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About the Baltic


The Baltic is the youngest sea on our planet, emerging from the retiring ice masses only some 10,000-15,000 years ago. Governed by special hydrographical and climatic conditions, the Baltic Sea is one of the planet’s largest bodies of brackish water. Saltwater from the North-East Atlantic blends with fresh water from the surrounding rivers and streams that run through 14 different countries in the catchment, an area four times larger than the Sea itself.  A delicate mixture that yields a highly sensitive and interdependent marine ecosystem with unique flora and fauna. Due to the special hydrographical and climatic conditions, the Baltic Sea is vulnerable.

However, these special qualities also make it vulnerable. Over the past 100 years, the Baltic Sea has been degraded quite dramatically. Human pressures such as overfishing, pollution and now, increasingly, the effects of climate change are altering the ecological balance and depleting renewable resources beyond safe biological limits. These pressures jeopardise the marine ecosystem and the future use of the Baltic Sea’s vast array of ecosystem ‘goods and services’ that are provided by nature for free.

Ecosystem Services

In the Baltic region, many of us enjoy coastal holidays and some are even lucky enough to have a vacation home situated near the coastline. Both our enjoyment of the sea and the price tag on our seaside home is directly dependent on the quality of the water.

These benefits obtained by the sea are examples of environmental or “ecosystem services”. The term ecosystem describes a community of animals and plants interacting with each other and with their physical environments such as soils, water, nutrients and all types of living organisms. Healthy ecosystems have always performed a multitude of essential functions for human communities –ecosystem services.

Oceans provide four types of ecosystem services

Provisioning – We harvest food, as well as genetic, pharmaceutical and chemical resources, fertilizer, fodder, and energy.

Regulating – The ocean provides the oxygen (O2) that we breathe and represents the largest natural sink for carbon dioxide (CO2) on Earth. Without the carbon sequestration of our seas, CO2 content in the atmosphere would be substantially greater with severe consequences for global climate change. The seas also regulate local climate, nutrients, and unwanted pests such as toxic algal blooms, protect against extreme weather, retain sediment and store waste.

Cultural – The sea provides us with recreational services, spiritual and historic services, scenery, education and inspiration as well as the sense of passing what we have on to future generations.

Supporting – Examples of supporting services include biogeochemical cycles (pathways by which chemical elements move through abiotic and biotic compartments), primary production (the conversion of solar energy to biomass), food web dynamics (all processes by which nutrients are transferred from one organism to another in an ecosystem), biodiversity, habitat availability and resilience, which is the amount of disturbance or stress that an ecosystem can absorb and remain capable of returning to its pre-disturbance state.

Ecosystem services are without a doubt the foundation for human life and development. Yet in our industrialized society, nature and its values have largely been ignored until malfunction or loss has drawn the attention to their importance. Humans have altered virtually all of Earth’s natural ecosystems in the recent centuries of resource extraction. This process has contributed to substantial gains in human well-being and economic prosperity. Yet the perception that the benefits obtained from nature are for “free” – in the sense that no one owns them or pays for them – has given rise to the threat of under-estimating the value of natural resources. Current economic prosperity, based on natural resource use, has thus been achieved at a dear cost

Sustainable use of our natural capital or ecosystem services can only be obtained if we: 

  • Use resources no faster than they regenerate 
  • Replace the use of exhaustible resources with renewable 
  • Do not produce more waste than nature can absorb and circulate in biogeochemical cycles 

A global paradigm shift in marine ecosystem management is shifting focus from species to ecosystems, with humans as an integral part of the ecosystem. The ecosystem approach stresses the importance of ecosystems for socioeconomic development and strives to maintain long-term capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services for human use.

Fast facts

  • Total sea area: 404,354 km²
  • Average depth: 53 metres
  • Habitat type: Temperate Shelf and Seas
  • Climate: prolonged cold and dark winters, mild summers with almost 24 hours of daylight
  • Flagship species: Harbour porpoise and ringed seal
  • Commercial fish species: Central & South West Baltic: cod, herring, sprat and salmon. Northern Baltic: pike, perch, whitefish and herring


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Our future and the future of the Baltic Sea are inextricably linked. Not only does the Baltic Sea host several WWF priority species, including the Harbour porpoise, Cod, Salmon and Sturgeon. It’s also surrounded by nine countries (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden) that are home to more than 85 million people and diverse political, social and economic realities. Many of these people rely on a healthy Baltic Sea for their food and incomes, and many treasure it as an important space for nature and leisure activities.

