News|18 May, 2020

WWF Baltic Newsletter – May 2020

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IN THIS ISSUE:

EDITORIAL: A NEW AGE WITH COVID-19

Contact: Hannah Griffiths Berggren

The WWF BEP Secretariat

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted people, communities, and organizations around the world. Countries continue to seek the best means of coping with the outbreak and its impacts on health and well-being, as well as infrastructures and economies. It has truly marked how connected and vulnerable humans are on a global scale. We are deeply saddened for all those who have been effected by the outbreak. It is critical that we work to protect human lives and well-being in response to Covid-19. At the same time, the situation underlines the urgent action needed to deal with the underlying drivers to rebalance our relationship with nature.

As the world grapples with the pandemic, important international meetings to coordinate and accelerate climate actions have been postponed, including the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). National level policy development, consultations, decision-making and implementation are also being slowed or postponed.

These are challenging times but together we can continue to support each other through this crisis, emerging stronger and better able to tackle local to global challenges.

– Ottilia Thoresson, Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme

World leaders were scheduled to take critical decisions on nature, climate and sustainable development over the course of this year, toward safeguarding people and our planet. They must now double down to ensure the delivery of strong and ambitious post-2020 outcomes. Countries in the Baltic will also need to identify solutions to delivering on the key expectations for 2020: increased climate pledges in line with the Paris Agreement; strong, tangible commitments to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) for the Ocean; and the revision of CBD along with updating the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan for the coming decade.

As noted by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “Visible, positive impacts [of the Covid-19 pandemic] come on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress”. The perceived benefits of, for example, reduced greenhouse emissions are short-lived and short-sighted. Long-term, systematic shifts are still required to change the trajectory of biodiversity loss and CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Disruptive events such as a pandemic test our long-established institutions and call into question current practices and behaviour. In the aftermath of the crisis, we must change gears rapidly to make the financial system more sustainable. Toward this end, WWF welcomes the initiative of thirteen EU countries, including Denmark, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, calling for the EU Green Deal to be central to a resilient recovery. It is important that economic stimulus packages withstand the temptation of short-term business-as-usual solutions and move instead towards a sustainable, climate neutral economy that strengthen and enforce environmental protection. Over 125,000 signatures have been collected by WWF and other leading NGOs calling on EU and national leaders to establish the biggest green investment package to back up a truly sustainable economy which is carbon-neutral, circular and fair.

Our overall relationship to nature must change. There are tangible links between humanity’s impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity and the spread of certain diseases. While many of these bonds are not yet fully understood, it is clear that human and planetary health are closely connected. We must take our roles, as stewards of our ocean and our Baltic Sea, seriously if they are to remain healthy and continue to contribute to human well-being.

The WWF Baltic programme continues to push forward our work to ensure the deepest conservation impact for people and nature in the Baltic region. New projects start on marine conservation efforts in shallow sea bays, mandatory rules are being set to reduce illegal fishing activities, efforts continue to change consumer behaviour and to engage restaurants to expand sustainable seafood options. These are challenging times but together we can continue to support each other through this crisis, emerging stronger and better able to tackle local to global challenges.

FEATURE: ECOMAR – A NEW TOOLBOX FOR MARINE SPATIAL PLANNING

Photo: Research Gate

In this edition of our Baltic newsletter we interview Jesper Andersen – chief scientist at the NIVA Denmark Water Research in Denmark. He is currently leading the project ECOMAR.

What is ECOMAR?
ECOMAR is a Danish research project focused on developing and demonstrating a data-driven framework for ecosystem-based maritime spatial planning (MSP). ECOMAR kicked off in April 2018 with a partnership between NIVA Denmark (lead), Aarhus University, DTU Aqua and the University of Copenhagen. The project is now in the final phases. The execution of the work and implementation of the ecosystem-based approach is inspired by the Swedish Symphony Decision Support Tool, and the work of BALANCE (a trail blazing BSR Interreg IIIB project, 2005-2008).

The key objectives are to 1) develop state-of-the-art data sets for pressures and ecosystem components, 2) map potential the cumulative effects of pressures, 3) map human activities and, identify potential conflicts between spatially overlapping activities, and 4) produce a draft zoning matrix, and subsequently a draft zoning plan for Danish marine waters.

Why is ecosystem-based MSP important?
A wide range of policies and action plans are anchored in an ecosystem-based approach, including the EU’s MSP Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. Information on the spatial distribution of species, habitats and populations is a prerequisite for MSP. If a plan or policy does not live up to this, it cannot claim to be ecosystem-based.

What are the common challenges with MSP in the Baltic?
Fully-fledged ecosystem-based MSP requires data sets describing the spatial variation in relevant human activities and pressures and a broad range of ecosystem components, such as plankton, benthic communities, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. It is also a complex task to consider land-sea interactions, as required under the MSP Directive. And, ultimately, addressing potential combined/cumulative effects of multiple human activities and pressures is a data and labour-intensive task which only a few Baltic Sea countries seem to address adequately. It is not easy to get a thorough overview and understanding of what is included in the national MSP Directive implementation process and the upcoming national MSP plans. With the Symphony Decision Support System, Sweden is a notable exception, implementing a data-driven approach that addresses both ecosystem-based management and cumulative impact in a scientifically sound manner.

What tools that been developed?
ECOMAR highlights the power of combining state-of-the-art data sets and applying existing tools such as EcoImpactMapper and SeaSketch for a broad range of analyses and scenarios. Newer tools have become available since the project launch but the scope of data and model results in ECOMAR is unique in the context of MSP. The partnership has only scratched the surface of what is achievable.

