About the Baltic Sea | WWF

About the Baltic Sea


The Baltic is the youngest sea on our planet, emerging from the retiring ice masses only some 10,000-15,000 years ago. 


Fast facts:

  • Total sea area: 404,354 km²
  • Average depth: 53 metres
  • Habitat Type: Temperate Shelf and Seas
  • Climate: prolonged cold and dark winters, mild summers with almost 24 hours of daylight
  • Flagship species: Harbour porpoise and ringed seal  
  • Commercial fish species: Central & South West Baltic: cod, herring, sprat and salmon. Northern Baltic: pike, perch, white fish and herring.


Governed by special hydrographical and climatic conditions, the Baltic Sea is one of the planet’s largest bodies of brackish water. It is composed of salt water from the North East Atlantic and fresh water from rivers and streams draining from an area four times larger than the Sea itself. This highly sensitive and interdependent marine ecosystem gives rise to unique flora and fauna.


Those same special qualities also make the Baltic Sea vulnerable. Over the past 100 years, the naturel environment of the Baltic Sea has degraded quite dramatically. 


Species found in the Baltic Ecoregion

Coastal Plants

  • Baltic marsh orchid - Dactylorhiza baltica
  • Purple milk vetch - Astragalus danicus
  • Salt marsh rush - Juncus gerardii


  • Otter - Lutra lutra
  • Ringed seal - Phoca hispida botnica
  • Harbour porpoise - Phocoena phocoena
  • Grey seal - Haliceoerus grypus
  • Common seal - Phoca vitulina


  • Wild salmon - Salmo salar
  • Cod - Gadus morhua
  • Herring - Clupea harengus and Clupea harengus membras
  • Hornfish- Belone belone
  • Sprat - Sprattus sprattus
  • Asp - Aspius aspius


  • White-tailed sea eagle - Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Common eider - Somateria mollissima
  • Migrating goose
  • White stork - Ciconia ciconia
  • Black stork - Ciconia nigra
  • Caspian tern - Sterna caspia
  • Baltic Dunlin - Calidris alpina schinzii
  • Long-tailed duck - Clangula hyemalis
  • White-tailed sea eagle - Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
  • Crane - Grus grus
  • White-backed woodpecker - Dendrocopos leucotos
  • Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
  • Great snipe - Gallinago media
  • Ruff - Philomachus pugnax
  • Corncrake - Crex crex
  • Aquatic warbler - Acrocephalus paludicola
  • Little tern - Sterna albifrons
  • Black-tailed godwit - Limosa limosa
  • Lesser black-backed gull - Larus fuscus
  • Stellers eider - Polysticta stelleri


  • Apollo butterfly - Parnasius apollo
  • Freshwater pearl-mussel - Margaritifera margaritifera
  • Blue mussel - Mytilus edulis


  • Green toad - Bufu viridis
  • Crested newt - Triturus cristatus
  • Marsh frog - Rana ridibunda
  • Natterjack toad - Bufo calamita
  • Fire bellied toad - Bombina bombina
  • European tree frog - Hyla arborea
  • Spadefoot toad - Pelobates fuscus
  • Agile frog - Rana dalmatina
  • Edible frog - Rana esculenta
  • Pool frog - Rana lessonae
  • Common toad - Bufo bufo
  • Moor frog - Rana arvalis
  • Common frog -Rana temporaria  

Marine plants

  • Eelgrass - Zostera marina
  • Bladder wrack - Fucus vesiculosus
  • Charophytes - Charophyta
  • Thin leaved pondweed - Potamogeton sp


Ekenäs Archipelago National Park on the Baltic Sea, Finland. 
	© Mia Ronka
© Mia Ronka
Edible frog (Rana esculenta) 
	© WWF / Frédy MERCAY
© WWF / Frédy MERCAY
	© WWF / Jo Benn
Wild salmon underwater at Laerdal salmon centre, Norway.
© WWF / Jo Benn
	© Wild Wonders of Europe /Niall Benvie / WWF
Detail on the wing of the Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo), Austria.
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Niall Benvie / WWF

Ecosystem Benefits

In the Baltic region many of us enjoy coastal holidays and some are even lucky enough to have a vacation homes situated near the coastline. Both our enjoyment of the sea and the price tag on our seaside home is directly dependent on the quality of the water. Would you swim or sail in the Baltic Sea if it was a lifeless dump or a stinking soup of poisonous algae?


