The Baltic is a young sea, and is one of the world's most extraordinary, for the beauty and variety of the marine environment and its surrounding landscapes.
Since the last Ice Age these waters have at different times been a wide strait, a large bay, a lake and now an inland sea connected to the open ocean only by narrow straits. Water exchange with the open ocean is slow, and salinity varies considerably both between different waters and over time.
The Baltic is nevertheless home to many species of plants, animals and microorganisms in a great variety of different habitats. Most of these are at risk from human activity, and many fish populations are now thought to be dangerously low. Among the main threats are:
- eutrophication caused primarily by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the water
- pollution by hazardous substances e.g. pesticides, heavy metals & industrial wastes
- habitat destruction
- the use of harmful fishing equipment and
- the introduction of alien invasive species.
In 1974 the Baltic Sea States signed the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, also known as the Helsinki Convention, which was replaced nearly two decades after, by the new Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area signed in 1992.
In the same year (1992) the Baltic Sea Joint Comprehensive Environmental Action Programme (JCP) was established. HELCOM is the coordinating body for the Helsinki Convention and the Action Plan. In 2004 an updated strategy in Hazardous substances was adopted.
Furthermore, in 2001 the HELCOM Copenhagen Declaration was signed to ensure the safety of navigation and swift national and trans-national response to maritime pollution incidents.
In 2003 a HELCOM Ministerial Meeting decided that all HELCOM actions must be based on an “ecosystem approach” to the management of the human activities.
Furthermore, being criss-crossed by some of the busiest shipping routs in the world, the Baltic remains under permanent threat from maritime pollution incidents.
See information on: