BONUS+ highlights for the European community

8 November 2011

Hotel Silken Berlaymont, Brussels, Belgium 

A questions and answers panel addressing topics related to the top Baltic Sea research convened in Brussels on 8 November 2011. The latest knowledge produced by the BONUS+ projects that are ending in 2011 were at the centre stage. Questions were invited in advance from the European community. The afternoon seminar was attended by 40 Brussels -based participants consisting of representatives from different EU Directorates, regional offices and the European Parliament offices.

The focus of the questions presented by Dr. Kaisa Kononen and Dr. Andris Andrusaitis from the Secretariat  was in some of the most critical challenges faced by the Baltic Sea region. Under scrutiny were issues related to the fragile biodiversity of the region, eutrophication and climate change and interlinkages between these two, the critically important science and policy interface as well as the life styles of the people living in the region that need adapting or changing for the good of the environment in order to sustain their own life quality in the long run.


Professor Linda Laikre from the BALTGENE project stressed how crucial genetic diversity is for ecosystem function and sustainability and that it needs careful consideration in order to ensure sustainable management measures. Professor Mats Lindegarth from the PREHAB project reminded the audience that the Implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive and marine spatial planning all require knowledge about the distribution of marine biodiversity and its associated goods and service. For this underwater maps are essential.


According to Professor Aarno Kotilainen’s answer to the question put to him ’When did the bottoms of the Baltic Sea die?’, the bottoms of the Baltic Sea have died several times: INFLOW project’s integrated modelling and sediment proxy studies reveal increased sea surface temperatures and extended seafloor anoxia (in deep basins) also during earlier natural warm climate phases. Observations on past changes together with model simulations suggest that ongoing climate warming will increase the environmental (e.g. anoxia) problems of the Baltic Sea.  Professor Jacob Carstensen from HYPER project noted that although it is possible to reverse hypoxia by reducing nutrient inputs, it takes decades. This is a real concern in particular as hypoxia has increased manifold since the 1950s. Furthermore, Professor Joachim Dippner from AMBER project stressed how important it is to prevent hypoxia in the coastal zones as these areas actually protect the open Baltic Sea from excess nitrogen: a substantial fraction of the river nitrogen load is lost in this important ecosystem service (i.e. the coastal zone).


Professor  Anders Omstedt from the BALTIC-C project delivered a critically important message of the Baltic Sea most likely becoming more acid in the future meaning that this, together with increased hypoxia, will increase the stress on the marine ecosystem, making it a very high time to decrease our CO2 emissions and nutrient loads.

To add to the plot of gloomy future scenarios, unless drastic changes are made, Professor Pierre Regnier from the BALTIC GAS project explained why we should also care about methane emission from the Baltic Sea - methane is a powerful green house gas that increases global warming. In addition, its accumulation in the seabed may pose numerous hazards to

seabed structures by destabilising the the sea floor.  


Water transparency and bottom oxygen changes are predicted to take a turn for worse in the region as explained by Dr. Helén Andersson from the ECOSUPPORT project and adding further to results indicating a bleak future scenario for the Baltic Sea environment: it is clear that critically urgent and strong action is required to stop, if not reverse, the undesired development.  Professor Christoph Humborg from the RECOCA project explained the model developed for the policymakers to help identify the most cost-effective measures for reducing nutrient loads. It includes reduction measures in the agricultural, energy and transport sectors, together with wetland restoration and improved wastewater treatment. Emissions to both air and water are thus included in the cost-minimisation calculations.


Mia Pihlajamäki from the PROBALT project concluded that a macro-regional, cost-effective and fair agreement regarding the prevention of eutrophication is necessary, however, this is not the current reality in which we act. For instance, both HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan and EU are challenged to fit this bill and further careful examination of optimal way forward is required.


To end the session, suggestions were made on how everyone as individuals can make a difference. Most of the participants, when asked, expressed readiness to make small changes, for example introduce ‘meat free Mondays’ or consider carefully the washing powder used in the daily washing; accompanied with other responsible choices these can make a big difference. The key question for BONUS remains, however, the continuous meaningful dialogue with the policymakers and managers. Policymakers must take on the top knowledge that the science is producing seriously and ensure that it is embedded in important policy processes at this 11th hour, if we are ever to govern and manage the Baltic Sea region environmentally better and sustainably.