I remember that summer day in 2016 as if it was yesterday. I step into the water and move to the start area. The sun is shining, and the water feels warm. I have with me a nose clip, which I normally do not use, as a precaution to stop blue-green algae from getting into my nose.
On the days prior to the competition I had been thinking whether the swim leg of the Next Triathlon Helsinki competition would be cancelled because of blue-green algae. The organisers were reassuring: the winds have moved the blooms out of the swim’s route.
My thoughts were: ‘as soon as I have the opportunity, I will make a donation to an organisation that protects the Baltic Sea’. I remember this promise only now, as I am writing this text.
I have always been a nature person. The spark was lit already in my childhood, through adventures in the forests and in the boy scouts. For a long time now, I have been active outdoors, and also aware of the vulnerability of nature. Still, the facts did not really sink in before I saw the documentary film Before the Flood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This was a work that made me dissolve into the sofa.
‘If you consider this vastness of the universe, this Planet Earth is just a small boat. If this boat is sinking, then I think we will all have to sink together’. This is how Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, describes the situation to DiCaprio in the documentary. A poetic but sadly accurate statement.
The document closes with DiCaprio’s speech in the New York headquarters of the UN, which also summarizes my feelings: we have heard speeches and done lots of research, but will we move from words to action? Our children and our grandchildren are looking at us. It is our responsibility to teach them the right choices, and also make those choices ourselves.
The John Nurminen Foundation, where I have had the opportunity to serve since last winter, is an example of how actions speak louder than words.
Up until the 1960s, the Baltic Sea was mostly clear, with a visibility up to the astonishing depth of 12 metres in many places. In Hanko, you could see the bottom of the sea standing on a pier. Nevertheless, underneath the sparkling surface of the Baltic Sea, the sins of many decades were already building up: the Baltic Sea had been carelessly used as a dump. Nutrients were also flowing to the sea, well above the limits it could withstand. Coastal waters were getting cloudy, and the volume of various algae, including blue-green algae, grew, as did the areas where the seabed was anoxic. This shallow basin of brackish water, surrounded by almost 90 million people, became eutrophicated, and one of the most polluted seas of the world. There was no turning back to the clear waters we swam in as children.
Like many others, Maritime Counsellor Juha Nurminen, the founder of the John Nurminen Foundation, was awakened to the deteriorating status of the Baltic Sea at the end of the 1990s. The horrifying algae summer of 1997 was the last straw. ‘We have heard enough speeches, now is the time for concrete action!’
The John Nurminen Foundation was established to safeguard maritime culture: under Juha’s leadership, they did not just look on as the problems were accumulating. Measures launched to protect the Baltic Sea have been extremely successful. Through treating the wastewaters of St. Petersburg and reducing the discharges from the fertilizer factory by the river Luga alone, the annual eutrophicating phosphorus load of the Gulf of Finland has been successfully reduced by as much as 75%. These measures have even been called the world record of marine protection!
The Local Fishing project, launched a couple of years ago in the Archipelago Sea, has increased the use of cyprinid fish as food, and, at the same time, improved the status of coastal waters. Collaborating internationally, we have also piloted the gypsum treatment of fields, and launched our own project in the vicinity of the River Vantaa. The results are promising: gypsum treatment is the most efficient method of reducing nutrient runoff from agriculture.
These are just some examples of our rescue missions: in roughly ten years, we have launched 29 Clean Baltic Sea projects, of which 18 have already been completed.
Through my work, I have learned to understand the multifacetedness of the Baltic Sea and the world’s ecosystems, and their complex cause-effect relationships: everything impacts everything. When, during a study trip of the Foundation, I visited the Tvärminne Zoological Station, Helsinki University project coordinator Niko Nappu described how bladderwrack is similar to the tropical rainforests. They provide food and shelter, life itself, to countless marine creatures, and generate oxygen. As nutrient volumes increase, light becomes too scarce to allow them to grow. The return of bladderwrack is, in fact, a sign of a recovering ecosystem. Luckily, this has happened in many areas.
As this year’s blue-green algae catastrophe has moved ahead, I have learned that just as in business, in nature, too, you fight for living space, and change is continuous. The status of the sea is never stable. Our actions – also those of the future – have an impact on the ecosystem, and on the speed at which it changes.
Time after time, the people I have met have shared their personal memories of the Baltic Sea with me. The sea touches us in different ways: you do not need to own a summer house by the sea, or a sailboat, to be able to understand the importance of marine protection.
My task, working for fundraising at the John Nurminen Foundation, is inspiring because it gives me a vantage point from which I can observe how the top companies of our country use their resources to save our sea and our planet. Environmental responsibility is not greenwashing, it is the very core of how companies operate – a part of their values. Responsibility is seen as a social mission, and the protection of the Baltic Sea as a motivating and relevant theme, for customers and employees alike. It is a pleasure to be involved in the launch and development of a way of supporting the Baltic Sea that fits the needs of each individual company.
I believe that we still can save the Baltic Sea and the seas of the world. We can save our planet. There is still time, but there is no time to lose. Let’s start now, let’s start right here!
Fundraising Director, John Nurminen Foundation
PS Contact our Foundation: we have ways to support the Baltic Sea and its ecosystem that are just right for you!