Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt: From the shores of the Baltic Sea to our homes – deeds for the Sea we share

How do these exceptional times impact the work of the John Nurminen Foundation? The Foundation’s Secretary General describes how our everyday lives have changed. The Foundation is working arduously in spite of the special circumstances: new projects have been launched, and ongoing projects are moving forward. “Luckily, concrete measures that help save the sea do not require large gatherings. Workshops and events that are needed in planning the work are now virtual, moved back, and in some cases cancelled. Otherwise we have pretty much been able to carry on with our activities according to plans. Our financing is also solid.”

In just one day, our everyday lives were turned around. In line with the instructions issued by the Government of Finland on 12 March, we, too, switched to remote work in one go. I was quarantined, as I had just returned from the Stockholm Boat Show. On 6th March, the first day of the event, everything seemed to be just normal:  the Show’s press conference was crowded, we sat without minding the distance between us, and just did not shake hands. There was a lot of interest for saving the sea, and our #OURSEA joint campaign with the Moomin Characters was widely noticed and admired.

After the weekend, the situation changed dramatically as the number of cases began to soar. In the end, the entire event was called off, as events for more than 500 people were banned in Sweden. During my self-inflicted quarantine I too had the flu, which was perhaps caused by the coronavirus. I was lucky, and my case was mild. My first and foremost concern was, in addition to my loved ones, the wellbeing and working conditions of our staff.  When I lifted my eyes to the horizon, my concern grew far beyond one person. It took on the size of the globe.

That Thursday is now three weeks away. In a short time period, we have fast forwarded to another reality. It is amazing to see the great digital and other kinds of leaps our society has already taken. In schools, health care centres, and in hospitals, miracles are made each and every day. Compared to all this, the challenges faced by the Foundation are really rather small. Our team has become used to the new way of working, and has demonstrated admirable stamina and inventiveness in the way they have taken control of the situation: chairs and displays were taken home, home offices were fine-tuned, colleagues were cheered, and partners briefed.  We meet virtually in our various project teams, and all of us come together once a week for a remote meeting.

It is no use pretending that everything is as it was before. The economic and social changes in our society are a cause for great concern for us all, and they have already had a severe impact on many of our partners.  News of layoffs and cooperation negotiations are now coming in a constant stream. Luckily, the Foundation’s operations have a solid base – last year, our fundraising was more successful than ever, and even before that our financial situation was solid – thanks for this are due to our many partners and financiers. In addition to corporate and private donations, our financial base is made even stronger by the fact that some of our projects are EU-funded, or otherwise publicly funded. An essential feature of our operations is that they are long-term. Work for saving the sea will go on for decades.

Projects for saving the sea move forward, the work goes on

The Baltic Sea is our workplace. Projects involving the Sea move forward in spite of the special circumstances: planning our activities and implementing them together with our partners continues to go on. Luckily, concrete measures that help save the sea do not require large gatherings. Workshops and events that are needed in planning the work are now virtual, moved back, and in some cases cancelled. Otherwise we have pretty much been able to carry on with our activities according to plans.

In fact, for the John Nurminen Foundation, this spring is packed with novelties. With the Fertilizer Shipping project, launched in February, we tackle the nutrient discharge risks that occur when fertilizers are loaded and unloaded to ships at harbour, and when the cargo holds of such ships are cleaned. The project’s first step, a survey of current status and practices, is in full swing. Also our most recent project, the Satakunta fertilizer recycling pilot launched in March, is moving ahead in strides thanks to the early spring. Our “manure project” is implemented in cooperation with Finnish producers and farmers. The project involves moving nutrients from manure, phosphorus in particular, and organic matter contained in the manure from Huittinen, which is a stronghold of livestock farming and has a nutrient surplus, to Pirkanmaa, where crops are farmed, and where nutrient levels are low. In the next few weeks, we will – in spite of coronavirus – announce and launch the new Sustainable Biogas project, financed by EU’s new Interreg Central Baltic programme, which seeks to improve the treatment of nutrients generated in biogas production.

There are also news on the gypsum front. The international Gypsum Initiative project, which aims at reducing discharges from agriculture to waterways in the Baltic Sea area with gypsum treatment, was launched in January. At the same time, the River Vantaa Gypsum Project continues to treat cultivated fields with gypsum for the third and for now final year. Our international, multi-year EU projects, i.e. the BEST project that focuses on industrial wastewaters, and the SEABASED project that evaluates measures that reduce the internal load of the sea, are reaching their final phases on schedule. The latter in particular is reaching an exciting phase as its proposed measures, such as retaining phosphorus in the seabed with limestone, can move to small-scale pilots in closed sea bays. We will have more on this in the summer.

Bringing together the people of the Sea: Project: A Sea of Memories, and the Baltic Sea Day

We are currently preparing the project called A Sea of Memories, with which we will gather the Baltic Sea-related memories of all Finns. As champions of the sea, it is important for us to see if our relationship with the sea and our memories of the sea will change as the status of the sea changes. We will soon invite all Finns to take part in this project. We are also working to promote the Baltic Sea Day, which was launched last year as the Baltic Sea’s very own theme day and annual festival. The day is celebrated on the last Thursday of August. We very much hope that at that time, we can already meet by the seaside. But should circumstances prevent this, we can also share our experiences virtually.

Shared heritage from the shores to our homes

Social isolation has already made us Finns find our way to nature: to the forests and the shores of our rivers, lakes, and the sea. Even though restaurants are closed and there is a ban on get-togethers, we can always turn to nature. When we are by the sea, the steady rhythm of the waves reminds us of a stronger power. Museums, media houses and cultural institutions have also already successfully shared their contents in virtual format. We have good cause to be thankful for these cultural and media activities, as many of us can find peace of mind in art, music, and literature. We also need to find solutions that bring contents within the reach of everyone in home quarantine – as some of us cannot go out to air our thoughts. To this end, we are currently developing a service in cooperation with the Finnish Museum Association – and you will find out more during this spring!

Even though our basic sense of security has been shaken, in this short time span we have already discovered that our society possesses strength of character, empathy, innovation, and survival skills. When at some point we can start to return to the new normal, the coronavirus will have forced us to change our ways of operating also for the better.  My guess is that the change will to some extent be permanent. In the Foundation, the experience we have gained from working in difficult circumstances in numerous challenging projects is something that galvanizes us. We do our part in our field, and continue our work for saving the Baltic Sea and its heritage. A clear focus, trust, and courage in the face of challenges are what keep my team going, and form the basis on which we can build the future of the Sea.

To all you friends of the Foundation and the Baltic Sea, stay strong this spring. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt
Secretary General, John Nurminen Foundation

Photo: Ilkka Vuorinen