How and why will these tools be useful for MSP?
Decisions on where to locate or alter activities and their pressures should always be data-based and should consider environmental status and sensitivity of species and habitats within affected areas, as well as potential conflicts between activities. Otherwise resulting plans are not based on the best available data and methods and cannot claim to be ecosystem-based. We believe we have set a new standard for ecosystem-based MSP.

Who are the tools targeted at and how should they be used?
The ECOMAR data sets and results were initially intended for demonstration purposes, not for any specific application. ECOMAR aimed to “raise the bar”, demonstrating the combined power of data, tools and analyses. We believe we have been successful in doing so. The ECOMAR partnership will continue, and time will show if others will support the application and further development of data, model and codes for post-processing, for example national authorities in Denmark and Sweden, and international institutions such as the European Environment Agency or HELCOM. We hope that our approaches and results will also be picked up and used by NGOs.

What have been the project’s key results and what has been learnt?
Perhaps the most interesting ECOMAR products have been 1) a comprehensive mapping of combined/cumulative effects of human activities in Danish waters – significantly better than what has been reported before, 2) the first ever mapping of ecologically sensitive marine areas, and 3) scenarios for 2030 and 2050. The most important lesson learnt is that the better the data, the more trust we can put in the results and products.

Have there been any surprising discoveries?
When drafting the ECOMAR project description at the outset, we anticipated being able to show that a data-driven framework based on the best available data and decision support tools could support both MSP process and implementation of the MSFD and WFD. Our hope was that MSP would lead to a better environmental status. Scenarios for the Danish exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for 2030 and 2050, based on national strategies and policies, EU legislation and international agreement such as the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan were considered.

We were baffled when we saw the results. There is no evidence that MSP will reduce pressures on ecosystems in the Danish marine waters, neither in 2030 nor in 2050. This means that we would not expect to see improvements in environmental status. So we carried out another analysis – the “MSFD Good Environmental Status” scenario, where key pressures on all ecosystem components were reduced, mimicking a wholehearted implementation of the MSFD. To our relief, this scenario shows significant reductions in combined effects, which would in turn be expected to lead to improvements in environmental condition. Still, we believe we have unveiled a disturbing question: are MSPs counterproductive, perhaps supporting an unsustainable Blue Growth agenda, and not the overarching objectives of the MSFD and WFD?

What are the next steps?
First we will finalize the ECOMAR Synthesis Report, which we expect to publish in June. The next step is to document the many data sets. When that is done, we plan to write and submit several scientific publications highlighting various aspects of the work.

The partnership does not think of ECOMAR as a project with a fixed end. We envisage a long-term collaboration and spinoff activities for years to come. Hopefully, others will take an interest in the progress made and start working together with the team.

For more information about ECOMAR, please contact: Jesper Andersen


EUTROPHICATION AND AGRICULTURE

What is the Baltic Stewardship Council?

Contact: Kristina Atkisson

In September 2020, WWF will Sweden launch the Baltic Stewardship Initiative, a 3-year project funded by the Swedish Agriculture Agency. The aim of the project is to apply the WWF Freshwater Practice’s Water Stewardship concept to Baltic companies, to help reduce excess nutrient runoff from agriculture into the Baltic Sea. (The runoff causes algal blooms and poor water quality in waterways, lakes and ultimately the Baltic Sea.)

A cow (Bos taurus) resting in the beautiful Gryt archipelago, Sweden. Photo: Germund Sellgren

The project is building an international network of stakeholders, with WWF in a convening and facilitation role to persuade businesses to apply new measures toward sustainable agricultural production. This network will involve a range of stakeholders including farmers, producers, and retailers who together identify solutions and challenge each other to implementation. In this way they will revolutionize the current linear food production model and help recycle nutrients back into the agriculture system.

As a first stage, WWF will commission Netherlands-based Metabolic to produce a background report on the potential for circularity in the agri-food system. An analysis of nitrogen and phosphorous flows in the Baltic Sea catchment area will give an overview of nutrient cycling in the Baltic region, highlighting the low levels of nutrients currently being recycled and identifying clear hotspots for action.

This exciting project has the potential to be scaled up across the region as the first cross-cutting approach between sustainable agriculture, food and markets, engaging this particular group of actors across the food sector.

Small streams make the difference in Finland

Contact: Jenny Jyrkänkallio-Mikkola

Two water protection and management sites were built in March as part of the Vesiensuojelu 4K project which is delivering tangible measures aimed at reducing nutrient load and eutrophication in Finland’s inland waterways. Both sites are located in Western Uusimaa.

The smaller site, Krabbrödjan, is 0.2 hectares and is built around a small side stream that flows into Ingå River. It starts upstream with a deeper sediment basin, which becomes a small floodplain by the streambed, and finally a small wetland area. Water levels can be regulated to reduce the amount of flow into the larger river during heavy rains or thaws and to restore water during drought. Krabbrödjan is a good example how nutrient run-off can be reduced and water managed in small side streams.

The larger site, Villmosskärr wetland, is 1 hectare, of which about half is water. It is built around a small side stream flowing into the Ingarskila River. The catchment area is used for forestry and the site is a good example how wetlands can also treat run-off from this sector. Like Krabbrödjan, Villmosskärr can also restore water, and the water level can be managed via a dam made of larch planks. Diminishing the water flowing into the larger stream during heavy rains also reduces the amount of water that floods the fields, which in turn causes large nutrient run-off.

