The publication includes recent information on issues such as eutrophication, hazardous substances, invasive species, noise, maritime traffic, and plastic waste. It is the most important result of the Gulf of Finland Year arranged by the countries in 2014.
Reflections on the report
We spoke to the project coordinator, Kai Myrberg, a Finnish Delegate to ICES, as well as SYKE Senior Research Scientist Mika Raateoja about the state and the future of the Gulf of Finland.
Does the review deliver good or bad news of the state of the Gulf of Finland?
The messages are predominantly good. The eutrophication status of the area is improving; algal biomasses are decreasing - and have decreased since the turn of the millennium - and the water is getting clearer. The classical environmental toxins, such as organochlorides and heavy metals, have slowly accumulated in the sediments; they are safely stored there and not impacting the water biota to the extent as once before. However, there are chemical newcomers whose impact requires our attention, and climate change will most likely lead to profound changes in the Gulf of Finland ecosystem.
The work is based on international research collaboration. Were ICES resources used in the process?
Yes, the ICES database was utilized for the fish/fisheries chapter. Many of the writers of the assessment belong to various ICES working groups and they can thus utilize these new synthesis in ACOM and SCICOM work, for example.
What are the main priority areas to focus on in the Gulf of Finland in the future?
In short, the cumulative impacts of new priority hazardous substances, the maritime traffic whose volume is predicted to still increase in the future, climate change and its reflections in the eutrophication of the gulf, the amount and impact of marine litter, and the role of underwater noise as an environmental pressure.
How can the ICES community utilize this review?
The Gulf of Finland assessment provides the ICES community with detailed, integrated knowledge of the fish and fisheries from an ICES subarea covered by the three member countries: Finland, Estonia, and Russia. The new information about the gulf will serve the various ICES working groups dealing with Baltic fisheries. Chapters such as eutrophication, harmful substances, and marine litter may help in making regional assessments of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. This kind of a holistic assessment might be applied in other ICES areas as well.
How can ICES contribute
How about ICES, how can the organization contribute to the work in the Gulf of Finland? Let's ask our General Secretary, Anne Christine Brusendorff.
There is a lot we can and already do contribute. ICES is a data hub for the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), and has developed a eutrophication assessment tool that automatically updates once new data gets submitted by the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.
Likewise, for hazardous substances a similar tool is under development in the BalticBOOST project. Through this project, ICES contributes towards developing approaches to assess benthic impact from multiple pressures, related to physical loss and damage to the seabed (fisheries, gravel extraction, etc.). The project has been able to draw from our recent advice to both EU and OSPAR, and is helping to streamline regional approaches to meet policy requirements, such as the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
As part of the ICES-coordinated Baltic International Trawl Surveys (BITS), the research vessels are also collecting data, primarily from the seabed, on marine litter. ICES will therefore be able to provide both data and quality assured assessments of this topic.
We have also developed an impulsive noise registry for use in the Baltic and North-East Atlantic by HELCOM and OSPAR respectively. This opens up for the possibility of providing assessments of noise level exposure and impacts on marine mammals.
Last but not least, at the beginning of next year we will provide synthesized fisheries and ecosystem overviews for the Baltic Sea. The fisheries overviews will describe what is being fished, by whom and how, and the impact on the Baltic ecosystem. The ecosystem overviews will broaden this to include other human activities, with a description of the pressures on the ecosystem, and how this impacts the status of the Baltic ecosystem.
Satellite image of the Gulf of Finland. An excess of nutrients in the gulf can increase both the size and duration of late summer algal blooms. Photo: SYKE