Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

HELCOM updates its online tool for assessing the risk of introduction of alien species via ballast water

Aliens in the Baltic Sea? Not if shipping managers utilize the free online tool developed by HELCOM and OSPAR to minimise the introduction of non-indigenous species (NIS, also known as alien species) via the ballast water of ships. The tool has recently been updated as part of the Interreg COMPLETE project

“The updated tool now makes it even easier to evaluate the risk of introduction of alien species by ships traveling between two ports in the HELCOM-OSPAR area,” said Manuel Sala-Pérez, the COMPLETE project’s coordinator at HELCOM.  

Alien species often travel with ballast water in ships, being sucked up into ships in one port and then discarded in another where they could potentially proliferate, take over habitats and disrupt the food chain and existing biodiversity. “For fragile marine ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea, NIS can be a serious issue,” cautioned Sala-Pérez. 

The free online tool, the so-called Ballast Water Exemptions Decision Support Tool, assesses the risk of introduction of NIS in a simple way, yet based on the latest scientific knowledge on the occurrence and distribution of species as well as the environmental characteristics of each port. 

“The online tool is now more user-friendly and contains improved GIS functionalities and data visualisations,” said Sala-Pérez, adding that it also includes updates to the underlying technology such as databases and algorithms. “It should be the go-to tool for whoever is dealing with ballast water management in the Baltic and North Seas.”  

COMPLETE is an EU INTERREG Baltic Sea Region project aimed at minimizing the introduction and spread of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens by shipping, notably via ballast water and biofouling. In the project, HELCOM led the activity tasked with updating the NIS online tool. 

HELCOM further took part in the development of a proposal for a Baltic Sea Biofouling Roadmap and a HELCOM monitoring programme on NIS. It also participated in the review process of the HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on ballast water exemptions, particularly on risk assessments of NIS introductions, and the update of the selection criteria for target species.

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.

Sea trout are back in Lithuanian river after successful restoration under the RETROUT project

©Piotr Wawrzyniuk –

Sea trout are reproducing again in parts of the Smeltalė river in Lithuania after a successful restoration exercise under the Baltic-wide RETROUT project.

“We counted 13 new sea trout nests within only two months after the restoration work was finished,” said Nerijus Nika from Klaipeda University, one of the partners responsible for the Lithuanian river restorations within RETROUT, further noting that the specifically created reproduction sections, or spawning habitats, were all intensively used by sea trout. The restoration work was completed in September 2019.

RETROUT carries out a number of river restoration demonstration cases in the project partner countries to improve the condition of sea trout populations. 

“For viable and healthy sea trout populations, we need healthy and accessible rivers. Unfortunately, many rivers potentially suitable for sea trout aren’t yet in the condition we’d like them to be,” said Henri Jokinen, the RETROUT project manager at HELCOM.

In Lithuania, the rehabilitation started with the creation of a system of meandering shallow ponds in an area of the Smeltalė river previously purposed as a surface flow treatment wetland for improved water quality. 

Since its construction 20 years ago, the wetland hadn’t been maintained, accumulating excessive sediments from defaulting sedimentation ponds as well as suffering from excessive vegetation on its banks. 

In addition, a 500 m section was modified in the Smeltaitė stream, a main tributary of Smeltalė river, using stones, gravel and logs to create three 50 m long spawning and juvenile rearing habitats. 

“According to local experts, such habitats are spawning hot spots for salmonids and lampreys in lowland streams of Lithuania,” said Jokinen. Indeed, all three created spawning habitat sections were intensively used by sea trout only two months after completion. 

In the Smeltaitė stream, the two biggest trout nests – of 7,5 m2 and 10 m2 – were found in the restored stretch, in habitats pre-evaluated to be of high priority for sea trout females. One of these sites was constantly occupied for 1.5 month by up to five different trout, a rather unusual spawning behaviour. 

With special focus on sea trout, the RETROUT project seeks to promote and develop sustainable coastal fishing tourism in the Baltic Sea region. RETROUT initiated 15 restoration cases in coastal rivers of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Sweden. Measures under the project cover fishways, biotope restorations, water quality improvement, and dam removal plans. 

