Archive for the 'Baltic Sea' Category

Integrated coastal zone management: a specialist highlights the needs, benefits and techniques

Dr. Peter R. Burbridge is a well-known advocate of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). In a recent Coastal Challenges interview he explained what integrated coastal management is and why it is needed. Here are some of the comments made by Dr. Burbridge, Emeritus Professor of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K.:

“The development challenges facing humanity are most complex in the coastal regions. Why? Partly because the richness and diversity of the coastal resources’ opportunities to support economic and social development are much greater than in the terrestrial environment or the purely marine environment. It is that interface between the sea and the land where we find the most complex, the most rich and the most diverse forms of natural resources. And they sustain many different forms of economic development. And that means that there is much competition for access to and often exclusive use of the coastal area and coastal resources. Now, the challenge we face as managers is trying to maximise the potential use of these resources without damaging the very resource base which creates those resources in the first place.”


Dr. Burbridge being interviewed on integrated coastal management in Helsinki. Photography and copyright (c) 2012 Erkki Siirila.

“You need integration in the sense that there are different economic and social groups wanting to have access to the coast. And what you have to do is to try to treat them equitably, so that everybody has an equal chance of access to the resource but without damaging the resource for other people to enjoy and use in effective ways.  And that means that you have to get the different economic sectors to try to coordinate their activities so that they don´t disrupt the potential flow of benefits from the coast – without destroying the natural systems. And that’s the challenge. And that’s why we talk about integration. It is integration of different economic sectors, different social demands from the coast and different political systems trying to coordinate the development process more effectively.  We are talking about development planning here. We are not talking about environmental conservation. The environmental conservation is one tool to manage the natural systems.”

“Integrated coastal management is a set of principles to guide development planning. It is meant to create a working environment where people see that there are ways of doing things that are less environmentally damaging and more economically responsible, and create a greater social benefit. And that’s difficult, to get people to think of the environment, the economy and social aspects in the same sentence. And that’s what coastal management is trying to do. We are not purely trying to protect the environment, we are not trying to maximise the economic activities at the cost of social equity.”


Coastal zone activities in Helsinki, Finland, in April 2012. Photo copyright (c) 2012 Erkki Siirila.

“One of the problems we have is getting any political system to understand how complex the coastal resource pressures are, but also the great value of the coast, the strategic value of the coast in meeting social and economic pressures. And those pressures have to be managed. And the economic rationale behind that is that you can get greater social and  economic benefits by wise management than you can by totally unregulated free-for-all development. And that’s the challenge, this convincing people that the strategic value of the coast is important enough to invest in managing the coast effectively.”

The interview (“Dr. Peter Burbridge and Integrated Coastal Zone Management” on Youtube) addresses more coastal management topics than those mentioned above. Here is the direct Youtube link:

Revolutionary method: gypsum controls runoff

An interesting discovery is helping in Baltic Sea conservation efforts in Finland. It involves the use a gypsum, which is a chemical substance known to most of us.

The environmental challenge we are talking about is that phosphorus, an essential plant nutrient, is transported from the farming fields through runoff into the rivers and sea. In the sea water, elevated levels of phosphorus cause eutrophication.

Yara, a chemical company, has together with a few Finnish partners developed a gypsum-based technique to stabilize soil particles in the farming fields. The method reduces soil (and nutrient) erosion caused by surface runoff.

The results achieved indicate that a high percentage of the phosphorus stays in the soil when the new technique is used. Consequently, harmful nutrient inputs into the waterways and sea are highly reduced. The new method also helps the farmer as more phosphorus is available for the agricultural plants. Furthermore, there is less need for costly, additional phosphorus fertilizers.

In spite of not being visible in this image, eutrophication caused by excessive nutrients is a problem on the Baltic coast of Finland. Photo (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

The method involves spreading of a gypsum-based product on the farming field after harvest or before planting. The product, which is basically gypsum (calcium sulphate), infiltrates with water into soil. According Yara, this well-known chemical compound in its slightly developed form improves “particle aggregation and dissolved phosphorus retention”. In addition, “better soil structure means that the earth resists rain and melting snow better and therefore prevents erosion and phosphorus leakage”.

Gypsum is useful to the farmer also because it improves the plants’ ability to utilise the phosphorus reserves of the soil. In addition, farmers can continue their agricultural activities as before. For the gypsum treatment to be effective, it would need to be repeated once in three to four years.

Gypsum treatment of the soil could be important news for many countries. Soil,sediment and nutrient runoff is degrading forestry and agricultural areas around the world. This runoff is also killing shallow marine ecosystems. Could gypsum help save the world’s endangered coral reefs?

A brochure on the gypsum-based method to control agricultural runoff into the sea can be found here:

The Baltic Sea in need of integrated management

Based on brainstorming opinions by Finnish conservation specialists, eleven topics would need to be taken into consideration in the management of the Baltic Sea. The list is a product of the Baltic Sea Argumenta project, the results of which were published as a book in Finland in May 2010.
The project was implemented during the years 2007 to 2009.  Some basic questions the project tried to answer were these:
  • The Baltic Sea is changing – can we change?
  • What kind of research results are needed in decision making?
  • Does the environment respond to the cure given?
Among the conclusions, there are some interesting findings related to integrated coastal management. The list below is a slightly edited version of the results of specialist discussions as presented by professor Markku Ollikainen from the University of Helsinki in June 2009.  Here are the eleven conclusions:
  1. The Baltic Sea is valuable
  2. The pollution of the Baltic is a social problem
  3. A binding agreement for the protection of the sea is needed; the current Helcom agreement is lacking enforcement power
  4. Due to a lack of political will national protection policies have been ineffective
  5. As a legacy of lacking investments in wastewater treatment during socialism, the Baltic Sea still receives nearly 5,000 tons of phosphorus per year
  6. Publicity, democracy and citizen-level initiatives are important ingredients in the protection of the sea
  7. Well-functioning means to control the nutrient runoff from agriculture are necessary
  8. Creative solutions for biodiversity protection are needed in the Baltic Sea
  9. The risks and environmental pressures caused by the maritime traffic have to be controlled
  10. Global climate change is changing the Baltic Sea ecosystem; these challenges need to be addressed
  11. A well-functioning and integrated management framework is necessary for Baltic Sea conservation (as the action programmes cover several sectors, the sectoral policies would need to be integrated – this is a multilevel, transnational task)
The good news in the management of the Baltic is that the PCB and dioxin pollution is much less of a problem than in the past.  Both in fish and humans, the PCB and dioxin contents have decreased to levels which are only a fraction of the past values.  Currently the biggest challenge in the Baltic Sea management is the control of eutrophication.

Eutrophication has led to decreased visibility in the coastal waters of the Baltic. The underwater image is from the southern coast of Finland, photo (c) 2010 Erkki Siirila.

Innovative cooperation helps the Baltic

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

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.