The Northern Bothnian Sea, Quark and Bothnian Bay

Situational picture

Description of the planning area

The area comprising the Bothnian Sea, Quark and Bay of Bothnia is extensive and geographically-speaking covers parts of three different marine areas. The planning area comprises an area of approximately 32,000 km2, which is 39% of Finland’s marine areas and 8% of the total area of the Baltic Sea.

The northern part of the Bothnian Sea is the most oceanic section of the planning area. The area phases through the Quark to the nearly freshwaters of the Bay of Bothnia. The coastline is fairly open and has few islands in the northern part of the Bothnian Sea. The deepest sections of the planning area (200 m) are located in the Bothnian Sea.

The Quark is located in the narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia between Bothnian Sea and the Bay of Bothnia. The Quark archipelago is wide, fragmented and shallow. The area has around 7,000 islands and islets. Land uplift is constantly changing the landscape. In the Quark, Finland’s internationally unique land uplift coast is at its most representative. The Quark is one of the richest areas in the Baltic Sea in terms of its geological diversity. The seafloor is dominated by rocky De Geer moraine fields. Due to its unique geology, the Kvarken Archipelago was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Finland’s only natural heritage site so far in 2006. Together with Sweden’s High Coast, it forms a world heritage site by the name of High Coast – Kvarken archipelago.

The low salinity of its sea water is a characteristic feature of the Bay of Bothnia. The archipelagos are scarce and the shores gentling sloping. The sea is shallow especially at the very back of the Bay of Bothnia – its depth is less than 20 metres even far away from the coast. With the exception of during mild winters, the sea freezes over throughout the entire planning area, with the Bay of Bothnia being ice-covered for the longest. The Bay of Bothnia’s special features include extensive sand-covered seafloors, the share of which is significant to the north of Kokkola.

The area comprising the Bothnian Sea, Quark and Bay of Bothnia is extensive and geographically-speaking covers parts of three different marine areas. The planning area comprises an area of approximately 32,000 km2, which is 39% of Finland’s marine areas and 8% of the total area of the Baltic Sea.

The northern part of the Bothnian Sea is the most oceanic section of the planning area. The area phases through the Quark to the nearly freshwaters of the Bay of Bothnia. The coastline is fairly open and has few islands in the northern part of the Bothnian Sea. The deepest sections of the planning area (200 m) are located in the Bothnian Sea.

The Quark is located in the narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia between Bothnian Sea and the Bay of Bothnia. The Quark archipelago is wide, fragmented and shallow. The area has around 7,000 islands and islets. Land uplift is constantly changing the landscape. In the Quark, Finland’s internationally unique land uplift coast is at its most representative. The Quark is one of the richest areas in the Baltic Sea in terms of its geological diversity. The seafloor is dominated by rocky De Geer moraine fields. Due to its unique geology, the Kvarken Archipelago was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Finland’s only natural heritage site so far in 2006. Together with Sweden’s High Coast, it forms a world heritage site by the name of High Coast – Kvarken archipelago.

The low salinity of its sea water is a characteristic feature of the Bay of Bothnia. The archipelagos are scarce and the shores gentling sloping. The sea is shallow especially at the very back of the Bay of Bothnia – its depth is less than 20 metres even far away from the coast. With the exception of during mild winters, the sea freezes over throughout the entire planning area, with the Bay of Bothnia being ice-covered for the longest. The Bay of Bothnia’s special features include extensive sand-covered seafloors, the share of which is significant to the north of Kokkola.

State of the marine environment

Humans have had an impact on the marine environment for a long time and in many ways, as a result of which the state of the Baltic Sea has deteriorated. The state of the marine environment has deteriorated due to factors such as the loading of nutrients and harmful substances, dredging and piling of dredging spoils, underwater civil engineering, invasive species, fishing, littering and underwater noise pollution. In order to achieve a good state of the marine environment, pressures caused by humans must be reduced and new activities located in marine area must be located and designed to minimise adverse impacts.