In the RETROUT project, HELCOM leads the work package on Assessment of status and management of sea trout rivers and stocks which focuses mainly on the ecological aspect of trout fishing, notably through assessing fish stock and river habitat status, and by evaluating river restoration practices to improve trout populations. 

The main results will be published as an assessment report and as a toolbox of best practices and guidelines for river restoration in the Baltic Sea. 

“In addition to improving the actual condition of a river, the experience we get from these demonstration cases will help us to develop the ‘Guidelines for river restoration best practices in the Baltic Sea region,’ another major outcome of the project,” said Jokinen.

The restoration of the Smeltalė river was conducted by the Klaipeda District Municipality Administration, with technical and scientific support from the Klaipeda University. 

Photos from Smeltalė river, Lithuania. © Nerijus Nika

Two sea trout in their newly restored habitat. © Tomas Ruginis

HELCOM publishes report on noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea

The recently published HELCOM report “Noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea” shows how marine mammals, fish and diving birds may react to underwater sound in the Baltic Sea.

“In the past few years, HELCOM has been keen on understanding how underwater noise impacts the different Baltic Sea animal species,” said Marta Ruiz, the HELCOM expert on underwater noise and co-author of the report.

In 2013, the HELCOM members had agreed in Copenhagen that “the level of ambient and distribution of impulsive sounds in the Baltic Sea should not have negative impact on marine life.” The report is a direct response to that announcement.

A first at the Baltic Sea scale, the report identifies species which may be impacted by noise, based on the hearing sensitivity, threat status and commercial value of the animals as well as the impact of noise and the availability of data.

Seals and harbour porpoises are particularly affected by noise due to their high hearing sensitivity. These species rely heavily on hearing throughout their entire life such as for geolocation, communicating or mating, and excessive noise may lead to behavioural changes and physiological stress.

According to the report, “spatial distribution of a species is important when considering the potential risks of impacts from noise.” The report therefore provides a prioritized list of noise sensitive Baltic Sea species and highlights their distribution, to map biologically sensitive areas which also consider periods of biological significance for those species. These areas and the list of species are expected to be updated whenever more data becomes available.

Supported by the HELCOM coordinated and EU co-financed BalticBOOST project, the report is part of the flagship publication series of HELCOM, the Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings (BSEP) that have been running since the ratification of the first Helsinki Convention in 1980.

The HELCOM report “Noise sensitivity of animals in the Baltic Sea” is now publicly available as BSEP n° 167.

Halfway there: RETROUT project for promoting sustainable fishing and viable fish stocks convenes for its mid-term meeting

The project had its mid-term meeting in Gdańsk, Poland from 8 to 9 May
2019, looking at achievements so far and the next steps to be taken.  “Work is progressing according to plans,
although some challenges need to be tackled to reach the final goals by the end
of the project in fall 2020,” said Håkan Häggström, the RETROUT from the County Administrative
Board of Stockholm, Sweden. With special focus on sea trout, RETROUT
seeks to promote and develop sustainable coastal fishing tourism in the Baltic
Sea region. Fostering thriving fish populations is a key approach of the
project, through enabling healthy and accessible river habitats for the natural
reproduction of sea trout that will eventually lead to a larger stock size. In the countries where it operates, the
project also carries out a number of river restoration initiatives to improve the
condition of sea trout populations. For example, one case study will focus on
the renewal of the riverbed to increase nursery areas, while another project is
working on building a new fish pass to facilitate the free movement of fish
past migration obstacles.  “For healthy trout populations, rivers need
to be protected and restored, for instance by removing migration hindrances and
improving spawning grounds. We need to increase the efforts for securing
self-sustaining and viable populations of migratory fish in the Baltic Sea”,
said Henri Jokinen, the RETROUT Project manager at HELCOM. In Gdańsk, HELCOM chaired the second day
work group session for the RETROUT work package on ‘Assessment of status and
management of sea trout rivers and stocks.’ This  focuses mainly on the ecological
aspect of trout fishing, notably through assessing fish stock and river habitat
status, and by evaluating river restoration practices to improve trout
populations. The main results will be published as an assessment report and as
a toolbox of best practices for river restoration in the Baltic Sea.  “So far, we have had a very useful workshop
about sea trout assessment and monitoring methods last year, we have collected
a nice data set of past river restoration cases and conducted a valuable amount
of stakeholder interviews to learn about factors of success and failure in
river restoration projects, and we advanced with the river restoration
demonstration projects carried out in the project countries, to mention some of
the achievements. We are in a good place to start on the next half of the
project,” said Jokinen. The HELCOM-led work in RETROUT is in line
with the  on salmon and
sea trout, and supports the  ‘Conservation of
Baltic Salmon (Salmo salar) and Sea Trout (Salmo trutta)
populations by the restoration of their river habitats and management of river
fisheries’. In essence, the RETROUT project aims to
stimulate sustainable economic and social development based on healthy
ecosystems, reflecting the general HELCOM priorities.With 14 partners from Sweden, Estonia,
Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and including HELCOM, RETROUT is a three-year Interreg
project running until September 2020. RETROUT is a flagship project of the EU
Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region . It is co-financed by the  under the Natural resources
priority field. –For
more information:Henri
RETROUT Project manager 