Constructing several such sites around the catchment area will help mitigate the adverse effects of extreme weather events.


FISHERIES AND BIODIVERSITY

Candid cameras to stop illegal fishing in Denmark

Contact: Henrike Semmler

Denmark is the first European country to introduce camera control as a requirement for fishing rights. The reason: the shockingly poor status of the Kattegat cod. The stock size is at a historical low, and the number of new young fish has been below average for the last six years. Indeed, the lowest stock levels and young fish populations have been observed in the last two years.

In 2019 Danish trawler and seine vessels, reported to have caught under two per cent bycatch of undersized cod.

Given this alarming situation, scientist have suggested a fisheries closure for 2020 – essentially “zero catch”. To avoid closing other fisheries – such as the Norwegian lobster fisheries – which inevitably, unintentionally harvest cod as bycatch, Denmark has chosen to follow the European Commission’s recommendation to allow for 130 tonnes of cod as bycatch and introduce electronic monitoring with cameras for all demersal trawlers in Kattegat. With camera control, the authorities can enforce the 130 tonnes cod bycatch quota and monitor the size of the cod caught. This information is crucial to keep track of developments in the cod stock.

In 2019 Danish trawler and seine vessels, reported to have caught under two per cent bycatch of undersized cod. However, Danish authorities observed catches of undersized cod of up to a quarter of the total catch. This significant difference in observations confirms substantial illegal discards occurring for this type of fishing.

This is probably why the camera control proposal has been met with such vehement resistance among fishers. The Danish Ministry has set up a gradual installation of electronic monitoring on fishing vessels. The goal is for all 97 of the Danish trawlers that fish for Norwegian lobster, larger than 12 meters and logging over 20 fishing days in the Kattegat in 2017-2019, to have an electronic monitoring system installed by the end of 2022.

WWF has been advocating for camera control for many years. This is the only way to ensure legal compliance and make fisheries accountable, and we see cameras onboard fishing vessels as an efficient incentive for reducing unwanted catch. WWF will continue working towards mandatory camera control and hopes that other countries will soon follow the Danish example.

Algae aquaculture

Contact: Tatiana Ivanova

A new type of aquaculture in the Baltic Sea is the production of macroalgae as biomass for producing food, textile, paper, medicines, bioplastic and energy with a lower environmental impact than other types of agriculture. The sector is still in its infancy in the Baltic Region and there is a lack of in-depth knowledge on the potential benefits. To address this, the project GRowing Algae Sustainably in the Baltic Sea (GRASS) aims to raise awareness and build capacity around macroalgae cultivation, harvesting and use among public authorities and other relevant stakeholders across the region.

Furcellaria limbricalis (red algae). Photo: Juris Aigars

GRASS is being implemented in collaboration with 11 partners from seven Baltic countries, with 15 organizations involved. The planned outputs include manuals, factsheets, reports, events and maps. These will summarize, and present information collected on the cultivation and harvesting of macroalgae in the Baltic Sea, regulation, application, and markets. Public authorities, ministries, planning regions and counties will play a crucial role in promoting macroalgae, given that they are the main legislative bodies which control substantial national and regional funding. GRASS will provide them with comprehensive knowledge packs.

Russian NGO Biologists for Nature Conservation joined the project team in late 2019 to provide expertise on the status and opportunities of macroalgae aquaculture in Russia, and to promote project results among national stakeholders. Previously macroalgae was not grown in the Russian part of the Baltic Sea, but Russian scientists had conducted some studies in the 1990s. Results from GRASS will be brought together with any existing knowledge and experience to inform Russian experts and public authorities.

The GRASS project will end on 30 June 2021. More information on events and reports on the project website.

The Baltic Harbour Porpoise needs our help!

Contact: Stina Nyström

The harbour porpoise is the only whale species that lives in the Baltic Sea region year-round. There are three genetically and morphologically different populations: one in the North Sea, one in the Belt Sea, and one in the Baltic proper. The latter is listed by IUCN and HELCOM as ‘critically endangered’. Today there are only about 500 individuals left.

Threats
The main threats to the porpoises in the Baltic Sea are incidental catches (bycatch) in fishing gear, environmental contaminants, prey depletion and disturbance by underwater noise. While contaminants, prey depletion and noise contribute to the population failing to recover, bycatch – primarily in gillnets – is the single acute threat causing direct mortalities. The porpoises fail to detect the nets in time to avoid them, get caught and subsequently drown. Considering the small size of the population, and a very low number of reproductive females, bycatch must be reduced to an absolute minimum, ideally to zero.

Baltic harbour porpoises are also exposed to high levels of underwater noise, for example from heavy shipping traffic, seismic surveys, and construction of marine infrastructure. Since the animals are totally dependent on hearing for their survival, they are very sensitive to underwater noise which prevents them from locating prey and hearing each other. It also scares them away from critical habitats, for example areas where they breed and bring up their calves.

Harbour porpoise (Phocoena Phocoena). Photo: naturepl.com / SCOTLAND: The Big Picture / WWF

You can learn more about the threats, their effect on Baltic harbour porpoises and suggested mitigation measures in the Jastarnia Plan – ASCOBANS Recovery Plan for Baltic Harbour Porpoises.  

How can we save our Baltic porpoise?
We need more and effectively managed marine protected areas (MPAs) where porpoises can live with no, or reduced, harmful impacts from human activities. In Swedish waters, a large Natura 2000 area was designated in 2016 to protect the harbour porpoise in the Baltic proper. However, so far, it is just a ‘paper park’ with no management plan and no protection measures in place.