The marine areas most important for the biodiversity of underwater marine nature are located in shallow coastal waters and archipelago areas. The environmental conditions of shallow coastal waters are the most favourable for vegetation, fish stock and other biota. When going deeper, the amount of light decreases, and vegetation no longer occurs. Shallow areas dominated by vegetation are important habitats for many fish and bird species. Many underwater habitats and species are threatened. The main reason why species become threatened is eutrophication. Other reasons include underwater civil engineering, water transport, the adverse effects of chemicals, climate change and invasive alien species.

Marine areas and their archipelagos are important as nesting areas and migration routes with several internationally important resting and feeding areas for dozens of species of archipelago and wetland birds. The planning area’s archipelagos and coastal areas contain numerous biotopes and plant species that are unique on a global scale and characteristic of the land uplift coast. There are two marine mammal species in the area: the grey seal and the Baltic ringed seal. The Baltic ringed seal is dependent on ice, and in the Baltic Sea it is predominantly found in the Bay of Bothnia.

An effort has been made to protect the biodiversity of marine and archipelago nature by establishing protected areas. There are numerous protected areas in the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia the most important of which are also included in international conservation programmes or agreements. The Natura 2000 network’s areas comprise approximately 2,300 km2 of the planning area, which is about 7.2% of its total surface area. The planning area’s largest protected areas by surface area are the Quark archipelago, the Kokkola and Luoto archipelagos, Liminganlahti Bay and the Bothnian Bay National Park. There are fewer Natura or other protected areas on the open sea.

The most significant factor that has caused a deterioration in the state of the sea is excessive nutrient loading and its resulting eutrophication. The consequences of eutrophication include oxygen depletion of the seafloor, the spread of algae, and changes in species. The majority of the nutrients that accumulate in the planning area’s sea waters are from agriculture. Other sources of loading include forestry, sparsely populated areas, wastewater treatment plants and industrial plants. Scattered loading has proved particularly problematic as no significant change has taken place with regard to this despite the implementation of water protection measures. The overall state of the sea in the planning area has been assessed as poor in terms of eutrophication. Eutrophication has increased in the 2010s. On the other hand, nutrient levels are better than in other Finnish marine areas, and no significant oxygen depletion has been observed in the open sea or archipelago areas.

In the planning area, the status of coastal waters varies from good to unsatisfactory. Only the area of the Quark’s outer archipelago and the outer coastal waters of the southern Bay of Bothnia are in good state. Closer to the coast, waters are in either satisfactory or unsatisfactory state. There are no waters that are classified as being in excellent condition. The status of coastal waters has deteriorated on the basis of a new third round assessment (2019). The size of the marine area classified as being in good condition has shrunk substantially. For example, in the previous assessment, the Bay of Bothnia was predominantly classified as being ecologically of good status, but according to the new assessment, areas that have previously been classified as being in good state are now only classified as satisfactory.

The state of the marine environment in the planning area is good with regard to invasive species, food networks. seafloor integrity, hydrographic changes (local changes in sea temperature, salinity and flows) and foodfish impurities. In addition to eutrophication, there are shortcomings in the state of the marine environment for example in the areas of biodiversity (e.g. deterioration of coastal benthic habitats and the status of the Baltic ringed seal) and concentrations of harmful substances (especially radioactivity). The status of the assessed fish species was good, with the exception of sea trout, the salmon stock in Simojoki river and the migratory whitefish in the Bay of Bothnia. Thus far, there is only a limited information on the littering of the marine area and the impacts of noise caused by human activity, so no assessment has yet been carried out on these.

State of the marine environmentStatus
Eutrophication
Pollutant concentrations and effects
Contamination in fish intended for human consumption
Litter
Energy and underwater noise
Hydrographic changes
Invasive species
Commercial fish
Biodiversity
Food networks
Definition 
Positive
Neutral
Negative
Unknown

The state of Finland’s marine environment is assessed as part of Finland’s Marine Strategy, which is based on the Act on Water Resources Management (1299/2014). This summary on the state of the marine environment in the planning area is essentially based on the Status of Finland’s Marine Environment 2018 (PDF), which has been prepared as part of Finland’s Marine Strategy. The Status of Finland’s Marine Environment 2018 covers marine biodiversity, the state of commercial fish stocks and food networks, the current status of the spread of alien species, eutrophication, littering and the status of hazardous and harmful substances. The report classifies the state of the marine environment as either good or poor for all these factors. The marine strategy assessment will supplement the classification of surface waters, which includes coastal waters, carried out as part of water resources management The water management classification divides surface waters into five ecological categories: Poor, unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good and excellent.