The RETROUT project had its mid-term meeting in Gdańsk, Poland from 8 to 9 May 2019, looking at achievements so far and the next steps to be taken.

HELCOM expert interview: Jannica Haldin on biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of all life on Earth, and, contrary to common perception, it is a measure of variation at both the genetic, species, community and ecosystem level. Thus, it doesn’t only deal with species. It refers to anything alive on the planet. And it can be scaled up or down as needed, for instance, “biodiversity of the Baltic Sea”, or “biodiversity of the Gulf of Gdansk”. 

To simplify, you can think of biodiversity as building blocks. Each individual gene, each individual species, each community of species is a building block. The more different building blocks you have, the more different things you can build. And the bigger you build, the more difficult it will be to get knocked down. This also applies to the Baltic Sea, where the building blocks of biodiversity create and maintain the ecosystem.

What is the current state of biodiversity in the Baltic Sea?

The Baltic Sea is unique, there is no other sea like it in the world. This is true for its biodiversity as well. Thousands of species and millions of genes create its distinctive underwater biodiversity. This might sound like a lot, but in reality, these are only a few building blocks compared to most other areas around the world. Due to its relatively low biodiversity, the Baltic Sea is very vulnerable. 

We believe that the Baltic Sea contains around 5000 species, out of which over 2700 are macro species – species you can see with the naked eye. The majority of these species, a total of 1898, belong to the benthic invertebrate group. These are species of animals living around, on or in the bottom of the sea, such as mussels, worms and crustaceans. Of the remaining 832 species, the “plants” of the sea (multicellular algae, vascular plants and bryophytes), make up a substantial proportion, followed by the fish and lamprey group. 

Species diversity is rather low in the Baltic Sea compared to many other marine environments, as the low-salinity, brackish water environment is physiologically demanding to most organisms. 

A clear trend in biodiversity is evident for all groups, with the number of species in an area decreasing along a south to north gradient. This trend is natural and a result of the Baltics unique salinity gradient and high variability in habitat type. These two aspects area also what gives the Baltic Sea a greater biodiversity and variety of plant and animal life than might be expected under more classic conditions.

The brackish water imposes physiological stress on both marine and freshwater organisms, but there are also several examples of genetic adaptation and diversification. Most of the marine species that are present in the Baltic Sea originate from a time when the sea was saltier, and since then only had limited genetic exchange with their counterparts in fully marine waters. On a Baltic-wide scale, marine species live side by side with freshwater species. 

However, the species that have adapted to the Baltic Sea conditions often appear in great abundance. In other words, we have relatively few different species, but the Baltic Sea is quite crowded. 

As many of the species in the Baltic Sea live on the edge of their tolerance to habitat variations, any change to their living environment can lead to radical fluctuations of their abundance. The structure of biodiversity in the Baltic Sea can change significantly with even the smallest modification in environmental conditions. 