To support the establishment of effective management measures in MPAs for small cetaceans, WWF, Coalition Clean Baltic, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment and ASCOBANS (the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas) had planned a regional workshop for April, which has been postponed to later this year, due to Covid-19. The aim is to convene experts to discuss and make recommendations on criteria and clear options for well-formulated conservation objectives, as well as to create a toolbox of ambitious and innovative practical conservation measures for small cetacean MPAs.

International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise – 17 May

17 May was the annual International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise!

In 2002, ASCOBANS* designated the third Sunday in May of each year as the International Day of the Baltic Harbour Porpoise, to raise awareness on the critical conservation status of the only cetacean species population native to the Baltic Sea. It aims to promote public support through various events and exhibitions at museums and scientific institutions around the Baltic Sea. The day offers an opportunity to highlight the critical status of Baltic harbour porpoise population and the threats to its survival.

*ASCOBANS – the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas – is a regional agreement on the protection of small cetaceans under UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The ASCOBANS Secretariat, located in Bonn, acts as the coordinating body.

Safeguarding Europe’s cetaceans

Contact: Stina Nyström

Bycatch is the biggest threat globally to whales, dolphins, and porpoises. In the Baltic Sea proper, with only a few hundred harbour porpoises left, a single incidental bycatch could have a devastating impact on the ability of the population to recover.

Yet many EU Member States have failed both to implement and enforce a general system of measures to reduce bycatch and manage cetaceans’ Natura 2000 sites to make them safe spaces. Last year, WWF supported a joint NGO legal complaint, with over 20 NGOs represented, against 15 EU Member States for lack of compliance with the regulation of cetaceans bycatch. In parallel, the NGO coalition called on the European Commission to adopt emergency measures to immediately stop the unacceptable levels of bycatch of the common dolphin population in the Bay of Biscay and eliminate the risk of bycatch of the critically endangered Baltic Sea harbour porpoise.

Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Photo: Shutterstock / Jan Zoetekouw / WWF

Happily, things seem to be moving in the cetaceans’ favour. At the end of February, Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, sent a letter to the targeted countries’ Fisheries and Environment Ministers on this matter. The letter requested them to act and enforce bycatch avoidance under the various relevant EU policies. It includes much of the content provided by NGOs. We hope that continued engagement will help deliver concrete action to protect cetaceans in all European waters!

What do we know about the Baltic harbour porpoise?
 
The harbour porpoise is represented by 700,000 individuals throughout its range and is doing well on a global scale. However, certain geographically defined populations or subpopulations have experienced drastic declines, such as the harbour porpoise population in the Baltic Sea.
 
What does a harbour porpoise look like?
The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is a small toothed whale, growing to be about 1.5 m long and weighing around 50 kg. It resembles a dolphin but has a rounded less prominent nose and a smaller more triangular dorsal fin. Porpoises don’t jump out of the water like dolphins do, but move in a characteristic ‘tumbling’ way.
 
How do they live?
The harbour porpoise often lives in small groups of up to three individuals. The most common family constellation is mother and calf. From the time a young female becomes mature, she conceives a calf annually or every other year. Harbour porpoises generally eat fatty fish such as herring, sprat and small cod. They need to consume 5-10 per cent of their own body weight each day, which makes them susceptible to current reductions in prey populations.
 
How do they communicate?
Harbour porpoises, like all toothed whales, use acoustic signals to navigate, locate prey and communicate with one another. Echolocation allows them to ‘see’ their surroundings with sound. They emit echolocation clicks at frequencies around 130 kHz, sounds that humans can’t hear.
 
Quick facts
●       Body length: Around 1.5m
●       Weight: Around 50 kg
●       Food: Small schooling fish like herring, sprat and small cod
●       Lifespan: 8-12 years on average 
●       Reproductive maturity: 3-4 years

WWF criticizes MSC certification of Baltic herring and sprat

Contact: Karin Glaumann

The pelagic fisheries for herring and sprat caught with midwater trawls and purse seines are undergoing assessment to qualify for certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The fish stocks are shared by four Baltic fishing nations: Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Sweden. The assessors public comment draft report made available in early April concludes that the fisheries are eligible for certification.

The WWF partner offices in these fishing nations, including Poland and partner office Estonian Fund for Nature have, raised several concerns on the proposed report. They advise against a certification of all the assessed fisheries.

Certificate of the Marine Stewardship Council- MSC label. Photo: Elma Okic

The fishing pressure on some of the stocks has been and continues to be above sustainable fishing levels according to scientific advice.  This is compounded by misreporting of catches, yielding a false impression of actual catch rates and stock availability. Both sprat and herring, are known to be an important food source for the eastern Baltic cod, which has limited food available. At present the cod stocks are weak which resulted in a fishing ban since mid 2019.

The NGOs have responded to the assessors report with the concern that the assessment has not carefully evaluated the data, nor evidence of the stock status and the fishing mortality of the targeted species along with their key role in the Baltic ecosystem food web. Furthermore, for a sustainable fishery, landing controls need to improve, to ensure that catches are reported correctly.

Latvian restaurants serving up

Contact: Magda Jentgena

As a part of the three-year project to promote sustainable fisheries, Pasaules Dabas Fonds has partnered with eight well-known restaurants in Latvia as well as with the chef’s association, Jauno pavāru kustība. Through these partnerships, the restaurants will adjust their menus to offer only sustainably sourced fish and seafood products to their customers. With this transition, we hope to raise awareness and increase the public’s demand for sustainably sourced seafood. In addition, we hope that through the restaurant partnerships we will also be able to shine a light on local, less popular fish species, whose populations are not endangered.

