Towns and cities along Finland’s southern and western coast are joining together to celebrate the heritage of the Baltic Sea, and highlight the need for greater environmental protection.
As a central feature in the lives of many Finns – whether a source of livelihood, for leisure activities or just as a backdrop to their everyday lives – former President Tarja Halonen perhaps sums it up best.
“The Baltic Sea belongs to everyone! For me the Baltic Sea has always meant freedom. Even a short sea trip take you to a new world” the president writes.
The first Baltic Sea Day, to be celebrated in future on the last Thursday of August each year, has been put together by the John Nurminen Foundation and features hundreds of community events.
“The program starts in the morning with an opening speech in Helsinki. There will be the Minister of Environment Krista Mikkonen for example and also the former President Tarja Halonen will be there discussing about the Baltic Sea. And then there is this event in Vantaa, which will be for families. There will be all kinds of fun stuff and it will end with a crowd plunge where anywhere anyone can jump in the Sea or put their toes in the water at 6pm” explains Kirsi Kurki-Miettinen from the foundation.
Also on the agenda today are events to highlight the Baltic Sea’s fishing community, trash collection on beaches, maritime Moomin stories, theatre for children, and a fish-spotting competition for schools as children learn about the ecology and culture of the sea in various ways.
The biggest issues the Baltic Sea still faces are pollution and eutrophication – one of the main issues the Baltic Sea Day hopes to highlight.
So what is eutrophication?
When large amounts of nutrient runoff or sewage goes into the water, it acts as fertilizer for algae, which flourishes in these conditions.
When the algae dies, it sinks to the bottom and is consumed by bacteria and animals, consuming oxygen, until all the oxygen in that part of the sea is gone and not capable of supporting life any more.
“The nutrient runoff comes from industrial discharges and also through agricultural discharges and, especially here in Finland, also from forestry practices. And then there is like a natural background, where always some nutrients are flowing to the sea from land” explains Marjukka Porvari, Director of the Clean Baltic Sea projects.
“But during the last 40 years, we have been able to drastically reduce the nutrient loading of the sea and most of the discharges have been reduced over 50%. The only discharges that couldn’t be reduced are coming from agriculture, in fact, they have increased” she tells News Now Finland.
Cleaning up shipping lanes
Although the Baltic Sea contains some of the busiest passenger ferry routes in the world, and is usually extra busy at this time of year with the summer cruise ship season in full swing, a lot of work has been done to clean up the ships. But problems still persist.
All the cruise lines which operate in the Baltic Sea region have already been pumping all their discharges to port reception facilities for years.
“The main problem has been the cruise lines coming from outside of the Baltic Sea region, which come here every summer. This has been the last remaining source from the cruising industry” says Marjukka Porvari.
“All ships are forced to use reception facilities to collect all the waste, since June 2019. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there were no cruise ships this summer, so it has stopped those discharges.”