You may not know it, but Europe’s Baltic Sea is an incredibly unique marine environment: It’s the largest body of brackish water on Earth, is home to countless marine species, and is the youngest sea on the planet. Unfortunately, this ecosystem is also one of the most threatened and polluted in the world.
Last week, Oceana in Europe released a report spotlighting the lack of protection in the Baltic Sea. Though 12 percent of the Baltic is protected on paper, the report explains, little is protected in person. Indeed, about 30 percent of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region lack actual management plans – allowing fishermen and businesses to carry on potentially harmful practices in these sanctuaries as usual. And, what’s worse: There isn’t a single MPA in the Baltic that completely restricts fishery operations, and destructive fishing methods – like bottom trawling – are allowed in some of them.
“It’s disappointing that the only place you can find protection in these areas is in their names. All nine Baltic countries have committed themselves to proper marine protection in order to reach a set of environmental targets,” Oceana’s Baltic Sea project manager Hanna Paulomäki said in a press release. “If they are serious about overturning the worrying state of the Baltic Sea, there needs to be a radical change of course.”
Of the areas with actual management plans, many are simply descriptive overviews of the area, listing species, habitats, and possible threats without a mention to real protective measures. There are two major types of MPAs in the Baltic: those in the Natura 2000 network, which forms the backbone of marine protection in the European Union, and those in the HELCOM MPA network (BSPAs), which is a regional Baltic effort. Specifically, 31 percent of the Baltic’s 388 Natura 2000 sites and 35 percent of the 163 BMPAs lack management plans.
Going forward, Oceana recommends that officials require fishermen to apply for a permit to fish inside a MPA, increase surveillance of fishing activities, and use an ecosystem-based management system. You can check out our report for a full list of other management recommendations, and you can read more about our proposals for establishing new MPAs in the Baltic Sea and Kattegat here.