Kristaps Sīlis, the head chef of restaurant Dome zivju restorāns and the co-founder of Jauno pavāru kustība, is one of the newest partners to join the initiative. He said, “We care about our impact and what we serve to our guests. Being in this field, we cannot for a second think only about today; we have to plan two steps ahead. We are also responsible for our impact on the environment. As chefs we show our guests what products are available in different seasons. Because we have the role, in a way, of educators, we have to be the first to take part in this initiative”.

Restaurants joining the partnership:
> Restorāns 3
> 3 pavāru restorāns
> KEST
> Buržujs

> Dome zivju restorāns
> Ferma
> 36. Līnija
> Skrundas muiža

Seal season in Poland

Contact: Magdalena Melaniuk

More than 66 sick or orphaned seal pups have received special care in the seal hospital in Hel, Poland after being rescued on the Baltic coast. The young seals were picked up by WWF’s Blue Patrol volunteers.

The Blue Patrol has operated along the Baltic coast for ten years but has had to limit its operations since March due to Covid-19. The Baltic seals are born in late February and early March. So despite the lockdown, March and April is an intense time of activity for WWF. Volunteers continue to help seals while abiding by the regulations. This year 66 pups were found that were separated from their mothers. Animals in need of care and medical treatment are taken to a marine centre belonging to Gdańsk University’s Institute of Oceanography, which has a special seal facility.

Young and inexperienced seals face many challenges, including getting caught in fragments of old fishing nets or plastic waste. They can also be attacked by dogs that have been let off their leads by their owners. The pups are unable to defend themselves – their mothers on the other hand can deliver savage bites if need be. At least one pup was found with bite marks.

Poland’s Blue Patrol celebrates 10 years

Contact: Magdalena Melaniuk

Strolling along the Polish seashore, you can spot people in recognizable blue uniforms, looking closely out over the Baltic Sea. These are WWF’s Blue Patrol volunteers who have been on the front line of helping marine animals since 2010. The first 42 volunteers bravely paved the way for the now 200 members, a decade later. 

Blue Patrol volunteers are recruited from local communities living close to the coast. It is a pioneer activity in terms of social involvement in nature conservation The Blues, as they are called in Poland,  monitor the whole coastline. They are looking for Baltic mammals – especially the grey seal and harbour porpoise – and rare species of marine birds such as the ringed plover, common tern, sandwich tern, little tern and oystercatcher. The data from all observations regularly go into a database, which is a comprehensive source of information on the occurrence of Baltic animals. 

The volunteers are the first responders for animals in need. Every tourist or local resident can call a  hotline opened specifically to report animals like seals or birds on the beach. In 2019 alone, our volunteers marched more than 230,000 km along Polish beaches in response to such calls, leading to:

Rescue of 66 seal pups – Every pup that is sick or in bad shape is taken to the Hel Marine Station for treatment. On recovery, the healthy seal can go back to the sea. 

Over 100 cases of secured seals on the beach – The Patrol ensures appropriate conditions for every individual, e.g. letting them rest undisturbed by people on the beach. Unfortunately, they are often called to dead animals, in which case they take blubber samples for genetic research.

78 clutches of ring plover eggs and about 150 hatchlings – Alongside Kuling, a water bird study group, Patrol volunteers installed anti-predator baskets custom-made for ring plovers. The baskets provided effective protection during the incubation period. 

Blue Patrol volunteers also promote knowledge about Baltic mammals and birds through educational activities in schools and social events organized along the coast. Thanks to them, tourists and residents of seaside towns can learn about the biology, habits and protection of grey seals, porpoises and birds breeding on beaches.

The Patrol has a real impact on the marine animal population. We celebrate our first decade and continue forward to new challenges!

Blue Patrol in numbers:
– Half men, Half women
– The youngest volunteer is 12 and the oldest 78 years old
– Professions: teachers, fishers, students, retired

Changing Estonian sustainable seafood consumption

Contact: Kertu Hool

Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) has started a nationwide campaign to influence Estonians to make better decisions concerning seafood consumption.

“Choose sustainable fish!” is the slogan for the Estonian seafood campaign.

First, in conjunction with the Estonian Institute of Economic Research, the ELF team studied Estonians’ seafood market behaviour. Not surprisingly, the more sustainable seafood options were neither highly known nor recognized. The research also revealed that while younger people between 19-29 are interested in more environmentally smarter options, they do not usually know what these are when it comes to seafood. Fortunately, seafood consumption by the older generation over 60 is already mostly sustainable.

The big fish campaign „Vali kestlik kala” (“Choose sustainable fish”) has started this spring and will continue into 2021. There is close cooperation with supermarkets, social media influencers, online cooking sites and marine scientists in Estonia, as well as with WWF’s seafood guide network to ensure the success of the campaign.

See more at www.kalafoor.ee


INTEGRATED OCEAN MANAGEMENT

Public to help restore shallow bays

Contact: Yvonne Blombäck

WWF Sweden is to start a nature conservation project to restore marine habitats and reduce eutrophication in three bay areas along the Swedish coast – the High Coast (Höga Kusten) in Ångermanland; Stockholm archipelago; and Kristianstad’s water kingdom in Skåne (the Hanö bay), with support from the Swedish Postcode Lottery. In our three project areas, extra measures need to be put in place to recreate habitats and strengthen ecosystems. And they can serve as models and inspiration for more areas along the Baltic coast.

