Hope, stability and protection

Aija Caune,
Coalition Clean Baltic

Mikhail Durkin,
Executive Secretary,
Coalition Clean Baltic

Nils Höglund,
Fisheries Policy Officer,
Coalition Clean Baltic

Another HELCOM [i] meeting has passed… again frustrating and full of disappointments. Not because of not being able to meet physically and travel – we have all learnt in 2020 the value of working from home and spending more time with our families. Not because of tiring negotiations – we have also adapted to this new normal and possibly the online mode has even driven us to be more active in defending our positions. No, the reason for the frustration is that the countries so clearly show that national interests have nothing to do with the protection of the Baltic Sea. The countries don’t understand that they create risk and uncertainty, the opposite of what people and markets want, and nature needs. Nothing has changed since Baltic environmental NGOs appeal in BRE – on contrary, it turned towards the worse.

In 2007 [ii] we aspired to reach a healthy state for our common blue pearl, the Baltic Sea, by 2021. A sea with “…diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in good environmental/ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable human economic and social activities.” And instead – we have lost the main Baltic cod stock, almost wiping out the European eel and our only whale, harbour porpoise, from the Baltic species list. We have reached the point when almost the entire Baltic is suffocating of eutrophication and we have destroyed several unique nature amenities at the coast and inland. In memoriam can be continued for the only reason to prove that each of those losses is a result of economic activity that have never been aligned with what nature needs. Fishing to the last drop, farming to the last crop, shipping cargo like the sea and rivers are no-speed-limit highways, cutting nature apart by roads, pipes and canals like a piece of cake. This explains why countries around the Baltic Sea are so keen on discussing actions for the sake of actions, actions with no deadlines and targets, actions that are not even foreseeing implementation…

We keep on forgetting that people’s need for connection to the sea and nature is the need for stability and calm. It is not only markets and investors that need stability and predictability. Our sea and environment also need stability and protection to heal. And that in turn is of vital importance for our own existence as just one of the fragile species on this planet. The year 2020 has proven it with scaring evidence.

The need and sense of urgency is very clear. Our sea is failing and fish stocks collapsing. We can make a change and we must make a change but it must start from the same place. Any plan must start with a common understanding that the functioning of the ecosystem must come first. Always first, because everything else is short sighted and unstable, creates unpredictability and worry. All the world’s investors, banks etc. work all day to avoid risk and instead our policy-makers seem to create it by sharpening an axe to cut off the branch we are all sitting on, not knowing how hard the fall will be or when it will come.

We do need a strong, predictable and serious strategy to align people’s expectations. A plan that encompass what most people already understand: one thing is connected to the other in a system, an ecosystem. The ecosystem approach may be theoretical to most of us but to people, teachers, nurses, farmers or fishermen it just means to understand the full picture. We, citizens of the Baltic Sea countries, have jointly offered such a Plan to the Baltic politicians and countries to implement.

If we keep on thinking that we can degrade the environment piece by piece, continue to overfertilize our fields, pollute our waters and fish out stock by stock without it having consequences for our own lives, then we are nowhere closer to stability and calm we all wish and hope for. Neither in 2021, nor in 2030…


a life of our Baltic vaquita [iii] costs less than reducing soundwave produced by a commercial ship by e.g. lowering her speed, if we claim all the Baltic salmon and cod were eaten by seals, if we believe cheaper fertilizers will boost sustainable farming, we are nowhere closer to stability and protection we all hope for. Neither in 2021, nor in 2030…

[i] Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM)

[ii] HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan was adopted in 2007 to reach the Baltic in Good Environmental Status by 2021

[iii] Vaquita – the small cetacean that is almost extinct

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