Nature conservation and management

Vision 2030

All operators impacting the marine environment take into account the ecological preconditions of the marine environment and safeguard marine biodiversity. Collaborative and sustainable protection of the marine environment improves the state of the marine ecosystem.

The graph illustrates the main operations of the sector in the different zones of the marine area today and in 2030 

Before After

Description

The Baltic Sea is a small and relatively low body of brackish water. Overall, the state of the Finnish marine environment is poor, with a high degree of eutrophication in the Finnish marine area. Key species and certain habitats play an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. Areas important for biodiversity are located in low waters in particular, as well as in the underwater parts of islands and islets and in shallow sand beds. Key species can create favourable living conditions for a large number of other species. In Finland’s marine areas, key species include bladder wrack, blue mussels, Baltic tellins and seawrack.

Of maritime habitats, the following are significant for the functioning of ecosystems and are protected in accordance with HELCOM and the EU Habitats Directive: river deltas, narrow brackish water lagoons, large shallow bays, esker islands, underwater sandbanks and reefs, as well as islets and islands in the outer archipelago. The routes of migratory birds run across marine areas. In Finland, the main routes of migratory birds run along the coastlines of the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia. The migratory route of Arctic birds is internationally significant. In Finland, this route is mainly located in the Gulf of Finland. (B2) In addition to spring and autumn migration, some species move between feeding and nesting grounds in coastal regions, between the mainland and the archipelago. There are also important resting sites for migratory seabirds in the archipelago. 

Significant spawning rivers for migratory fish, as well as the fish passages in front of them, are key in supporting the vitality of fish stocks. The spawning areas are mainly located in low waters in the coastal regions. Their preservation is threatened by coastal construction, eutrophication, siltation and dredging, among other factors. (B14) The grey seal population is strong in all Finnish marine areas, and the highest densities are found in the south-western archipelago. The prevalence of the Baltic ringed seal is focused on the Bothnian Bay, where its population is particularly strong. (B14)

Eutrophication

Excessive nutrient loads and the ensuing eutrophication have the strongest adverse impact on the state of the environment in coastal waters and in the open sea. Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus loads end up in the Baltic Sea through rivers (85% of nitrogen and 95% of phosphorus). In general, the majority of the nitrogen and phosphorus load comes from agriculture. Other sources include forestry, communities, scattered settlements, industry and fish farming. The proportion of loading sources varies by the marine area. (B44)

According to the latest studies, there is evidence that the proportion of forestry could be significantly higher than previously assumed, even half of the agricultural load at national level (Forestry Monitoring Network). In addition, nutrients and solids, such as microplastics and macroplastics, enter the sea from urban areas. The nitrogen and phosphorus load increases the amount of plankton algae and blue-green algae. After they die, algae sink to the seabed. As they decompose, they consume oxygen, and the seabed’s oxygen conditions become weaker. In the absence of oxygen, the phosphate that has previously accumulated on the seabed is released into the sea (B3). The released phosphate increases the blooming of blue-green algae. As much as a third of the Baltic Sea seabed suffers from a lack of oxygen (Baltic Sea Challenge).

Litter

Litter is a growing problem in the Baltic Sea. Litter ends up in the sea as a result of recreational use, boating and fishing, as well as from construction sites, wastewater treatment plant diversion and effluent. Most of the litter is plastic (B32, B40).

Impacts of climate change

Climate change is expected to increase winter precipitation in Finland, and freshwater runoff from land to sea is expected to increase as ground frost decreases, which will cause the loading to grow. As a result, plankton production will increase, surface water temperatures will rise, decomposition will be accelerated, and organic matter will accumulate on the seabed. These may impair the oxygen situation on the seabed.

The warming of water will increase stratification, which may also have a negative impact on deep sea conditions by increasing oxygen-devoid areas and internal loads. In addition, climate change may have an impact on the frequency of saline water flows and, consequently, on the seabed oxygen situation and increased internal nutrient load. These factors contribute to the degradation of the vitality of key species, as well as increasing the probability of the abundant blooming of blue-green algae (B3). On the other hand, the reduction of the ice cover will also mean that seawater will be able to mix also during the winter, which prevents oxygen depletion. 

