Towards a healthy Baltic Sea – HELCOM in a nutshell

Article Author: Kinga Polynczuk     Photo by: Samuli Korpinen

Since its establishment nearly 40 years ago, HELCOM (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) has been committed to protecting the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental cooperation. HELCOM is the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, known as the Helsinki Convention. The Contracting Parties are Denmark, Estonia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. 

HELCOM’s vision for the future is a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities. To achieve this goal, HELCOM is active in a variety of fields that are central to cross-sectorial protection of the marine environment. HELCOM acts as a regional information hub, coordinating monitoring and compiling scientific results to support informed decision-making by the Contracting Parties. 

All the HELCOM publications are available online. 

The overarching Baltic Sea Action Plan

A central operational programme of HELCOM is the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), designed for restoring the good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment by 2021. The strategy, adopted by all the coastal states and the EU in 2007 at the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in Krakow, is a crucial stepping stone for wider and more efficient actions to combat the continuing deterioration of the marine environment resulting from human activities. Moreover, the Plan provides a concrete basis for HELCOM work and stimulates even closer multilateral cooperation around the Baltic Sea region.

The overarching Baltic Sea Action Plan.jpgCountries have committed to the objectives set in the Action Plan, and the progress made – or lack thereof – is assessed every few years at Ministerial Meetings, the latest of which was held in Copenhagen on 3 October 2013 (Ministerial Declaration). To facilitate the evaluation of the progress on the Action Plan implementation, HELCOM produced and released a range of new assessments and reports, “Eutrophication status of the Baltic Sea 2007-2011.A concise thematic assessment” being one of them.

Tackling eutrophication by exceptional nutrient reduction scheme

Eutrophication is one of the main threats to the Baltic Sea ecosystem, and the latest eutrophication assessment results underscore the need for further HELCOM work, revealing how much is yet to be done to reach a good environmental status of the Baltic Sea. According to the assessment, despite the measures already taken to reduce external inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus, nearly the entire sea area is still affected by eutrophication with the exception of the Bothnian Bay. 

The HELCOM nutrient reduction scheme, exceptional worldwide, was established with the 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan to tackle the problem of eutrophication. The country-wise nutrient reduction targets of the scheme have been revised using improved data and models, and new figures were agreed on by the Ministerial Meeting 2013. Although substantial measures have already been taken to reduce nutrient pollution, it will take time before the effects of the measures can be seen at sea. As pointed out in the recently released climate change assessment, the Baltic Sea region is warming faster than the Earth as a whole, and this is expected to affect precipitation patterns in the region and hence also affect input of nutrients to the sea, possibly requiring even more stringent measures in the future.  

More information about HELCOM, its activities and the Baltic Sea Action Plan can be found on the renewed website: