The Baltic Sea’s nutrient load continues to be a question of life or death

In their statement (Helsingin Sanomat 7 Dec), the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and WWF criticized the Baltic Sea protection programme of inefficiency, and demanded actions that would tackle e.g. underwater noise. For 15 years, the John Nurminen Foundation has engaged in tangible operations that protect the Baltic Sea. Based on our experience, we can confirm the concern expressed by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and WWF, but from a different perspective.

It is deeply worrisome that eutrophication, the environmental problem that poses the gravest threat to the Baltic Sea, and the discharges that cause it are still way behind the goals of the protection programme. This pertains to phosphorus in particular: according to the programme, phosphorus discharges should be cut by a further 30% for a good status of the Baltic Sea to be restored. Eutrophication also has an impact on many other problems faced by the Baltic Sea, such as loss of diversity.

Point source loads from cities and industry have been efficiently curbed in the Baltic Sea area. At the same time, reducing non-point source load has been slow and challenging. Moreover, nutrients retained in the seabed as a result of earlier discharges slow down the Sea’s recovery, and climate change accelerates eutrophication in various ways.

In spite of these challenges, we must continue to work persistently to reduce the nutrient discharges which are the root cause for eutrophication and the poor status of the Baltic Sea. This is the basic requirement for the Baltic Sea’s full ecosystem to be able to survive.

Wherever possible, we must continue to tackle point source loads immediately. In some Baltic Sea countries, for example, joint decisions on the efficient treatment of wastewaters are still not adhered to, and industrial point source loads enter the Baltic Sea from e.g. the fertilizer industry. It is important that we begin with these “low hanging fruit”, and they are the ones that the protection programme should focus on.

We also need to continue our work with non-point source loads from agriculture in particular. In this area, curbing the discharges is difficult and slow, as there are very few measures that would work on dissolved nutrients, and the impact of many measures can be witnessed only after a delay. Instead of looking for culprits, cooperation should be our focal point. In our everyday work, we have witnessed how eagerly agricultural manufacturers want to participate in Baltic Sea protection. We have fast measures at our disposal, like e.g. treating fields with gypsum, but, at the same time, we must tackle the root causes of phosphorus runoff, such concentrations of manure.

The resources of our society have limits. This is why, even when faced by the plethora of problems that afflict the Baltic Sea, we must remember to stay focused. Reducing the nutrient load continues to be a matter of life or death for the Baltic Sea, and we simply must not give in. The Baltic Sea protection programme must, also in the future, concentrate on curbing nutrient loads, and on the implementation of protection commitments already in place.

This text was published for the first time on December 8, 2020 in the opinion pages of Helsingin Sanomat.

Marjukka Porvari
Director, Clean Baltic Sea projects
John Nurminen Foundation

Marjukka Porvari heads the Clean Baltic Sea projects of the John Nurminen Foundation.

Marjukka joined the Foundation in 2005, when the Foundation launched its first Baltic Sea project improving the efficiency of wastewater treatment in St. Petersburg. As our operations have expanded, Marjukka, who speaks fluent Russian, has travelled all around the catchment area of the Baltic Sea, hunting for cost-efficient projects. Since then, the Foundation has implemented 30 Baltic Sea projects, and the team implementing the projects has grown from one Marjukka to a team of seven.

The Foundation’s oldest employee, in terms of career years, Marjukka calls herself a veteran of the Foundation. She goes all in, with passion and integrity, combining the strengths of a humanitarian and a terrier. The Foundation’s informal motto “Nothing is impossible” was born out of real-life situations, where complex and difficult projects were made possible and eventually successful.

In her free time, Marjukka seeks the open air at the sea shore or in the fells, where she will whenever possible sleep outdoors, with only the roof of the tent between her dreams and the starry sky.