While the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Baltic Sea and Kattegat continues to increase, the number of areas with actual protection measures unfortunately, isn’t growing at the same rate.
Many MPAs completely lack plans that regulate the activities within them. Oceana’s latest report sheds light on this problem and details the shortcomings of Baltic MPAs, based on information from governmental and inter-governmental bodies, the EU and existing literature.
“It’s disappointing that the only place you can find protection in these areas is in their names. All nine Baltic countries have committed themselves to proper marine protection in order to reach a set of environmental targets. If they are serious about overturning the worrying state of the Baltic Sea, there needs to be a radical change of course”, stated Hanna Paulomäki, Oceana’s Baltic Sea project manager.
Key facts from the report:
- The report details the two major types of MPAs in the Baltic Sea: those that are a part of the Natura 2000 network, which forms the backbone of marine protection in the EU; and those belonging to the HELCOM MPA network (BSPAs), which is a Baltic regional effort. The two networks often overlap – BSPAs cover 64 per cent of the Natura 2000 sites.
- There are 388 Natura 2000 sites with marine or coastal features in the region, 31 per cent of them lack management plans.
- There are 163 BSPAs in the region, 35 per cent lack management plans.
- There are no MPAs in the Baltic Sea where fisheries are completely banned.
It is also worth noting that many of the existing management plans are just descriptive overviews of the areas listing species, habitats and possible threats, and do not include any real protection measures. Fisheries, for example are hardly ever regulated within MPAs, even though some of the areas are feeding or breeding grounds for fish. Besides affecting the targeted species, some fishing practices, like bottom trawling also pose a threat to the marine environment.
“There is very little to gain by mapping out an area, writing down the different species that live there, and then calling it protected. Focus needs to be on better design and implementation”, added Christina Abel, Oceana’s marine scientist.
“When people hear their decision makers talk about protecting the Baltic Sea, I think most are happy that the environment is being taken care of. What they don’t expect, is that this effort is nothing short of an illusion.”
The Baltic faces a lot of threats that put its ecosystems under severe pressure and have caused it to become one of the most polluted seas in the world. Baltic Sea countries agreed to establish a network of MPAs, which has been recognised as an effective tool to address these threats. Today around 12 per cent of the Baltic has been designated for protection.