HELCOM: Good environmental status of Baltic Sea not to be achieved by 2021

Cyanobacteria derive their name from their blue-green color. Picture is illustrative.
Cyanobacteria derive their name from their blue-green color. Picture is illustrative. Source: (Põhja-Tallinna linnaosa/Facebook)

Participants in the annual conference of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) held in Helsinki on Wednesday and Thursday concluded that despite the efforts made, the objective to achieve a good environmental status of the Baltic Sea will not be met by 2021.

By fall 2021, the nine participating states will draw up an updated action plan aimed at significantly improving the region's environmental situation by 2030.

Rene Reisner, head of the marine environment department at the Estonian Ministry of the Environment, said that the updated action plan will insist on the imposition of much stricter measures. 

"The situation is poor, which is why we have decided to take stricter measures to improve the status," Reisner said.

While 70 percent of the common measures planned under HELCOM action plan have been taken, of domestic measures, however, the parties have managed to implement just one-third. Objectives yet to be met include creating offshore protected areas and ascertaining the impact of marine litter on the natural environment and human health. With regard to domestic measures, Estonia has not managed to sufficiently reduce marine litter burden; more specifically -- the amount of phosphorus that ends up in marine environment has declined, however, nitrogen levels are not exhibiting a similar trend.

Eutrophication, or the excessive growth of algae resulting from a water body becoming overly enriched with phosphorus and nitrogen, remains the Baltic Sea's biggest problem. The process causes a lack of oxygen and a decline in marine habitats, biodiversity and water quality. Around three-fourths of the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the Baltic Sea are caused by agriculture, the accumulation of dangerous chemicals, pharmaceutical residues and litter likewise remain an increasing concern.

In addition to reducing the accumulation of garbage in the sea, the new action plan also includes the imposition of stricter restrictions on marine litter, underwater noise, seabed loss and disturbance. The planned activities must be preceded by socioeconomic impact assessments to determine their efficiency.

It was also decided at the conference that all Baltic Sea states will be tasked with measuring the amount of marine litter their country produces.

An overview of pollution levels in the Baltic Sea will be delivered in 2025.

HELCOM was established to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental cooperation. HELCOM parties include Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and the European Union.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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