Nature conservation and monitoring of the Baltic Sea's ecosystem were the focus of attention during the Ninth Meeting of the HELCOM Working Group on the State of the Environment and Nature Conservation (STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018). The meeting was held in Copenhagen from 22 to 26 October 2018.
During the event, it was agreed to broaden the workplan for the HELCOM State & Conservation group, notably on the follow-up of Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) measures, red-listed species and their link to specific habitat features, and non-indigenous species, among others.
In regards to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the participants endorsed the establishment of a regional MPA management network under the auspice of HELCOM. The management network is intended to function as a platform for managers across the region, to share experiences and best practices.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Sweden furthermore presented their plans for designating new MPAs. HELCOM was the first regional seas convention in the world to reach the target of 10% of its total marine area to be covered by MPAs in 2010. Increasing the ambition level, where scientifically justifiable, HELCOM seeks to achieve 10 percent MPA coverage for every Baltic Sea sub-basin by 2020.
Baltic sea species were also addressed at STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, notably the harbour porpoise, a cousin of the dolphin.
Measures to minimize bycatch, one of the biggest threats to harbour porpoises, were discussed. Currently, only about 500 of these marine mammals are left in the Baltic Proper, a sub-basin of the Baltic Sea where they used to occur in large numbers.
On Baltic sturgeon – one of the regionally extinct species on the HELCOM red-list – an action plan for its reintroduction, recovery and protection was endorsed by STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, a first step for its final adoption by the HELCOM countries in 2019.
The meeting participants also expressed their concern about the low numbers of ringed seal in the Gulf of Finland and called for increased efforts to conserve the species.
At STATE & CONSERVATION 9-2018, several guidelines on monitoring the state of the Baltic Sea were also in principle endorsed, notably on dissolved oxygen in seawater and determining heavy metals in sediments. Monitoring the state of the Baltic Sea is key to understanding how the ecosystem reacts to the current measures for a healthy sea.
Pressures on the Baltic Sea were also discussed, notably marine litter and underwater noise. On the latter, it was highlighted that more efforts are needed, specifically on determining threshold values. Underwater noise is one of the emerging pressures on the Baltic Sea environment.
Norbert Häubner and Marie-Louise Krawack were elected as co-Chairs of the HELCOM State & Conservation group for the next term until 2020, respectively chairing the monitoring & assessment, and biodiversity & nature conservation components of the group. They replace the previous co-Chairs Penina Blankett and Urmas Lips.