Gulf of Finland

Baseline – marine environmental status

The typical biogeographical features of the Gulf of Finland include rocky shores smoothed by glaciers and reefs of biodiversity importance. Its seabed is shaped into canyons and chains of eskers, along which oxygen-rich water and fine soils are transported by currents. The rate of water exchange between the inner and outer archipelago is reduced by the basin formations of the underwater topography.

The marine environment in the Gulf of Finland is characterised by excessive nutrient loading, which is the primary reason for the failure to achieve good marine environmental status. The status of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities in the open sea areas is poor; there are plenty of algal blooms and oxygen depletion is common in the deeps. The inner archipelago has also physically lost substantial amounts of seabed due to dredging, disposal of dredged material and hydraulic construction projects. The ringed seal population in the Gulf of Finland is scarce and not growing. Likewise, seabird stocks are weak and stocks of sea trout are very weak. Food web indicators also point to a poorer status in the Gulf of Finland when compared with the Gulf of Bothnia. Considerable concentrations of environmentally hazardous substances are sedimented on the seabed off the Kymenlaakso region.

The volumes of maritime transport on the Finnish coast are by far the highest in the Gulf of Finland. The area is home to island and coastal tourist destinations and there is significant recreational fishing. The marine environment has improved as a result of restrictions and prohibitions on the use of certain hazardous substances, while there are fewer oil spills into the sea. Clear progress has been made in maritime safety in the Gulf of Finland. In addition to shipping, there is some fishing activity in the area, albeit significant proportions of the primary catches – i.e. Baltic herring and sprat – are made outside the Finnish Exclusive Economic Zone. There is also some commercial fishing of salmonoids in the area between the towns of Porvoo and Kotka. As the Gulf of Finland plays a significant strategic role in terms of national defence, national defence needs place some restrictions on its uses.

The Gulf of Finland is covered by the regional land use plans of Uusimaa and Kymenlaakso. The use of the Exclusive Economic Zone is governed by the Act on the Exclusive Economic Zone of Finland (1058/2004).

Development vision 2030 for the Gulf of Finland

In the Gulf of Finland, marine activities are successfully coordinated while fostering good marine environmental status. The area is home to blue economy expertise, especially in the maritime logistics and sustainable tourism sectors.

Resource efficiency and carbon neutrality are significant development targets both in terms of coastal towns and cities and with regard to the entire marine area.

The Gulf of Finland is a vital maritime transport area, in which traffic will continue to be brisk. The area hosts Finland’s leading international ports, which are globally competitive. The ports create growth and represent important points of interaction between land and sea. Shipping and maritime logistics innovations lay the foundation for competitiveness and sustainable development in the sector.

A potential railway tunnel between Finland and Estonia will open up new logistics and travel connections to the rest of Europe.

The Helsinki Metropolitan Area is the tourist gateway to the area. Key tourist destinations also include other seaside towns and cities – i.e. Hanko, Raseborg, Porvoo, Loviisa, Kotka and Hamina – as well as their adjacent archipelago areas. The wide variety of services on offer in the unique archipelago attracts tourists as well as new inhabitants and organisations.

Tourism and recreation draw on the marine character of the coastal towns and cities and the marine nature of the coastal area as a whole. Recreational services have been developed on the basis of the needs of local residents.

The operating preconditions for fishing have been secured. The area produces local food sustainably and responsibly.

Cooperation has been developed in research into marine areas, blue biotechnology and the blue bioeconomy. It has enabled innovation, product development and new job creation.

Marine activities are carried out so as to promote good marine environmental status and underwater biodiversity. Nature and cultural values are viewed as assets.

Main impacts of the draft maritime spatial plan

Positive impacts:

Marking out areas of biodiversity importance has a positive impact on the marine environment, since identifying the locations of valuable underwater habitat types will raise awareness about underwater nature values and help to take nature values into account when planning and implementing activities. Maritime spatial planning has highlighted ecologically significant marine underwater areas (‘EMMA areas’) and significant ecological connectivity, such as the role of the Gulf of Finland as the marine link in the Fennoscandian Green Belt, which will also help take values that are normally invisible, yet important in terms of ecosystem functions, into account as part of planning marine activities. Tourism also creates pressure to preserve the Baltic Sea and its marine environment as well as the cultural heritage sites in the Gulf of Finland. Identifying the significant potential of tourism and cultural heritage sites will indirectly support the protection objectives and achievement of good status of the marine environment.

