The Baltic Sea has the oddly contradictory record of being a frontrunner both in good and bad – on one hand it holds the unfortunate record of being one of the most polluted seas in the world, but on the other, countries in the region have ambitious political plans for its restoration which, if implemented, could put it on the path to recovery. The Helsinki Convention (HELCOM) has been setting environmental targets for the restoration of this sea for almost 40 years already. While the needed pieces in this complex puzzle are in place, so far, it has been the unwillingness of the countries to implement their very own agreements that is delaying progress.
This week, Oceana’s Baltic Sea team travelled to Riga, Latvia to discuss the status of the sea with the HELCOM Nature Conservation and Biodiversity group. In 2003, HELCOM countries agreed to develop an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Baltic Sea by 2010. Though the deadline has since passed, the countries still seem to be unanimous in the opinion that more and better managed MPAs are needed to safeguard and restore the sea. Oceana has provided them with a set of new MPA proposals to reach this goal. Therefore it was with great joy that we witnessed our proposals being positively acknowledged during the meeting (it certainly made up for all those hours of sitting in uncomfortable chairs participating in long discussions).
Earlier this week, we saw see how the future of EU fisheries hangs in the balance as council talks on the Common Fisheries Policy failed to produce the ambitious reform needed for Europe’s oceans. Let’s not make the same mistake here. Baltic Sea countries have agreed to develop a system of MPAs that provides better protection than the EU legislation to the species and habitats in the region. So, the political will is there, but let’s hope it’s not all talk, because we need action.
I think the countries in this region should show courage and start living up to standards they set for themselves. They now have a real chance to pave the way for the rest of the Europe and be a frontrunner in marine conservation in Europe, and globally. But we can’t wait around for everybody to come onboard. Individual countries need to take the lead and set sail towards a more sustainable future, because saving this sea in nowhere near impossible.