These benefits obtained by the sea are examples of environmental or “ecosystem services”. The term ecosystem describes a community of animals and plants interacting with each other and with their physical environment such as soils, water, nutrients and all types of living organisms. Healthy ecosystems have always performed a multitude of essential functions for human communities –ecosystem services.


The oceans provide four types of ecosystem service:

  • Provisioning – We harvest food, as well as genetic, pharmaceutical and chemical resources, fertilizer, fodder, and energy.
  • Regulating – The ocean provides the oxygen (O2) that we breathe and represents the largest natural sink for carbon dioxide (CO2) on Earth. Without the carbon sequestration of our seas, CO2 content in the atmosphere would be substantially greater with severe consequences for global climate change. The seas also regulate local climate, nutrients, and unwanted pests such as toxic algal blooms, protect against extreme weather, retain sediment and store waste.
  • Cultural – The sea provides us with recreational services, spiritual and historic services, scenery, education and inspiration as well as the sense of passing what we have on to future generations. 
  • Supporting – Examples of supporting services include biogeochemical cycles (pathways by which chemical elements move through abiotic and biotic compartments), primary production (the conversion of solar energy to biomass), food web dynamics (all processes by which nutrients are transferred from one organism to another in an ecosystem), biodiversity, habitat availability and resilience, which is the amount of disturbance or stress that an ecosystem can absorb and still remain capable of returning to its pre-disturbance state.

Marine ecoysytem

© Hans Kautsky / WWF

Ecosystem services are without a doubt the foundation for human life and development. Yet in our industrialized society, nature and its values have largely been ignored until malfunction or loss has drawn the attention to their importance. Humans have altered virtually all of Earth’s natural ecosystems in the recent centuries of resource extraction. This process has contributed to substantial gains in human well-being and economic prosperity. Yet the perception that the benefits obtained from nature are for “free” – in the sense that no one owns them or pays for them – has given rise to the threat of under-estimating the value of natural resources. Current economic prosperity, based on natural resource use, has thus been achieved at a dear cost


Sustainable use of our natural capital or ecosystem services can only be obtained if we: 

  • Use resources no faster than they regenerate 
  • Replace the use of exhaustible resources with renewable 
  • Do not produce more waste than nature can absorb and circulate in bio-geochemical cycles 


A global paradigm shift in marine ecosystem management is shifting focus from species to ecosystems, with humans as an integral part of the ecosystem. The ecosystem approach stresses the importance of ecosystems for socioeconomic development and strives to maintain long-term capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services for human use. 


	© WWF
Grey Seal
	© WWF Seppo Keränen
© WWF Seppo Keränen


Nine countries surround the Baltic Sea - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. The region is home to more than 85 million people (of whom 15 million live on the coast) and diverse political, social and economic realities.  


The Baltic region includes eight of the 28 European Union member states. The Baltic Sea provides a critical connection between the EU and the Russian Federation. 


The region’s diversity can translate into a challenge for decision makers to find common ground on complex issues such as environmental protection, sustainable use and management. As a result, the surrounding coastal countries have not been particularly successful in balancing economic and social uses with the protection of the sea.  


The challenge is compounded by the fact that the Baltic Sea is one of the most intensively used seas on the planet. Investments cover an impressive variety of maritime activities, almost all projected to increase and expand over the coming 20 years - in some sectors by several hundred percent.



	© WWF

Political frameworks

Nonetheless, the political frameworks in the region are advanced.  The most recent of these, the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, was the first EU ‘macro-regional’ strategy.  It was created to address ‘the urgent environmental challenges arising from the increasingly visible degradation of the Baltic Sea’ and was adopted by the European Council in October 2009. HELCOM - the governing body of the "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area" – has all of the nine Baltic coastal countries as well as the European Community as its contracting parties. HELCOM has n place an ambitious programme to restore the ‘Good Ecological Status’ of the Baltic marine environment by 2021. 


Other significant political frameworks for the health of the sea include the EU’s Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Both have set up targets to reach ‘Good Ecological Status’ for all European waters by 2015 and ‘Good Environmental Status’ of all European seas by 2020 respectively. 


The Common EU policies for agriculture and for fisheries are also critical in terms of their influence on domestic incentives for dominant drivers of environmental deterioration of the sea. They also have an enormous social and economic impact on the region, given their size and influence.

	© WWF/ Petra Dörsam
WWF activists in action at OSPAR-HELCOM Conference in Bremen, Germany.
© WWF/ Petra Dörsam

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