Although marine species are generally more common in the southern parts, and freshwater species dominate in the inner and less saline areas, the two groups of species create a unique food web where marine and freshwater species coexist and interact. Because the sea in its current form is quite young, the Baltic Sea still offers several ecological niches available for immigration.

This second HELCOM holistic assessment shows that most fish, birds and marine mammals, as well as benthic and pelagic habitats of the Baltic Sea are not in a healthy state. A deteriorated status is seen in different parts of the system, comprising species which live in the open water column, in coastal areas, as well as those close to the sea floor. The impact is likely to influence the ecosystem’s functioning, the resilience of the system against further environmental changes, and the services the ecosystem provides.

What are the greatest threats and pressures on Baltic Sea biodiversity?

We put pressure on the biodiversity of the Baltic Sea through our actions. Using the building block analogy: everything we do – the pressures we exert – pushes the building blocks further out of place. Depending on the pressure, the blocks get pushed a little or a lot, and it can be only a few blocks or all of them at once. Push too hard and the structure starts to topple. 

Natural systems are complex, and each building block is connected to hundreds of others. We therefore can’t always be sure what impacts we are causing through our activities. But we do know that the more things we do at the same time, the more pressure we put on the system, pushing simultaneously from different sides. And we also know that, like a tower of building blocks, once the first blocks start falling, they can take other blocks with them in their fall. When we start losing genes or species, there is a risk of a domino effect for other species and biodiversity elements.

In order to ensure that the entire system doesn’t collapse, that we don’t lose biodiversity, and that we keep the ecosystem functioning, we need to limit the amount and intensity of the pressure that we cause through our actions. This is done through better managing human activities.

For improving the management of our activities, we need to know which are the ones causing the most pressure, and which can be considered the greatest threat. These need to be targeted first. This is more complex than it seems: Getting the answer right is vital to ensure that we cause the least damage through our activities, and that our conservation efforts yield maximum results.

Due to the comparatively large amount of data that we have on pressures in the Baltic Sea, such as through the Baltic Sea Pressure Index, we have a fairly good idea of what the main pressures in the Baltic Sea are, where they occur, if they are widespread or local, etc. 

Theoretically, the more widespread and the stronger a pressure is, the worse it is from a biodiversity perspective. Major pressures on the Baltic Sea – eutrophication, hazardous substances, introduction of non-indigenous species, and effects of commercial fishing – are all at higher than sustainable levels. 

To understand which human pressures have the greatest impact on biodiversity, we need to know where the pressures and the biodiversity intersect, and how they interact. Unfortunately, we have far less information about these interactions than on the pressures themselves. 

While we are used to looking at the pressures individually, when it comes to the actual effect they have on the living environment – us humans included – we need to understand how pressures act and affect a biodiversity component together. This is what we refer to as cumulative impacts. HELCOM has been working on a cumulative impacts index to get a better idea of this. Each gene, species or community in the Baltic Sea is affected by several pressures at once. Sometimes, the effects of the combined pressures add up to more than the sum of the parts. 

When talking about threats, this might be viewed differently. There can be very strong, and even widespread pressures, that in reality are less of a threat because they are direct. This means that we know their source, and that we know what to do to fix them. So, although the need for action is acute, the long-term threat to biodiversity can be considered less significant –  provided we do something about it now.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have diffuse – or indirect – pressures. These are pressures for which the source is either not known, difficult to manage, or we might not yet know how to manage them. A good example for this is climate change: In the long term, it might be a much bigger threat because we don’t know how to fix it.

What about the HELCOM indicators on biodiversity? What is their use? 

HELCOM uses core indicators as a way of measuring how the sea is doing. It’s like a fever thermometer. Scientist have come together to agree on a threshold, above which we think that biodiversity is doing ok, and below which it shows that something is wrong. We can use these to “take the temperature” of a given biodiversity component and get an idea of what the current state is as well as see if the sea is getting healthier or not, or if we are getting closer to the threshold.

HELCOM biodiversity core indicators currently look at the status of the Baltic Sea as reflected by marine mammals, seabirds, fish, benthic biotopes and pelagic plankton communities. 

What are the trends in regards to biodiversity in the Baltic Sea? 

