Baltic among least littered seas

  • 2007-07-11
  • By Mike Collier
HELSINKI 's Marine litter in the Baltic Sea is not a major cause for concern, according to the findings of the HELCOM project on marine litter, established by the Helsinki Commission. HELCOM is an intergovernmental organisation of all nine Baltic Sea countries and the EU which works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from pollution.

Pollution by phosphates and nitrates originating from agriculture and untreated sewage is a more pressing problem, the report concludes, but with clean-up operations conducted by the local communities, the Baltic can be considered as one of the less littered European seas.

HELCOM noted that the level of litter seems to be fairly constant with no great fluctuations or trends noted, though amounts can be substantial in some specific sites near shipping routes, rivers and public beaches.

Overall, the amount of litter found in the Baltic Sea is quite low, compared to other seas. According to some estimates, there could be no more than one item of litter per hectare of the sea surface.

"It can be said that littering is not as big a problem in the Baltic Sea as in the North Sea area. Yet attention should be paid to the specific points were littering is more extensive and has harmful effects on the environment, or creates a risk or economical losses to the people using or living at the coast," said Anne Christine Brusendorff, HELCOM's Executive Secretary.

The HELCOM project on marine litter is the first effort in the region to look into the scale of the problem, and the actions needed in order to develop and implement specific measures for addressing it. The project was co-funded by UNEP, which has also sponsored similar studies in other regional seas in Europe and around the world. Worldwide the problem of marine litter, also known as marine debris or marine garbage, is recognized and considered to be one of the major threats to the oceans of the world.

Globally the US Academy of Sciences has estimated the total input of marine litter into the oceans to be approximately 6.4 million tonnes per year. It is commonly assumed that up to 70 per cent of the marine litter that enters the sea sinks to the bottom, 15 per cent is found on beaches and 15 per cent floats on the surface.

The main land-based sources of marine litter in the Baltic Sea area are tourism and recreational use of the coasts, as well as commercial shipping and pleasure craft.

Already since the late 1990s the HELCOM Member States have been implementing a complex set of measures known as the Baltic Strategy to prevent illegal discharges of waste into the Baltic Sea. Today, all discharges of garbage into the Baltic Sea are prohibited. Ships are supposed to deliver all garbage to reception facilities before leaving port. To further encourage delivery, the countries bordering the Baltic Sea have agreed that ships should not be charged for using such reception facilities. Costs are recovered from harbour fees or general environmental fees.