The Baltic Sea project will focus on marine conservation efforts in shallow bays. It will aim to recreate wetlands, remove barriers for fish, restore seagrass meadows and beach-close habitats, and construct artificial reefs to prevent erosion damage from ship traffic. The conservation measures will be run in parallel in the three project areas with our partners. It gives us the opportunity to highlight how the whole contributes to restoring the Baltic Sea’s vitality.

It is intended to engage and engage people of all ages. As part of the project, the public will be asked to report what they see to the researchers – “citizen science” in action.

The Postcode Lottery surplus of over 1 billion SEK was distributed in February to 57 organizations working for better conditions for people, animals and nature. In addition to funds from the Postcode Lottery Fund, WWF was awarded a Dream Project grant for the project “Recovering the Baltic Sea’s livelihood”, an unrestricted fund of 20 million SEK.

What is the EU Taxonomy?

Contact: Valerie de Liedekerke

Toward delivering on the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate-related goals through the Paris Agreement, the EU and its Member States endorsed an EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth. The Action Plan sets out a comprehensive strategy to link finance with sustainability. The strategy consists of i) reorienting capital flows towards sustainable investment, ii) mainstreaming sustainability into risk management, and iii) fostering transparency and long-termism in financial and economic activity.

One key action is the EU Taxonomy – an EU-wide classification system framework. The Taxonomy is envisaged to set performance thresholds (referred to as ‘technical screening criteria’) for economic activities which make substantial contribution to environmental objectives and transition to a low-carbon, resilient and resource-efficient economy. This will allow for the creation of a common language standardizing the concept of environmentally sustainable investment across the EU and between Member States. The European Commission’s Technical Expert Group (TEG) on sustainable finance has been working to develop recommendations for the technical screening criteria for economic activities that can substantially contribute to the EU Taxonomy for climate change mitigation and adaptation. As a member of the TEG, WWF provided direct input towards developing the technical screening criteria, the methodology and guidance on implementation and use of the taxonomy.

This past March, the TEG published its Final Report on EU Taxonomy. The report contains recommendations relating to the overarching design of the EU Taxonomy, as well as extensive implementation guidance on how companies and financial institutions can use and disclose against the taxonomy.

The development of the four other environmental objectives: sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention control, and protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems of the EU Taxonomy will take place via a new Platform on Sustainable Finance, which is expected to be operating by this autumn. WWF will again seek to be a contributing member to give input in defining technical screening criteria.

The first company reports and investor disclosures using the EU Taxonomy are due at the start of 2022. Over the next twenty months, the technical specifications of the EU Taxonomy will be adopted by the European Commission through delegated acts.


Taxonomy definition:
According to the report: “A Taxonomy is a classification tool to help investors and companies make informed investment decisions on environmentally friendly economic activities. It can help to grow the clean economy of the future and substantially improve the environmental performance of industries we have today.”

Future of the Baltic Sea Action Plan

Contact: Ottilia Thoreson

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) adopted in 2007 had the goal to restore the Baltic marine environment to a Good Ecological Status by 2021. The plan is being revised and updated to set the ecological goal for the coming decade. However, the Contracting Parties to the Helsinki Convention (HELCOM) are nowhere near achieving the current goal.

According to the most recent HELCOM implementation assessment from 2018, of the 177 actions and recommendations assessed, only 24 per cent of the national actions were ‘completed’ and 60% were ‘partly accomplished’, while 68 per cent of the joint actions have been claimed as ‘completed’.

In the meantime, Baltic marine life has to navigate increasingly acidic waters, dodging trawling nets and abandoned fishing gear, seabed disturbances and extractive activities, anoxic zones, and hazardous substances such as plastics. On top of this, Baltic ecosystems are facing new challenges linked to human-induced climate change and extreme weather. Immediate action is called for.

We are in the midst of a combined biodiversity and climate crisis. The coming decade will be decisive as to whether we can safeguard biodiversity and our collective future.

– Ottilia Thoreson, Programme Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

“To improve the environmental state of the Baltic Sea, HELCOM ministers must ensure that the updated plan requires rigorous action from contracting parties, and an overall greater commitment by the Baltic Sea countries to achieving this goal. Tangible efforts must be urgently taken at both national and regional levels to deliver results that halt the dwindling biodiversity of the Baltic Sea,” says Ottilia Thoreson, Programme Director at WWF’s Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

The Shadow Plan relays NGO’s recommendations to the BSAP that are fundamental to restoring the sea back to health, supporting thriving coastal communities, and increased resilience to climate change. As the 2021 deadline looms, countries must strive to address the clear and present challenges and make progress to achieve global obligations under United Nations global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi targets, which remain largely unachieved.

We are in the midst of a combined biodiversity and climate crisis. The coming decade will be decisive as to whether we can safeguard biodiversity and our collective future. One of the most alarming regional indicators is a collapsed Baltic cod population, signalling yet again the very real need to radically change how we manage the ecosystem where we fish, build, extract, relax and live our lives. With brave and sufficient political commitment, we can deliver that change – but we must act now.

Estonia’s MSP: Step in the right direction or missed opportunity?

Contact: Kertu Hool

After the second draft of the Estonian maritime spatial plan (MSP) was made public by the Ministry of Finance, the Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) made a thorough evaluation of the MSP and provided comments on a number of aspects.

