The Baltic Sea is in a critical state and in serious need of protection. Today Oceana, the largest international marine conservation organisation, published a report on biodiversity and marine habitats, proposing nine areas in the Baltic Sea for inclusion in the current network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). These areas, in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, identified during Oceana’s extensive two month research expedition in the spring of 2011, all have specifically important biodiversity that must be protected from human activities, like destructive fisheries, for the Baltic Sea to recover. Oceana’s new report was published today at a press conference in Stockholm.
The nine proposed areas include offshore waters and host habitats, communities and species that are not sufficiently covered by the current network of MPAs. Some of the habitats documented by Oceana have not been described in the Baltic Sea before such as sponge aggregations and special types of coral gardens in the Kattegat and in the Sound. Also other communities living muddy bottoms are poorly known. These habitats and communities are vulnerable to many human activities and in particular to bottom trawling, which according to Oceana’s research is a direct threats to ecosystems. Their protection will fill some of the gaps identified in the current network of MPAs in the Baltic.
“Biodiversity in the Baltic Sea is under enormous stress from pollution and activities like destructive fisheries and the removal of sediments by dredging. The new areas proposed by Oceana represent elements of this biodiversity that are currently unprotected. By delaying their inclusion into the network of MPAs we risk the complete loss of these areas and the unique biodiversity,” says Niklas Zennström, Entrepreneur and founder of Zennstöm Philantrophies, one of the funders of Oceana’s Baltic Sea project.
Oceana has investigated the status of the habitats in- and outside the protected areas. ”It is evident from our research, that the habitats inside MPAs are better protected from many human disturbances. Coupled with effective management of human activities, the establishment of MPAs is an important mechanism to support a healthier marine environment and as a consequence sustainable fisheries”, added Anne Schroeer, Oceana Baltic Sea Project Manager.
Currently, 12 per cent of the Baltic Sea is covered by MPAs. To safeguard biodiversity, a minimum of 30 per cent of the Baltic Sea should be effectively protected. This means that besides legal protection, the areas must also be properly managed. Fishing is only seldom restricted inside protected areas though fisheries, like trawling together with pollution, pose the most serious threats to biodiversity. Many of these habitats can only recover with the immediate adoption of protective measures, which would benefit not only the benthic communities inside protected areas but also commercial fisheries with enhanced fish stocks.