with sewage handling in ports requires the development of new and innovative approaches to manage these new challenges. The Technical Guidance for the handling of wastewater in ports was produced to fill this gap and offer a wide range of possible options to several scenarios ships and ports may face. 

“The Technical Guidance sets out probable problems a port may encounter, and presents possible solutions on the different aspects of the management of wastewater from ships,” said Heitmüller.

Under the IMO regulations, all newly built passenger ships after June 2019 are required to comply to stricter rules on wastewater discharges, while older passenger ships will have to comply to the same rules by June 2021, with some exceptions until June 2023 for ships en route directly to or from a port located outside the Baltic Sea and to or from a port located east of longitude 28˚10′ E.

According to the rules, passenger ships which carry more than 12 passengers will have to either discharge sewage into port reception facilities, or alternatively at sea – provided that nutrients have been reduced by 70% for nitrogen and 80% for phosphorus through on-board treatment. 

Untreated wastewater has been identified as an important source of both hazardous substances and nutrients, the main cause of eutrophication leading to unwanted growth of blue-green algae that upset the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity.

Published by HELCOM, the Technical Guidance was developed by the Development and Assessment Institute in Waste Water Technology at RWTH Aachen University (PIA) on behalf of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany (BSH) and in collaboration with the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).