Three Years in the Baltic: Finding Solutions to Restore a Threatened Sea

© OCEANA / Carlos Minguell

Author: Angela Pauly
Date: May 9, 2014



It’s been three years since Oceana set up shop in Copenhagen to work exclusively on restoring the Baltic Sea, one of the most polluted and threatened seas in the world.

Here is the catch: On paper, the Baltic region is leagues ahead of most of Europe when it comes to designating marine protected areas. On paper, 12% of the Baltic Sea is protected, which means on paper, the region has met and surpassed the goal laid out by the UN to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020.

So why aren’t we throwing a party to celebrate? That’s just it: it’s only on paper.

In our latest report out of the Baltic Sea office, we looked into all the MPAs in the region and found some disturbing news. Over 30% of them don’t have a single plan in place outlining any rules or restrictions, which means its business as usual in them. We call these MPAs ‘Paper Parks’, because protection in these areas exists in name and on paper only. In fact, we discovered that fisheries have not been completely restricted in a single MPA in the Baltic Sea and what’s worse, is that destructive fishing methods, such as bottom trawling are allowed in some of them.

Designating MPAs is crucial to protecting critical marine ecosystems particularly in a sea as fragile as the Baltic, which suffers from a host of threats from overfishing to climate change and pollution. However, if effective management plans are not created and properly enforced this region will fail to protect its marine heritage for generations to come.

We don’t feel hopeless at all though. It is possible to reverse the damage and support a sustainable and thriving fishing industry in the area. As national borders matter very little in the marine environment, cross-country cooperation is essential. That’s what we’ve been up to these past three years; developing proposals based on our expedition findings, and working in cooperation with governments, researchers and other relevant policy actors across the region to come up with effective solutions. Yesterday, we hosted an event, bringing together experts from HELCOM, the Øresund Aquarium and DTU Aqua and others to discuss the benefits of marine conservation. We took the opportunity to share three years worth of expedition findings and our position on how to transform this knowledge into functional policies. Representatives from Velux Foundations and Zennström Philanthropies, two of the most important backers of our Baltic Sea work, were also in attendance, to discuss how they measure success from a funder point of view.

It was a fruitful discussion, and it was one that we hope to continue having throughout the years as we continue fighting to restore the Baltic Sea.

To take a look at our latest report, click here.