Coastal and marine conservation can be implemented in innovative ways which benefit everybody. This was proved at the Baltic Sea Action Summit (BSAS) in Finland on 10 February, 2010. The Summit united eleven governments and many more NGOs and private businesses behind the common goal to save the Baltic.
Segelskar in the Gulf of Finland is an island where the beauty of the Baltic Sea can be observed first hand. Luckily, new initiatives to conserve the Baltic nature to future generations have been started. Photo (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.
Heads of state, prime ministers and other government ministers were among the participants invited to Helsinki by Mrs. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, Mr. Matti Vanhanen, Prime Minister of Finland, and Mr. Ilkka Herlin, Chairman of the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG). The best known of the guests were perhaps Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
The event resulted in 140 voluntary commitments, which contribute in one way or the other to better conservation practices and improved ecosystem health of the shared marine and coastal area of the Baltic. The implementation of the foreseen activities will be monitored by BSAG. This group is part of the Foundation for a Living Baltic Sea with origin in the Finnish private enterprise. The Foundation is devoted to rescuing the Baltic Sea with carefully chosen projects.
The Baltic Sea eutrophication problems are widely known and affect most of the coastal citizens in the form of excessive growth of filamentous algae. The waters are also more turbid. Even the open sea areas areas are visibly affected: blooms of toxic bluegreen plankton algae are common. Other threats and problems are many. These include the wide areas of oxygen-depleted dead sea bottoms. Another concern is the possibility of a megasize oil spill from a supertanker.
The Baltic is more threatened by human-induced effects than another enclosed sea, the Mediterranean. This is partly explained by the fact that the Baltic water body is just hundreds of metres deep while that of the Mediterranean is several kilometres deep. The Baltic is vulnerable also because its catchment covers large agricultural and industrial areas and big cities. There is a lot of environmentally problematic runoff, but only little water exchange with the relatively clean Atlantic waters. As the salinity of the sea is low and the waters brackish, the life forms are fewer and more sensitive than in the Atlantic.
Of course the Baltic Sea conservation has been promoted internationally for years by the European Union (EU) and for decades by the inter-governmental Helsinki Commission (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM). Nevertheless, the idea to unite all kinds of players through their own voluntary initiatives is new: “The participation of NGOs and businesses on such a broad front also made this an entirely new type of summit. All actors are needed in this cooperation”, summarised Mrs. Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland.
The 140 commitments published at the summit include, among others, a new route transfer system for safer oil transport by the navigation equipment producer Furuno, a project to safeguard the northern Baltic Sea sea trout stocks by the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, and a waste reception facility venture to serve cruise ships at the Copenhagen Malmo Port Company. The VSA Vilnius corporation will implement an underground storage facility project in the central beach area of Vilnius to decrease pollution of the river Neris, while WWF together with nature photographers promotes environmental awareness through photography and environmental education in the whole Baltic area.
The Finnish-based John Nurminen Foundation continues ground-breaking Clean Baltic Sea projects in two key areas of operation: reduction of eutrophication by improving phosphorus removal in wastewater treatment plants and by enhancing tanker safety. After the encouraging and important first experiences in St. Petersburg (the biggest Baltic Sea eutrophication hot spot), the Foundation now improves phosphorus removal together with partner organisations in several other cities, e.g. Warsaw. The second activity area, tanker safety, has its focus on making the work at tanker bridge easier and on developing traffic guidance for the oil ships.
The BSAS showed that innovation and constant learning are important elements in coastal and marine management. In that way we can bring the message to new audiencies and improve the efficiency and coverage of our operations. Small is beautiful in the projects of this coordinated, transboundary bottom-up approach, which has grown quite big and gotten a wide range of actors among its ranks.
The BSAG/BSAS initiative teaches important lessons in enthusiasm, efficiency and conversion of lip service to real service to the traditional, well-established players. That learning started already a few years ago when private actors especially in Sweden and Finland got tired of the slow advances demonstrated by the big institutions in the Baltic conservation. A few important private initiatives were started and that trend seems to continue.
More on the new Baltic Sea conservation initiatives can be read by visiting the web site http://www.bsas.fi
Fresh ideas are resulting in a new kind of coastal management in the Baltic Sea. Photo from Segelskar in the Gulf of Finland, (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.