12.02.2018

The Boater’s Friend, the Baltic Sea

Being at sea, for many, develops into a lifelong love for the sea, and along with it comes a great passion and desire to do good to it and to protect it. Through boating, a person develops a unique relationship to nature, the seascape, its wide horizon, the wild, rugged islets of the outer archipelago and the labyrinthine inner archipelago.

For me personally, being at sea also means an exciting adventure and fascinating unpredictability. Throughout the history of mankind, traveling by the sea has always meant exploring new waters and conquering unknown lands. The skills and creativity of a gill-less land mammal are put to a test when winds blow, currents flow and the weather is ever-changing.

In my work in Baltic Sea protection, I have witnessed and become familiar with boaters’ passion for the sea through yacht clubs as well as actions taken by political leaders. What once begins as a passionate hobby at sea can become a lifelong journey to protect the sea.

The current state of the Baltic Sea calls for action, action and then more action to protect it.  Such is the severity of eutrophication and pollution by hazardous substances currently facing the Baltic Sea—a shallow and isolated body of water. Sadly, many boaters have got first-hand experience of the miserable state of the sea when gliding through a thick, stinking mat of blue-green algae, which, in the worst case, leaves a visible trace that lingers long after the boat has passed.

However, boaters and other friends of the sea may find some consolation in the fact that, during the past ten years, the phosphorus load on the Gulf of Finland has been reduced by 75 per cent. This has been possible through the various effective measures taken in the easternmost part of the gulf initiated by our foundation, among other actors.

The bliss of the increasing clarity of the Gulf of Finland is, however, overshadowed by the poor state of the western part of the Baltic Sea. Emissions from our own agriculture have not been significantly reduced despite all the efforts, which manifests itself in particular in the state of the Archipelago Sea—one of boaters’ favorite parts of the Baltic Sea. The long-awaited salt pulse did not save the Baltic Sea, but, instead, nutrient-rich waters are flowing from the Gotland basin. And what’s more, in the past few years, winds and storms have caused a whole lot of the old nutrient loads to be released from the bottom of the Baltic Proper, a large amount of which is reaching us as well.

Fortunately, there is some hope for reducing nutrient loads from agriculture. After decades of trying it seems that, finally, an effective environmental measure for agriculture has been found: gypsum treatment of fields. Gypsum treatment will—significantly and with an immediate effect—reduce not only solids that make water cloudy but also phosphorus—the favorite treat of the blue-green algae. This activity could reduce the phosphorus load from agriculture into the Archipelago Sea by as much as one third. Thus, the Archipelago Sea still has hope—even its inner parts that won’t benefit from the emission reduction measures taken at the eastern parts of the sea.

But what to do with the nutrient loads coming from the Baltic Proper? During the past decade, there have been significant reductions of the nutrient loads from Poland, the Baltic States and Belarus to the Baltic Proper by making wastewater treatment processes more effective—also in the projects of our foundation. However, due to the nutrients that have accumulated at the bottom of the sea over a long period of time, it will take time for the effects to show. This is one of the problems we are working on at the moment. Reducing the nutrient loads from the sea floor might be doable by removing sediments from the bottom of the sea. We are researching such ideas and possibilities with great interest, but it is still too early to say whether these can be developed into concrete environment protection measures in the future.

Although the work done at our foundation involves large-scale measures, also individual citizens—and especially boat-owners—can become active in influencing the state of the Baltic Sea. In particular, dietary choices can influence an individual’s Baltic Sea Footprint: You can do good to the sea by eating more vegetables and Baltic Sea fish from sustainable fishing and less meat and dairy products.

Wastewaters are a case in point. At a summer residence, a good old outhouse (a non-flushing toilet) wins hands down in comparison with a water closet. And hopefully all boaters have already seen to it that sewage from boats flows through a septic tank that is emptied by a suction pump.

The boats of my life have included everything from kayaks to dinghies and from rowboats to traditional Finnish wooden fishing boat. As someone who has owned boats I am aware of the fact that one of the trickiest questions of conscience for boat owners is the role of the highly toxic anti-fouling paints for coating the hull of the boat. The paints containing the most highly toxic substances such as lead have already been prohibited in the EU –  for a reason. However, even the paints that are currently being sold and used are harmful not only to the organisms attaching to the hull but also to other marine organisms.

Fortunately, there is no need to apply the toxic paints every year, and in parts of the sea with a low salinity, such as the Bothnian Bay, as well as on inland waters it is unnecessary. It is possible to minimize the harmful effects of the paint by storing the boat sometimes on land if it is not being used for some time. In addition, there are innovative mechanical methods and electric solutions for keeping the hull clean. You can read more about these on the website of our sister organization Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association.

In boat maintenance, it is important to bear in mind that glycol, which is used as an antifreeze for the boat’s engine, is a highly toxic substance and must be recycled appropriately by bringing it to a recycling point located at a port, or to any other recycling center or facility that accepts glycol. The same rule applies to all other hazardous substances used in boat maintenance such as lacquers, paints and solvents.

As for clothing for boating, it is recommended to choose natural materials such as wool and cotton. Synthetic fibers such as fleece are a source of microplastics that are harmful to bodies of water.

Days are getting longer and adventures in the archipelago and at the open sea are drawing nearer. It is time to do the boat maintenance tasks and get ready for an adventure at sea. Boat responsibly and protect the Baltic Sea! We at the John Nurminen Foundation promise to do our best to make it possible for today’s little skippers, who are now just learning the ropes of boating, to experience the Baltic Sea as it was when their grandparents were young—a sea of clear waters brimming with fish.

Marjukka Porvari
Director, Clean Baltic Sea projects

Protecting the Baltic Sea is a major theme at the Helsinki International Boat Show 2018, visible both in the program of the event and at the individual stands. The Clean Baltic Sea Café by the John Nurminen Foundation organizes various activities related to the Baltic Sea. For example, boaters are welcome to stop by to find out how they can influence the state of the Baltic Sea through their own actions. Check out the program of the Clean Baltic Sea Café here (in Finnish).

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