About the Baltic Sea | WWF
 
	© Metsähallitus

About the Baltic Sea

Nature

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

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.
 

Due to the special hydrographical and climatic conditions, the Baltic Sea is vulnerable. Over the past 100 years, the naturel environment of the Baltic Sea has degraded dramatically.
 

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.

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.

Ecosystem Services

 
	© WWF Denmark/Alle Tiders Læsö
Healthy ecosystems have always performed a multitude of essential functions for human communities.  Read more about ecosystem services.

Species

© WWF/David Kilon © WWF Sweden/Ola Jennersten © OCEANA/Carlos Minguell © WWF/Joakim Odelberg © Metsähallitus © OCEANA/Carlos Minguell

HELCOM RED LIST OF SPECIES


The HELCOM Red List of Baltic Sea species in danger of becoming extinct (2013) is the first threat assessment for Baltic Sea species that covers all marine mammals, fish, birds, macrophytes (aquatic plants), and benthic invertebrates, and follows the Red List criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

People

More than 85 million people live around the Baltic Sea

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.

 
	© D.R. Felkner/ WWF-Poland
WWF Poland Blue Patrol volunteers working the Baltic coastline
© D.R. Felkner/ WWF-Poland

Political framework

Political frameworks in the Baltic Sea 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 in 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.

 
	© Konrad Weiss
Nine countries surround the Baltic Sea - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden
© Konrad Weiss

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