Blue growth

The area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia is large and contains a wide range of activities. Currently, activities related to the blue economy are predominantly found in the maritime transport, fisheries and tourism sectors, but there is also room and opportunities for growth in other sectors. The sea is an important pull factor for the tourism sector, but tourism and recreational use of the marine area still have a great amount of untapped potential. Marine nature and cultural heritage attract tourists to the area and provide a location for recreational activities. The production of offshore wind power in the planning area has also been identified as a potential growth sector. Long winters and ice conditions pose challenges for such things as maritime transport, while on the other hand they open up development opportunities for sectors such as winter tourism.

The Blue Economy refers to sea-based livelihoods. The blue economy includes activities that take place in the marine environment, exploit marine resources or are involved in the provision of goods or services that contribute to economic activity in the marine environment.

Blue Growth refers to the ecologically, economically, socially, and culturally sustainable use of marine resources.

Offshore wind power is the fastest growing source of energy production worldwide. This has been influenced by technological development, the constantly increasing size of turbines and the substantial increase in production volumes.

The area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia is an ideal area for wind power production. The wind conditions are good and the existing port infrastructure supports the implementation of offshore projects. With the exception of the Quark, the marine areas have few islands. Permanent and holiday homes, as well as nature and landscape values, are centred on the coast and in its vicinity. The shallowness of the marine area is in particular an advantage in the Bay of Bothnia: Current technology already makes it possible to take the construction of offshore wind power quite far out to sea. The Bothnian Sea is deeper than the Bay of Bothnia, and potential offshore wind power areas are on average closer to the coast. The northern Bothnian Sea’s broad economic zone and the outermost parts of the Bay of Bothnia are too deep for seafloor-based wind turbines. Ice conditions during the winter are challenging for the entire planning area.

Wind turbines have been built in the planning in connection with the area’s existing ports and to some extent on artificial islands near the shore. Currently, there is wind power production in Tornio’s Röyttä, Kemi’s Ajos and the Port Raahe’s area. There are no actual offshore areas for wind power. Several areas suitable for the construction of offshore wind turbines have been designated in the regional plans. Wind power master plans made possible by construction have been prepared for the areas of Suurhiekka in Ii and the Maanahkiainen area in Raahe-Pyhäjoki. Several areas are in the preliminary exploration phase. The planned offshore wind power areas have yet to progress to their construction phase.

Maritime transport plays an important role in the Finnish economy and security of supply; 90% of exports and 80% of imports are transported by sea. Maritime transport in the area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia is a key factor in local industry’s transports, accessibility and competitiveness. Substantial metal, forest and chemical industry activities are located in the provinces of the planning area, and shipping serves their transport needs. There is regular passenger traffic in the Quark between Vaasa and Umea.

From the perspective of shipping, characteristic features of the area include its ice conditions in the winter and the shallowness of the marine area in both the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. Due to how shallow the coastal waters are, the shipping routes that lead to ports are crucial. The Quark area is of particular importance with regard to the accessibility of the Bay of Bothnia. The area’s ports and their associated shipping routes are actively maintained and developed, for example with dredging. Development projects aim to improve the operating and development conditions of ports and to facilitate the implementation of new activities based on ports. Dredging is a prerequisite for shipping, but dredging and the disposal of accumulated masses also have an impact on the environment.

There are several important ports located in the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia, of which six are part of the Trans-European Transport Network’s (TEN-T) and are thus internationally important ports: Kemi, Oulu, Raahe, Kokkola, Pietarsaari and Kaskinen. Other significant ports are located in Tornio, Kalajoki and Pietarsaari. Most of the ports are universal ports for freight transport, while some of the ports focus on serving a certain industrial plant. The area’s only passenger and cargo port is located in Vaasa in the Quark. The Port of Kokkola is Finland’s third largest universal port after Port of KotkaHamina and the Port of Helsinki. Ports are intersections for the transport of people and goods, and a large amount of industrial activities related to the port are located in the port area.