Overall, the MSP makes a welcome contribution to integrated sea use and refers helpfully to the ecosystem-based approach. But the ecosystem-based approach should have been more consistently applied to specific topics like shipping and sand extraction and should be clearly included in the vision statement. We also suggest that references to “blue growth” be replaced by “sustainable blue economy”. The MSP is too lax on the question of sand and gravel extraction. For example, protection of spawning grounds is not mandatory, just “recommended”. Marine Protected Areas in the Estonian waters continue to have gaps and needs to increase in area coverage.

Shipping enjoys a disproportionately privileged status. While it is indeed a sector with long-standing (including international) regulations, the MSP should still seek a more balanced approach in weighing shipping against other marine space uses, and regarding the need to achieve good environmental status. Rules for bunkering at sea must also be made stricter, given the risk of oil spills. Marine aquaculture does not provide sufficient environmental safeguards and future aquaculture development areas are not specified, due to insufficient data. Yet “unsuitable areas” are mapped as a recommendation. According to ELF, clear and binding no-go areas would give stronger guidance to maritime operators and managers.

Renewable energy development, particularly wind energy at sea is dealt with in detail. A step-by-step process to select possible sites for future development of wind-parks is described, taking both physical and ecological factors into account. Bat migration patterns at sea can be affected by the spatial location of wind parks and should be used in future EIA requirements for wind energy development in the Baltic Sea. The MSP also refers to a possible bridge over Suur väin Strait. ELF continues to maintain that such a bridge would be a significant threat to millions of migrating seabirds and economic arguments in favour are weak. The decision on the bridge will be taken separately – ELF is ready for a long fight.

A pessimist could see the MSP as a “half-missed” chance, while an optimist could see this a half a step in (broadly) the right direction.


UPDATE FROM BRUSSELS

The cliff edge for ocean sustainability

Contact: Larissa Milo-Dale

On this year’s World Wildlife Day (3 March), the WWF European Policy Office (EPO) launched a report directed to decision makers underscoring the failure of EU and global leadership to implement the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Agenda.

WWF’s assessment reveals that, five years on from the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda, the global signatories of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are failing to achieve SDG14, the Goal for conservation and sustainable use of our ocean. Three of the four SDG14 targets due in 2020 will not have been achieved by the end of this year, with the fourth target only partly achieved.

Photo: United Nations

Collectively, the ten SDG14 targets aim to secure ocean resilience through robust protection of its diverse ecosystems and to safeguard its role as a vital carbon sink — outcomes which directly support livelihoods and economies tied to our seas. SDG14 is shown to be significantly connected with all other SDGs, with 38% of all 169 SDG targets only achievable when the SDG14 targets have been successfully accomplished, particularly SDG1 (No Poverty), SDG2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG13 (Climate Action). Despite the marine environment’s importance to advance the 2030 Agenda, political will and finance remain insufficient.

The report, Improving International Ocean Governance for Life Below Water, was launched at a high-level event in Brussels, co-hosted by two Members of European Parliament, Catherine Chabaud and Grace O’Sullivan. In his keynote address at the event, Portugal’s Minister of the Sea, Ricardo Serrão Santos, expressed his disbelief at how SDG14 is ranked as the least important of all the SDGs when the evidence shows how achieving the full 2030 Agenda depends on the success of SDG14 targets. 

As the world’s largest seafood market and with a marine area covering over six million square kilometres across four distinct sea regions, WWF is calling on the EU to lead by example and stand by its commitments to all life above and below water. A transformation of EU and international ocean governance is urgently required to address the challenges and shortcomings described in the report. In the EU, this starts with the development of a coherent, overarching strategy to ensure that all the SDGs are achieved. The postponed UN Ocean Conference, Our Ocean Conference, CBD COP and COP26 are critical junctures to strengthen good ocean governance, and WWF will be working at EU and national levels to see tangible outcomes from these discussions.


BALTIC PEARLS

WWF Denmark brings the Baltic Sea’s marine environment into classrooms

Contact: Thomas Kirk Sørensen

Out of sight, out of mind. This has often been the Achilles heel of the underwater nature in the Baltic Sea and has been a major contributor to the fact that the current state of nature in the Baltic is so poor. To change this situation, In 2017-2019, WWF Denmark carried out the project Discover the Sea 2.0 with funding from the Aage V. Jensen Nature Fund.

Discover the Sea 2.0 was designed to build youth awareness and knowledge of the ocean (“ocean literacy”) with the hope that future generations will take better care of it than we and our predecessors. Most of the efforts were focused on developing a teaching portal OpdagHavet.dk, which effectively fills a gap in teaching materials about marine biology for high schools.

The result is a “plug and play” programme for biology teachers and students. Materials range from a new marine ecology textbook to a podcast series and animated explainer videos that help high school students crack the code for difficult topics. WWF has also produced 360/virtual reality underwater films for educational purposes – a first in Denmark. Underwater biotopes can at last be experienced in the classroom, something that has in the past been a barrier. Numerous carefully selected themes and exercises help ensure that the programme is an obvious choice for high school teachers.

The well-known Opdag Havet (Discover the Sea) mobile app is also simplified for use in educational settings or as referenceto identify and learn more about species found in coastal areas. The material was created and tested by WWF’s biologists and educators in close collaboration with ambassadorial schools and the Øresund Aquarium. This cooperation has been crucial to the development process and the subsequent quality assurance. All materials are produced by WWF Denmark. The teaching portal has been launched and promoted to teachers across Denmark. For a look at the range of teaching materials, please visit www.opdaghavet.dk (in Danish).