So what trends are we seeing for biodiversity? Unfortunately, it is not so positive. For the biodiversity core indicators there are cases of inadequate status in all levels of the food web; only a few core indicators have acceptable levels in part of the Baltic Sea, and none of them in all assessed areas. The overall results suggest that the environmental impact on species in the Baltic Sea are far-reaching and not restricted to certain geographic areas or certain parts of the food web. 

However, we should also recall what the state the Baltic Sea environment could have looked like without the work that has been done so far. We know that pressures such as inputs of nutrients and several hazardous substances are decreasing, and that several former pollution hot spots have been removed.

Many pressures have been acting on the Baltic Sea for a long time. Legacies such as nutrients and contaminants will still show unacceptable levels in the marine environment long after their inputs have ceased. Ecosystem models show that responses to nutrient reductions act on the time scale of decades.

So, recovery might take time. But if we limit the amount of pressure we put on the environment it is anticipated that biodiversity will show signs of improvement in the coming years. For this, continued efforts to improve the environmental status of biodiversity are of key importance.

Baltic Sea and ecosystem services as a life-support system in the region: how important is it? 

Let’s get back to the idea of biodiversity as building blocks. Now imagine that every structure you build with your blocks has a function: one cleans the air, one cleans the water, one makes food, etc. This is of course simplified but it is illustrative.

If you only have a few blocks, you can only build one copy of each of the structures, so if one of them is knocked down, for instance the air one, you won’t be able to breathe anymore.

But the more copies you have, the less likely it is that if something gets knocked down, you will lose that function. This is why high biodiversity is considered important. Each unit and each level of biodiversity fulfils a multitude of functions we need to survive, and the more complex the system, the more difficult it is to topple it.

These functions are called ecosystem services and are a natural effect of all the interactions going on in an ecosystem and its biodiversity. Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people derive from ecosystems”. Besides provisioning services or goods like food and raw materials, plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms provide essential regulating services such as pollination of crops, prevention of soil erosion and water purification, and a vast array of cultural services, like recreation and a sense of place.

In spite of the ecological, cultural and economic importance of these services, ecosystems (and the biodiversity that underpins them) are still being degraded and lost as we put more pressures on the ecosystem then it can take. One major reason for this is that the importance of ecosystems to human welfare is still underestimated and not fully recognized or incorporated into every day planning and decision-making.

To what extend does the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity have effects on us humans? 

We humans are part of this world. There is no humans versus the rest of nature, and this is also true for biodiversity. People depend on biodiversity in their daily lives, in ways that are not always obvious or appreciated. If we go back to the idea of toppling the blocks: when a structure crumbles, it affects us as much as all the other parts of the ecosystem. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges that human health ultimately depends on ecosystem products and services, and that these are necessary for good human health and productive livelihoods. Biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem services are no longer adequate to meet social needs. Indirectly, changes in ecosystem services also affect livelihoods, income, local migration, and, in some occasions, may even cause political conflict.

What is HELCOM currently doing on biodiversity? 

HELCOM is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. This means that HELCOM works to improve the state of the sea as a whole, which intrinsically means improving the situation for biodiversity. The Helsinki Commission provides a platform for the states around the Baltic Sea and the EU to agree on policies, plans and develop guidelines, recommendations, etc. that the countries can use to manage human activities. 

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. 

The HELCOM Contracting Parties have declared their firm determination to assure the ecological restoration of the Baltic Sea, ensuring the possibility of self-regeneration of the marine environment and preservation of its ecological balance. They have agreed that each country individually, as well as where needed jointly, take all appropriate measures to conserve natural habitats and biological diversity and to protect the ecological processes of the Baltic Sea.

This will all be incorporated or maintained in the update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, which will guide HELCOMs work in the coming years.

HELCOM has a number of Recommendations that deal with biodiversity and conservation, the newest of which was approved as recently as March this year.

HELCOM also works to improve and extend the system of marine protected areas in the Baltic, creating spaces were pressures are limited and biodiversity can be maintained, in the efforts to achieve HELCOMs ultimate aim: to Protect the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea.

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.

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.

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.