The special areas designated in the Gulf of Finland include those with waste heat potential (the Google server farm in Hamina, the Loviisa nuclear power plant, the Kilpilahti industrial area). The areas are considered to have waste heat recovery potential in terms of land–sea interactions and due to their intensive demand for energy. Tapping this potential will support sustainable energy production.

In the Kymenlaakso region, functional connections to be developed include those between Kotka and Estonia and Kotka and St Petersburg, which involve transport development needs, for instance. As a specific maritime area, the plan also designates a new route to St Petersburg, which is necessary for more effective connectivity and due to increasing vessel sizes. As the route is located out on the open sea, it does not require dredging. The route runs through a Natura 2000 area. As maritime transport volumes are increasing in the Gulf of Finland in any event, designating the route will improve the effectiveness of the connection and meet the needs of larger vessels. In this respect, designating the route will increase maritime safety and contribute to preventing and reducing environmental damage or hazards due to accidents and traffic congestion. As such, designating the route is unlikely to increase the total volume of maritime transport.

Identifying sites suitable for dumping dredged material may promote marine environmental status, should the disposal sites currently located in less environmentally friendly areas be relocated to those designated in the report.

Negative impacts:

The plan designates an economically and functionally significant Helsinki–Tallinn connection, which is closely linked to a potential tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn. Tunnel construction is assessed to have negative impacts on the marine environment in the Gulf of Finland. A major underwater construction project may affect water flows in the area, for example by directing undercurrents or by causing upwelling in the vicinity of artificial islands, which may bring nutrient-rich water from the bottom to the surface layer, making nutrients available to producers. This may have negative impacts on water quality.

The plan designates a connection between Kotka and Estonia as a potential new functional connection. Increasing the number of heavy vessels operating on this route may lead to a growth in harmful releases into the air and sea.

The plan designates new potential sites for aquaculture. If the intention is to increase fish-farming from current levels in the Gulf of Finland, this will have negative impacts on the marine environment in terms of nutrient loads. In view of developments in case law and administrative practice relevant to fish-farming, any significant increase in farming capacity appears unlikely, which means that the impacts would remain limited.

The growing population and activity in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area create coordination needs with sustainable transport, tourism and recreation, which are also recognised in the plan. Tourism and recreational activities have slight negative impacts on the marine environment, especially due to mobility. Negative impacts can be mitigated by directing activities away from the most sensitive areas. Impacts on water bodies are conflicting, since a clean water body can be seen as an essential precondition for tourism and recreational activities.

As the plan does not designate any potential sites for offshore wind in the Gulf of Finland, there are no impacts on this area in this respect. Large-scale development of offshore wind is restricted in the area due to the Finnish Defence Forces’ operations, Natura 2000 areas and other nature values, etc.

Positive impacts:

The plan designates several functional connections, including the Helsinki–Tallinn connection as part of the North Sea–Baltic TEN-T core network corridor. Improving connectivity between Helsinki and Tallinn (such as building the potential tunnel) can be assumed to have positive impacts on both business activities and national economies on both sides of the Gulf. A new connection would open up new logistics and travel connections to the rest of Europe, improve the mobility of people and goods and boost business life.

Furthermore, the Helsinki–Tallinn tunnel may have significant positive impacts on the Finnish marine industries during construction (incl. capitalising on expertise, specialised equipment, hydraulic construction). The impacts of the potential growth in the marine industries are mainly localised and any potential growth and development will focus on existing port and industrial areas.

Another functional connection designated in the plan is the existing link between the HaminaKotka Port and Kouvola as part of the Scandinavian–Mediterranean TEN-T core network corridor. The connection plays a particularly significant role in the development of eastbound road and rail transport. In addition, the new potential Kotka–Estonia and Kotka–St Petersburg connections may bring positive impacts on the regional economy in the long run. Another significant functional connection runs from Western Uusimaa to Germany and other parts of Central Europe, involving freight transport development needs, for instance.

The special areas designated in the Gulf of Finland include those with waste heat potential (the Google server farm in Hamina, the Loviisa nuclear power plant, the Kilpilahti industrial area). Tapping this potential will support cost-efficient energy production.