The project also funded a large portion of WWF Denmark’s policy and advocacy activities and a pilot citizen science project in which volunteer divers monitored the condition of boulder reefs in the Baltic Sea.


MEET THE TEAM – MAGDA JENTGENA

Contact: Magda Jentgena

Photo: Cactus Teng

What is your job title?
Baltic Sea and Freshwater Programme Manager at Pasaules Dabas Fonds.

What did you study?
I studied visual communication and managed a non-profit art foundation before getting into environmental protection. I got into my current job through volunteering at WWF Malaysia and later Pasaules Dabas Fonds, as well as through my passion/knowledge for diving, which I have been doing for more than 10 years now. However, I have since done courses on coastal ecosystems, environmental engineering and other things.

What most inspires you about your work?
Working alongside so many smart, devoted and relentless people from all over the Baltic region, who are all working towards one united goal. 

What is the most challenging thing about your work?
The challenges we are facing are massive, and they can seem impossible to conquer or to overcome. In addition to this, also the positive results of our work are not usually immediate which can be quite daunting. Because of this, sometimes it is hard to stay positive. 

What do your parents think you do?
Save the planet. Single-handedly. ☺ 

How do you see the situation in the Baltic in 50 years?
I grew up right on the coast of the Baltic Sea, and I used to believe that it was one of the most beautiful and clean seas in the world. I want to believe that within the next 50 years, it really will be well on its way to a full recovery. I want to believe that the communities around the Baltic will step up and realize that we cannot continue business as usual, and that things have to change drastically for the Baltic Sea to once again be a place which is full of biodiversity, and has a healthy ecosystem that benefits everyone. 

– Partner: Pasaules Dabas Fonds
– Country: Latvia
– Active in the Baltic since 1991
– BEP focused staff members: 2 full time staff
– Main thematic focus: Eutrophication and agriculture, sustainable fisheries, educational programmes

ON THE HORIZON

The road to a European Green Deal

Contact: Larissa Milo-Dale

On 16 July 2019, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the Political Guidelines for 2019-2024, highlighting six key ambitions for Europe. The first of these was to deliver a ‘European Green Deal’ within the first 100 days.

Five months later, the Commission published its Communication on the European Green Deal, recognizing the environmental challenges confronting the world and providing new impetus for action. While WWF welcomed the proposed package as comprehensive, we were critical of the Commission’s thinking as too conservative, missing an opportunity to challenge the traditional growth paradigm in favour of a new approach that would respect planetary boundaries.

Happily, in January 2020, with a large majority and cross-party support, the European Parliament delivered an extraordinary boost, calling on the Commission to go beyond the commitments set out in its guidelines. In particular, WWF welcomed Parliament’s calls for:

  • Ambitious and enforceable legal measures and binding targets on protection and restoration in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy;
  • A legal framework to ensure deforestation-free supply chains for products placed on the EU market (a law that WWF has long called for);
  • Full alignment of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposals with the EU’s increased environmental, climate, and biodiversity commitments set out in the European Green Deal; and
  • Infringement procedures against Member States which fail to respect EU nature laws.

According to Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office, “The ball is now in the court of Member States, who must unequivocally endorse ambitious action. Only then can Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment become reality.”

Photo: Electreck

Despite the European Green Deal’s strong start in 2020, a WWF stock taking in March of the Commission’s first 100 days found that the environment and climate measures rolled out thus far did not meet the rhetoric. Since then, as a result of the deepening Covid-19 crisis, the work of the European institutions and all related organizations is increasingly affected. This means that some key initiatives, such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, have been delayed.

WWF is working to ensure that the European Green Deal is used as the guiding principle for all efforts to help economic recovery. WWF joined with seven leading environmental NGOs to issue a letter to the European Commission, Parliament and Council, calling on them to ensure that future economic stimulus plans are fully aligned with the objectives of the European Green Deal, and to help accelerate Europe’s transition to a just and sustainable economy. On 7 April, we also issued a briefing paper entitled Building Resilience: WWF Recommendations for a Just and Sustainable Recovery After Covid-19, which lays out the details and principles for economic recovery packages.

The ball is now in the court of Member States, who must unequivocally endorse ambitious action. Only then can Europe’s ‘man on the moon’ moment become reality.

– Ester Asin, Director, WWF European Policy Office

There is a growing momentum in support of a ‘green recovery’, backed by EU governments, scientists, corporate CEOs, think tanks and policy makers. Based on the briefing paper, the group of NGOs, have reached (as of 4 May) over 185,000 signatures from civil society to support a just and green recovery for Europe. The coming weeks will see the discussions around Europe’s economic recovery intensify in all EU institutions. WWF will be following this every step of the way to make sure that instead of ‘bouncing back’ to business as usual, Europe will ‘bounce forward’ on the path to a just and sustainable transition after this crisis.


CALENDAR

22 May 2020 – International Day for Biological Diversity

8 June 2020 – World Oceans Day

9-10 June 2020 – HELCOM Head of Delegations – Porvoo, Finland

June 2020 – Denmark’s political week [Postponed until 17-20 June 2021] – Folkemødet – Bornholm

July 2020 – Sweden’s political week [Postponed until 4 July 2021] – Gotland, Sweden

15-16 October 2020 – EU AGRIFISH Council meeting

15-28 October 2020 – UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) [Postponed – new date TBC]

19-20 October 2020 – 11th Annual Forum of the EUSBSR – Turku, Finland

9-19 November 2020 – UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 26) [Postponed – new date TBC]

Editorial support: Sian Owen (Sustainability Options)

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Last modified 23/10/20

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