The Baltic region includes eight of the 28 European Union member states. The Baltic Sea provides a critical connection between the EU and the Russian Federation. 
The region’s diversity can translate into a challenge for decision-makers to find common ground on complex issues such as environmental protection, sustainable use and management. As a result, the surrounding coastal countries have not been particularly successful in balancing economic and social uses with the protection of the sea. 

The challenge is compounded by the fact that the Baltic Sea is one of the most intensively used seas on the planet. Investments cover an impressive variety of maritime activities, almost all projected to increase and expand over the coming 20 years – in some sectors by several hundred per cent.


Political frameworks in the Baltic Sea region are advanced. The most recent of these, the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, was the first EU ‘macro-regional’ strategy.  It was created to address ‘the urgent environmental challenges arising from the increasingly visible degradation of the Baltic Sea’ and was adopted by the European Council in October 2009.

HELCOM –  the governing body of the “Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area” – has all of the nine Baltic coastal countries as well as the European Community as its contracting parties. HELCOM has in place an ambitious programme to restore the ‘Good Ecological Status’ of the Baltic marine environment by 2021.

Other significant political frameworks for the health of the sea include the EU’s Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Both have set up targets to reach ‘Good Ecological Status’ for all European waters by 2015 and ‘Good Environmental Status’ of all European seas by 2020 respectively. 

The Common EU policies for agriculture and fisheries are also critical in terms of their influence on domestic incentives for dominant drivers of environmental deterioration of the sea. They also have an enormous social and economic impact on the region, given their size and influence.

Our work
Sustainable Fisheries

WWF together with fishermen, governments, regional councils and market players, we’re working to reverse the trend by promoting more sustainable practices and educating consumers.

Read more here

Arctic tern
Our work
Integrated Oceans Management

WWF promotes an ecosystem-based integrated oceans management (IOM) approach to ensure that the well-being and needs of both nature and marine users and communities are met, without compromising the integrity and biodiversity of the marine ecosystem.

Learn about IOM

Blue-green algae, Baltic Sea, Finland
Our work
Reduce Eutrophication

We working to address the eutrophication problem in the Baltic Sea by promoting policy reform and more sustainable farming and land management practices.


Our work
Baltic Farmer of the Year

WWF supports farmers who are prepared to go the extra mile in order to help save the Baltic Sea. The winners of the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award have all taken measures on their own initiative to reduce nutrient runoff to help stop eutrophication.

Get to know the winners

Meat guides
Consume Sustainably

We have worked with our partners to help develop WWF Meat guides for consumers around the Baltic, that are tailored to their national markets and local biodiversity.


_MG_1484 (1)
Our work
Winning measures

We have worked with farmers to identify 12 measures that stand apart, not only for their ability to effectively curb nutrient runoff, but for their environmental benefits such as biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation.


Eco tourism
About the Baltic
Our Brackish Sea

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea on our planet, emerging from the retiring ice masses only some 10,000-15,000 years ago.

Read more about the Baltic

Sustainable Blue Economy
Our work
Sustainable Blue Economy

The Baltic Sea region is positioned to become the world’s first truly sustainable Blue Economy. But in order to succeed, we need to move from rhetoric to action and start using the tools available to us.

What is a Sustainable Blue Economy?

Ghost Nets Hero
Our work
Marine Litter

WWF works to remove the many tonnes of ghost nets from the Baltic and to raise awareness of the impact of plastic waste in the marine environment.

Read more and engage yourself

past work

WWF has worked with all stakeholders involved to promote regulations and other solutions that will ensure a pollution and sewage-free Baltic Sea now and in the future.

Learn about the impacts

Our work
Marine Protected Areas

WWF works to ensure that Marine Protected Areas in the Baltic Sea function to protect biodiversity, that they strategic and use ecosystem-based approach.

Learn how we do this

Seafood guides
Consume Sustainably

We have worked with our partners to help develop WWF Seafood guides for consumers around the Baltic, that are tailored to their national markets and local biodiversity.

Access the guides here

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Last modified 17/03/20

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