Assessing the balance between nature and people in the Baltic Sea
Posted on 02 March 2022
WWF’s Baltic Ecoregion Programme has evaluated Baltic EU Member States’ Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) strategies for sustainably managing marine areas and resourcesThe research finds that Baltic countries’ plans to sustainably manage human activities at sea lack harmony across borders, and measures to restore and protect ecosystems are inadequate.
The Baltic is the first EU sea basin to establish regional structures (namely the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission - HELCOM, and the Vision and Strategies Around the Baltic - VASAB) that support the implementation of the EU MSP Directive at Member State level and to establish an action plan for achieving good environmental status of the sea by 2030 at the latest, as required by EU law.
Overall, however, MSP in the Baltic region has only been partly successful: WWF’s assessment reveals that the integration of an ecosystem-based approach - which maintains ecosystems in a healthy, productive and resilient condition against human pressures - is uneven across Member States.
When put together, the areas Member States have designated for marine protection do not abide by the EU Biodiversity Strategy target of protecting at least 30% of marine and coastal areas, of which 10% should be strictly protected (meaning human access and impacts are strictly controlled and limited). Furthermore, not one Member State plan sets aside space for nature restoration activities in the Baltic and only two countries have partially addressed temporal and spatial uncertainties in the era of climate change.
Where national plans have designated space for offshore renewable energy, which is necessary for achieving climate neutrality by 2040 as per the European Green Deal, the majority of countries failed to consider the impacts of offshore renewable energy infrastructure on ecosystems and wildlife.
WWF’s assessment lands just ahead of the European Commission’s 31 March deadline to assess the EU Member States’ implementation of the MSP Directive and their national plans. The plans detail their respective strategies for sustainably managing marine areas and resources.
WWF is calling for the Baltic and all EU Member States to ensure their maritime spatial plans secure sufficient space for nature to recover and thrive. This includes leaving offshore renewable energy development out of Marine Protected Areas and establishing transboundary cooperation between Member States to reduce harmful impacts to nature from this type of infrastructure. Finally, stakeholders must be involved and consulted in all phases of MSP, with national plans covering all sea areas and continuously adapted as new data becomes available and new pieces of legislation come into force.