The adverse impacts of climate change on species are estimated to be the strongest for northern species. With climate change, the area covered by ice will probably become smaller and the ice period shorter. This development has adverse impacts on the Baltic ringed seal, for example, which gives birth to its offspring in holes in pack-ice floes. The warming of seawater makes it difficult for current species, such as fish, to survive under changed conditions. The warming may also facilitate the spread of animal diseases and alien species. The impacts on seabirds may be positive, as milder winters and reduced ice cover mean that more wintering grounds will be available. The global melting of continental glaciers will also gradually cause the Baltic Sea water level to rise. However, in the Gulf of Bothnia, land uplift serves as an opposite process to the rising sea level.

Alien species

Alien species are species that have moved from one geographical area to another as a result of intentional or unintentional human activity.  New species can threaten the ecosystem by beating indigenous species in the competition for nutrition or space. On the other hand, they can serve as a source of food to predators when their population increases. Generally, however, new species cause problems because they shake the ecological balance of the ecosystem. Alien species that have become more abundant include the bay barnacle, the Marenzelleria viridis, the fishhook waterflea and the round goby, for example, as well as the raccoon dog and the American mink, which are small predators. The spread of alien species is facilitated by shipping and climate change if the average temperature of seawater rises. On the other hand, the reduction in the salinity of seawater prevents the spread of oceanic species, and hunting can reduce invasive predator populations.

NETWORK OF PROTECTED SITES

The Baltic Sea is protected through national programmes, strategies, legislation and international cooperation. The network of protected marine areas consists of Natura 2000 areas, national parks, seal protection areas, state conservation areas and private conservation areas. International conservation areas include HELCOM MPA marine protection areas, Ramsar areas and World Heritage sites. (B24) Internationally, nationally and regionally important bird areas (IBA, FINIBA, MAALI, BirdLife) have been identified in marine areas and the archipelago in terms of values related to bird populations.

Around one-tenth of Finland’s sea area is protected. Protection areas have been identified based on the distribution of birds or seals, for example, or based on habitats at the intersection of land and water. Previously unknown underwater nature values have been excluded from the protected areas. It is estimated that only a quarter of the significant underwater nature values are located in the current protected areas (B36).

Roadmap

The interaction between land and sea is better understood as part of regional planning

– The interaction between nature and people is taken into account (systemic understanding)

– Natural waterways are examined in cooperation with local operators and residents

– Awareness is improved of the impacts of various operations on the state of marine areas, and a commitment is made to common goals

– Efforts will be made to increase the nutrient cycle

– Shipping lane needs will be considered more carefully to save the shoreline in the planning process

– Comprehensive planning will be improved (incl. operation chaining and integration)

The optimisation of area use is effective from the perspective of the state of the marine environment

– The special characteristics of areas will be taken into account in planning and the allocation of marine activities

– What can be done and what must not be done in marine areas will be defined clearly and accurately

– The value of tangible assets will be established for biodiversity to support decision-making (modelling)

Sufficient protection areas have been determined

– The protection of the biota’s offspring areas will be ensured

– National conservation commitments will be reviewed

– The sufficiency and interconnectedness of the conservation network will be ensured when species move as a result of climate change

– Preparations will be made for the impacts of climate change and changes in the habitats of species

Maritime spatial planning serves as a tool for collaboration and interaction

– Cooperation across sectors and industries will be strengthened to achieve a good status of the marine environment

– Research needs will be examined systematically in connection with maritime spatial planning with regard to all themes

– Planning will be expanded to cover rivers

– Spatial planning and the planning of marine and river basin management will be brought together

– The ecosystem approach will be promoted from the perspective of residents and tourists

– The significance of protection work will be demonstrated in practice with regard to swimming water quality and fish stock, for example

– Better use will be made in decision-making of the increased understanding of the state of the marine environment and the related factors

– Efforts will be made to raise awareness of the state of the marine environment and the related factors

– Impacts will be made on the development of environmental legislation

– The ecosystem approach will be integrated into all operational planning and implementation

Synergies and conflicts

View the Synergies and conflicts table for all industries.