In the planning area regular marine transport consists of ferry traffic between Vaasa and Umea. The ferry carries both passengers and cargo. Ferry traffic related to the archipelago’s transport options has been established between Oulu and Hailuoto and in Ostrobothnia between Kaskinen-Eskilsö and Moikipää (Korsnäs) – Bergö (Maalahti). A fixed connection between Oulu and Hailuoto is currently in the planning stages, and this will replace the current ferry traffic when it is completed.

Professional and recreational fishing are both very common in the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. Around 200 commercial fishermen operate in the planning area (Group I, there are 1,200 Group II fishermen). In practice, all coastal waters and the Quark archipelago are suitable areas for fishing. In the Bay of Bothnia, commercial fishing is characteristically practiced in coastal waters. Sea trawling is also carried out in the Bothnian Sea. The area has some farming of fish intended for human consumption as well as fish processing companies. The area’s network of fishing ports is comprehensive and makes it possible to engage in fishing activities.

The aim of the fishing sector is to develop coastal fishing and the fisheries sector and to increase demand for fish. Key development measures in the sector include the development of coastal fishing and the use of fishing ports, improving the quality of fish, improving competence and the recruitment of new fishermen, as well as increasing marketing, networking and cooperation. The main challenge faced by the sector is the number of full-time fishermen, which has fallen sharply in the long term.

Professional fishing is versatile in the planning area. The most important forms of fishing are anchored gillnet fishing and trap fishing. Herring trawling is practised especially in the northern Bothnian Sea. In the Bay of Bothnia, trawling is used especially to fish for vendace. Fishing waters are managed with extensive fish stocking. The compensatory stocking determined for the Kemijoki, Iijoki and Oulujoki rivers is of great importance to fishing. In addition to compensatory stocking the area’s fisheries actors carry out voluntary management of the fish waters.

The objective of the National Aquaculture Strategy 2022 is to increase fish farming in Finland. Currently (average for 2013-2017), fish farming has been divided in the Finnish marine areas so that 78% is located in the Archipelago Sea and the southern Bothnian Sea. 12% of fish farming is located in the Gulf of Finland and 10% in the area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. According to the Government’s National Aquaculture Strategy, new production will be divided into areas where the ecological status of the water area is good. Current production would remain in place.

In the short term, the status of waters may prove to be an obstacle for the development of fish farming; according to the most recent classification of coastal waters in the area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia, the status of the waters has deteriorated, and there are only areas of water that are classified being good in the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. Eutrophication problems caused by fish farming could be reduced by placing production facilities on the open sea, but Finland’s ice conditions and the sharpness of waves prevent year-round production based on modern technology.

Existing fish farms in the northern Bothnian Sea and the Bay of Bothnia are currently located in Northern Ostrobothnia’s Ii and in Ostrobothnia’s Kaskinen and Kristiinankaupunki. Farming activities are being launched in Oulu, and there are also plans in place to start farming in other areas. Professional fishing and fish farms can partly use the same port and other infrastructure.

The nature, cultural environments and landscapes in the archipelago and coastal areas are important factors in the development of maritime tourism. Numerous tourist destinations are located in the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia, and their attractiveness is based in part on the vicinity of the sea. The planning area’s most significant archipelago is in the Quark, the attractiveness of which is increased by the status of the area as a World Heritage Site. In other parts of the planning area, tourism is centred on the coast, but the islands also are also important destinations. Special characteristics include winter and the sea’s ice cover, which provide opportunities for developing unique winter tourism.

There are a great deal of recreational dwellings and holiday cottages in the planning area. Boating and other recreational use of the marine area is practised everywhere along the coast and in the archipelago. Islands, nature conservation areas and other sites are of great importance to nature-based tourism and recreational activities. Recreational fishing and hunting are also important Finnish pastimes in the marine area. The popularity of fishing tourism is increasing. Two significant salmon rivers, Tornionjoki and Simojoki, are located in the planning area. The Gulf of Bothnia and, in particular, the Bay of Bothnia are the most important seal hunting areas in the Baltic Sea, for which reason the hunting culture has remained the longest here. The opportunities for recreational fishing and hunting for their part contribute to a vibrant and prosperous archipelago culture.

Finland’s coastal areas are one of the country’s national thematic areas for tourism. In the planning area, the tourism sector has launched extensive development cooperation in the coastal area from Vaasa to Tornio and Haaparanta. The aim is to develop the attractiveness of the “arctic-like sea” and the coastal area as a sea-oriented destination, the area’s related service business and cooperation between different actors and regions. Specialisation would provide the area with opportunities for developing and profiling its tourism. Currently, nature tourism in particular is largely tied to the summer season, and it should be developed so that services are provided year-round.

Important tourism areas in Lapland include Kemi’s and Tornio’s costal region and Bothnian Bay National Park, which is the only national park in the planning area. The most important areas for tourism and recreational use In Northern Ostrobothnia are located on the coast (Kalajoki, Oulu and Liminka), but the islands (e.g. Raahe Archipelago and Hailuoto) are also important for tourism. In Kalajoki’s marine area, Rahja Archipelago and Maakalla Island are important destinations. The Liminka Bay Visitor Centre located in Liminka is Finland’s Ramsar wetland centre. In Central Ostrobothnia, the Tankar lighthouse island is an important destination and archipelago tours are a popular tourist experience, in addition to which the coastline and archipelago offer diverse opportunities for different nature activities. In Ostrobothnia, the world heritage site High Coast – the Quark Archipelago as well as lighthouse and sea pilot communities are the most important destinations for tourism.

Marine cultural heritage is tangible and intangible cultural heritage both above-ground and underwater, which is linked to man’s relationship with the sea and the resources found in the past by a community.

Maritime cultural heritage includes both concrete traces in the landscape and skills, customs and habits related to the marine landscape, such as practices, knowledge, stories and beliefs. These have been passed on from generation to generation helping to present, build and maintain the identities of different communities.

Marine cultural heritage is traces left by humans and elements produced by interaction between humans and nature in a marine environment. Marine cultural heritage is limited to the terrestrial and semi-waterborne areas of the coast, the archipelago and the outer sea, and is visible as the underwater landscape.

Marine cultural heritage is linked, among other things, to the settlement of the coast and the archipelago, maritime transport, fishing and other marine hunting culture, diving, and customs and beliefs that have linked humans to the marine environment.

In the planning area, cultural values related to the sea are linked to fishing, seal hunting, maritime transport and it lighthouse islands, agriculture in the archipelago as well as the boat building and other industry on the coast. Several landscapes of national value are located in the planning area, as are numerous significant buildings representing the maritime cultural heritage, such as lighthouses, pilot stations and fishing communities. The Kvarken Archipelago World Heritage Site is an important environment for both natural and cultural heritage. Hailuoto is a unique cultural environment of its own.

There is no comprehensive information on the locations of offshore antiquities in the area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia. The most common type of discoveries related to cultural heritage found underwater are ship wrecks. Few inventories have been carried out, and it can be assumed that there are still many wrecks and other underwater cultural heritage site that have not yet been found in the area.

The shallow coastline, the extensive archipelago off the shore, and the coastline, which is constantly moving and changing due to land uplift (almost a metre every one hundred years), are characteristic environmental factors of the Gulf of Bothnia’s coast that affect the marine cultural environment. Marine heritage can be found both in the region’s highest areas and on the seafloor.

The situational picture of Finnish marine cultural heritage 2019 (link) prepared by the Finnish Heritage Agency has been used to support the construction and planning of the situational picture of regional cultural heritage.

The maritime industry consists of equipment manufacturers, turnkey suppliers, design agencies, software and system suppliers as well as shipbuilding, repair and offshore shipyards. The area comprising the northern Bothnian Sea, the Quark and the Bay of Bothnia is the location of some maritime industry and business related to a larger maritime cluster, for example in the Vaasa and Oulu areas. Vaasa is the location of the offices of some significant maritime system manufacturers, and their related subcontractors and shipping and port operations. The Kokkola-Pietarsaari region has an established boat building industry. The Oulu maritime cluster specialises in port operations. The situational picture for the planning area’s blue economy (2018) highlighted the area’s diverse metal industry as a strength related to the maritime industry.

