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. 

HELCOM launches its BLUES project to support attaining good environmental status in the Baltic Sea

Good environmental status, or GES, and a Baltic Sea in healthy state are at the core of the HELCOM BLUES project that was officially launched online from 2 to 4 February 2021. Co-funded by the European Union and led by HELCOM, the Baltic-wide effort will run through 2022, for a total period of two years. 

To help attaining GES in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM BLUES project will support the development of new and regionally coordinated measures addressing various pressures affecting the sea. It will also back assessments of the state of the Baltic through improved monitoring, notably on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise. 

“HELCOM BLUES is an opportunity to fill the gaps we have identified so far during our journey towards good environmental status in the Baltic Sea,” said Jannica Haldin, the overall project manager and HELCOM senior expert dealing with biodiversity matters. HELCOM is concluding its first analysis ever of the sufficiency of measures (SOM) currently in place for easing the pressures on the sea, with the results expected to inform the work of the new project.

“GES is a Baltic-wide objective, and we can only achieve it through a collective effort and regional cooperation,” said Jana Wolf, the HELCOM project coordinator in charge of the day-to-day operations of HELCOM BLUES. In total, 14 partners and seven subcontractors  with various backgrounds such as policy, research, academia or civil society and hailing from six Baltic Sea countries are involved in the project.

“The project also closely links to the big processes related to GES in the Baltic such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MFSD), the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and the next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS III),” said Haldin.

On the MFSD, the specific requests expressed by the EU in its initial call for project proposals – which is at the origin of HELCOM BLUES – were taken into account, notably on the development of effective regional measures to reduce existing pressures to the Baltic Sea, with a focus on biodiversity, marine litter and underwater noise. Furthermore, all results of the project will be made accessible to the Baltic Sea countries who are also EU member states to support their national obligations under the MSFD.

The outcomes of the project will also underpin the implementation of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan that is due to be adopted in October 2021 by providing monitoring data and guidance on the implementation of measures. 

It will also support HELCOM’s next Holistic Assessment of the Baltic Sea (HOLAS III) covering the period of 2016 to 2021. The project will notably provide improved assessment data, for instance by improving the capacity for biodiversity reporting and the development of indicators on marine litter and underwater noise. 

Project activities

The project is built around seven activities:

  • Activity 1 – Analyses to support effective regional measures
  • Activity 2 – Improved regional assessment of biodiversity  
  • Activity 3 – Support for, and harmonisation of, regional work on MSFD Descriptor 10 (marine litter)  
  • Activity 4 – Support for, and harmonisation of, regional work on MSFD Descriptor 11 (underwater noise) 
  • Activity 5 – Data accessibility 
  • Activity 6 – Dissemination 
  • Activity 7 – Project Coordination 

More info

Marine litter, underwater noise and chemical contamination are addressed at HELCOM PRESSURE in Brussels

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©Aliaksandr Marko – stock.adobe.com

​Marine litter, underwater noise and chemical contamination of the marine environment were prominently featured on the agenda of the PRESSURE 11-2019 meeting held in Brussels from 22 to 25 October. The meeting was further complemented by two workshops on hazardous substances and marine litter.

“Marine litter is posing a threat to the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity, so it needs to be solved rapidly,” said Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, adding that the issue is being successfully addressed through the implementation of the HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter.

In Brussels, progress in the implementation of the plan was particularly acknowledged, and further steps were outlined to deal with derelict fishing gear, to improve stormwater management – crucial in addressing microplastics – and to address expanded polystyrene, one of the top litter items found on the entire Baltic Sea coast.

“Since rivers are significant pathways bringing litter and all sorts of substances to the sea, we also need to look upstream and beyond our shores,” said Frank-Kamenetsky, echoing the common view that further cooperation with river basin management authorities needs to be strengthened to address the marine litter issue.

Furthermore, a new draft of the action plan to mitigate manmade underwater noise was presented at PRESSURE 11-2019. “Although the document is still in a drafting phase, it is a first step in the HELCOM process that may eventually lead to concrete measures to ease the effects of man-made sound and noise on aquatic wildlife,” said Frank-Kamenetsky.

Marine mammals and certain type of fish are particularly affected by underwater noise since they rely heavily on hearing throughout their entire life, such as for geolocation, communicating, feeding or mating.

Chemical contamination of the marine environment was another of the key environmental pressures emphasized at PRESSURE 11-2019, highlighting the vast variety of chemicals currently used in industries and households. New products are continuously flooding the markets, and their effects on the marine environment aren’t always clear.

At the meeting, the HELCOM members therefore welcomed the progress on a knowledge base on micropollutants including pharmaceuticals currently in development, and concluded that the HELCOM framework on hazardous substances might require a significant revision to be able to respond to threats posed by these new chemicals.

Moreover, a new assessment of the input of nutrients to the Baltic sea was presented at PRESSURE 11-2019, illustrating the substantial reduction of nutrient inputs since the reference period. The assessment shows that inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Baltic Sea were reduced by 14 and 24 percent respectively since early 2000.

The highest nitrogen input reduction in this period was observed in the Danish Straits (24 percent) and Kattegat (21 percent), while the highest reduction of phosphorus load was noted in the Gulf of Finland (51 percent) and Baltic Proper (22 percent).

The reduction indicates the joint effort of all HELCOM countries to reduce input of nutrients and commitment to abate eutrophication – the major threat for the Baltic Sea. But the assessment shows that the nutrient input targets for the whole Baltic Sea have not yet achieved.

PRESSURE 11-2019, the “11th Meeting of the Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from the Baltic Sea Catchment Area (HELCOM Pressure Group),” was hosted by the European Commission in Brussels.

The HELCOM Pressure Group seeks to provide the necessary technical background to the work on inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances from both diffuse and point sources on land, including follow-up of the implementation of the HELCOM nutrient reduction scheme. It currently also works on emerging challenges such as underwater noise and plastic pollution.

Read the outcome of PRESSURE 11-2019

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.