From a global view, the Baltic Sea is small in size but being one of the largest bodies of brackish water, it is ecologically unique and extremely sensitive to environmental impacts caused by human activity.
The Baltic Sea is very vulnerable to human impact as it is almost an inland sea, meaning that water turnover is extremely slow and any pollution has a major impact. In the last 10 years, Estonia has invested 600 million euros to reduce the pollution in the Baltic Sea and the results are evident. The number of grey seals and white-tailed eagles has grown and fishermen confirm that the number of fish has also increased.
All countries bordering the Baltic Sea, including the ones not belonging to the European Union, must invest to improve the current situation of the Baltic Sea. Countries must jointly find the best solution to manage the sea and seafront areas so that it would increase the wealth of the aforementioned countries as well as guarantee the safety of the marine environment.
Managing the protection of the Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea States co-operate in regulating and organising the protection of the Baltic Sea. The basis for co-operation is the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area joined by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the Community. The Convention was first introduced in 1974 and re-introduced in 1992, when Estonia also joined.
To implement the goals of the Convention, an intergovernmental committee, the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), was formed. The work of the committee is organised by Baltic Sea States, whereas the presidency rotates every two years according to alphabetical order. The country of location of the committee is Finland (Helsinki) and the permanent Secretariat is comprised of experts and the Secretary General.
The following working groups have been formed: HELCOM MONAS, HELCOM LAND, HELCOM HABITAT, HELCOM MARITIME and HELCOM RESPONSE, HELCOM GEAR. The work of the Estonian delegation in HELCOM working groups. The work is organised and coordinated by the Marine Environment Department of the Ministry of the Environment.
Starting from July 2014, Estonia holds presidency in HELCOM.
Gulf of Finland Year
2014 was proclaimed the international Gulf of Finland Year to work together on improving the condition of the sea. The joint project of Estonian, Finnish and Russian experts gives a first-time opportunity to examine the condition of the ecosystem in the Gulf of Finland.
As a result of the Gulf of Finland Year 2014 project, the Gulf of Finland declaration, comprising important measures to improve the condition of the gulf, will be signed. It will additionally set preliminary borders for the conservation and sustainable use of the sea until 2021.
The previous Gulf of Finland Year was in 1996, where the main focus was on cleaning domestic and industrial waste water, reducing oil shale and chemical industry waste and decreasing agricultural pollution.
The Baltic Sea Challenge
What is the Baltic Sea?
- Area: The total area of the Baltic Sea is 415,266 km2, whilst the basin – 1.7 million km2 – is four times the size of the sea itself.
- Depth: the average depth of the Baltic Sea is approximately 50 metres. The greatest deep is the off-shore Baltic Sea Landsort Deep with an estimated depth of 459 metres. The charge of water in the Baltic Sea is approximately 21,000 km3. The water turnover in the Baltic Sea is approximately 2% per year, meaning that the total water turnover takes about 25 years.
- Basin: In Germany, Denmark and Poland 60–70% of the Baltic Sea basin is comprised of cropland. In Finland, Russia, Sweden and Estonia 65–90% of the Baltic Sea basic is comprised of forests, wetlands and lakes.
- Population and countries: Almost 85 million people live in the basin of the Baltic Sea, of whom 26% live in large capital areas, 45% in smaller urban areas and 29% in rural areas. The population density is between 500 habitats per square kilometre in the urbanised areas of Poland, Germany and Denmark and under 10 habitats per square kilometre in the northern regions of Finland and Sweden. Almost 15 million people live within ten kilometres from the coast.
- Countries that lie on the Baltic Sea are: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Russia. Countries lying on the basin of the Baltic Sea are Ukraine, Czech Republic, Belarus and Slovakia. The largest islands in the Baltic Sea are Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Gotland, Bornholm, Rügen and the Åland Islands.
- Shipping: Every year over 500 tons of cargo is shipped on the Baltic Sea through numerous and widely used sea lanes. Over 50 passenger ferries operate between the harbours of the Baltic Sea.