The competitiveness of the maritime industry can be strengthened through support for digitalisation, innovation and research. It is possible to support this development during the use of marine areas, for example by creating offshore testing areas for new technology. From the perspective of offshore activities, such as wind power production and aquaculture, the planning area’s special features are challenging offshore conditions, including its ice cover during winter. The conditions in the region may be an incentive factor for the creation of specialised innovations. There may also be international demand for such expertise.

The seabed sediments in Finnish marine areas are, geologically speaking, very young. In practice, all sea sand and gravel reserves were formed at the end of the last Ice Age or after that over the past 13,000 years. The recoverable reserves are mainly located in the subsea extensions of the ridges and terminal moraine bodies created when the glacier melted. To a lesser extent, recoverable minerals can be found in other moraine or erosion-caused sand sediments.

The area’s iron manganese deposits are the most interesting seafloor reserves. These have been studied from the 1960s due to their iron, manganese, phosphorus and earth metal reserves. Iron manganese sediments are found in nearly all of Finland’s marine areas. The possibilities for utilising phosphorus bound to the seafloor have also been considered in recent years.

While sea sand and gravel extraction has thus far been of a small scale in Finland, the need to exploit seafloor reserves is expected to grow as the availability of on-land gravel and sand resources declines, especially in the vicinity of growth centres. According to estimates produced in a background report produced by the Geological Survey of Finland, there are be approximately 2-3 billion m3 of sand and gravel in Finland’s marine areas, which is equal to approximately the amount of aggregates used in Finland over a period of 50 years. The estimate is based on the surface area of the surveyed sand and gravel deposits and a sediment thickness of five metres. However, efforts are being made to continuously reduce the use of virgin aggregates, and to transition increasingly to a circular economy in aggregate management.

There has been interest in the extraction of sea sand in the Bay of Bothnia. In Northern Ostrobothnia, the extraction of sea sand was studied in 2007-2010. However, the projects have not been implemented, and no significant exploitation of sea sand or other extraction activities are currently carried out in the planning area. Sea sand extraction activities are often related to large individual projects and also require functional transport logistics including processing terminals as ports of reception and extensive storage areas.

Blue biotechnology is a new sector, which from the perspective of the marine area’s use, refers to biomasses produced and harvested at sea and their production potential. In Finland, biomass potential has mainly been identified for common reed in lakes and less valuable fish. Growing algae in Finnish conditions is challenging due to the small amount of light and cold temperatures. Cultivation potential could be found in various waters containing waste heat and nutrients, which are formed for example by the pulp industry and in wastewaters. The low salinity and poor temperature conditions of Finland’s waters are a challenge in the cultivation of shellfish compared to other areas in the Baltic Sea. The potential for processing specialised products lies especially in the side-streams of the fisheries industry

The special needs of national defence have been identified and taken into account in EU legislation in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and in Finland’s national legislation in the Land Use and Building Act. Under the Land Use and Building Act, the needs of national defence must be secured and taken into account in land use planning and maritime spatial planning.

The Finnish Defence Forces carry out air and maritime surveillance in accordance with the Act on the Defence Forces (551/2007) and the Territorial Surveillance Act (755/2000) in all of Finland’s national territory and in its vicinity. National defence requires an active approach from the National Defence Forces in marine areas meaning comprehensive surveillance of air and sea. The Gulf of Finland and the southern parts of the Archipelago Sea are very important areas for Finland’s overall defence.

The implementation of the statutory tasks of the Finnish Defence Forces limits the other use of marine areas in some areas to the nature, location and timing of the activities. Finland’s marine areas include secured areas (18), shooting and training areas as well as their associated hazard and restriction areas. From the point of view of national defence, the usability of fairways, the needs of management systems under normal conditions and the underwater structures of the Defence Forces also play a key role. In addition, there may still be naval mines and other munitions during originating from the time Finland was at war and harmful substances from various activities in Finnish marine areas. These should be taken into account and examined on a case-by-case basis in more detailed planning.