The fact that the plan designates nature values has a positive local economic impact, as it will indirectly support the development of tourism and other local livelihoods (such as fishing). The Gulf of Finland boasts the largest tourist flows in Finland’s marine areas and coastal and archipelago tourism is seen to have considerable potential. The plan highlights the area’s diverse nature values and cultural values including shipwrecks, military history, defence constructions, archipelago settlements, fishing villages, villa areas, and coastal towns and cities. Development of the ports addressed in the plan will support imports, exports and tourism. Development of tourism may also open up new business opportunities for maritime transport operators on potential new routes. Stretching from the east to the southwestern town of Hanko, the coastal boating route and its ports support the development of tourism in the area, connecting different coastal regions.

Negative impacts:

Construction of the Helsinki–Tallinn tunnel may diminish the profitability of shipping between Helsinki and Tallinn, should a significant proportion of passenger and freight transport switch to using the tunnel. On the other hand, the tunnel is believed to enable increasing traffic volumes rather than functioning as a replacement route. The vessels operating on the route serve both passenger and freight transport as part of a logistics chain. The service lives of these vessels vary between 30 and 50 years. Should either of these customer groups decrease to a significant extent, this would have a major impact on the financial profitability of the shipping companies and might require them to acquire vessels that are more suitable for the intended use.

Identifying significant underwater nature values and cultural heritage sites may involve localised negative impacts, affecting the feasibility of projects relating to the use of marine areas (fish-farming, recreational uses, etc.).

Positive impacts:

A partial shift of Estonia-bound traffic from automobile ferries to a tunnel would especially reduce the negative impacts of the former on congestion in central Helsinki. However, it could also affect the revenues of the City of Helsinki and Helsinki-based travel companies, while increasing the need to invest in developing tourism in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

Should designating underwater nature values and taking the marine environment into account in the planning of activities succeed in indirectly contributing to improving marine environmental status, this will have a positive impact on the quality and pleasantness of people’s living environments and on the recreational use of coastal and marine areas and, consequently, on human health.

Conservation of cultural heritage does not conflict with the objectives set for other sectors, or for the plan and blue growth. Identifying cultural heritage will support the area’s tourism and recreational uses. The majority of Finland’s known shipwrecks are located in the Gulf of Finland due to its central role as a passage and transport route. Taking shipwrecks into account as part of maritime spatial planning and as significant tourist attractions will support tourism and the preservation of underwater cultural heritage. Military history and defence structures form an integral part of marine cultural heritage in the Gulf of Finland. The Naval Battle of Svensksund off the Ruotsinsalmi Sea Fortress is the most significant battle in the history of the Baltic Sea. The site of the naval battle also incorporates underwater cultural heritage values. Other typical characteristics of the Gulf of Finland include traditional archipelago settlements and coastal fishing villages. The area is also home to significant villa areas and coastal towns and cities.

The plan designates the island clusters of Bromarv, Ekenäs–Ingå, Sipoo–Porvoo and Loviisa–Pyhtää–Kotka as core archipelago areas. These clusters are considered to have a positive social impact, as recognising their potential will support access to the archipelago, its culture and marine trades.

The Helsinki Metropolitan Area is the only ‘specific coordination area’ identified in all of Finland’s sea areas. In addition to the increasing pressure on the marine environment from human use, identifying the versatile potential of marine activities will support the area’s vitality, providing its entrepreneurs and businesses with new business opportunities.

Negative impacts:

The relationship between new aquaculture sites and other marine uses is fraught with tension in the Gulf of Finland. The permit procedures for new fish-farming sites are particularly sensitive in the Uusimaa region, due to its higher density of permanent and holiday populations. Fish farms are perceived as eyesores, as can be inferred from the fact that harmful effects on the landscape are frequently cited in appeals against permits, particularly in the vicinity of holiday homes and boating areas.

Identifying valuable areas for marine environments and biodiversity and cultural heritage sites may involve localised negative impacts, limiting the use of marine areas (recreational uses, the ability of permanent and holiday residents to dredge shore areas, etc.).

Developing the connection between the HaminaKotka Port and Kouvola and the functional connection from Western Uusimaa to Germany and other parts of Central Europe may involve adverse social impacts on the area’s permanent and holiday residents, especially due to growing traffic volumes. In particular, heavy-duty traffic can be expected to increase as a result of the connections to be developed.

The aim is to develop tourism and enable higher tourist flows in the Gulf of Finland. Increasing tourism will potentially involve negative impacts on holiday residents (higher traffic volumes in marine areas that are already very busy) and on the marine environment and nature (increasing pressure from human use).