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Gulf of Finland Year campaigns for cleaner, healthier sea

Researchers from Finland, Estonia and Russia have called for more open discussion on the state of the Baltic Sea. Currently the countries are gathering information for their own purposes, but there is little exchange of information between the nations. The Gulf of Finland Year, which aims to improve the state of the Gulf, was kicked off with an Opening Forum in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Tauko Pookinaukossa, Suomenlahdella Image: Ilkka Vaara

The mild winter has benefited the Baltic Sea. The wind churning the open sea has mixed the waters, improving the oxygen levels in deep basins. A healthier sea is what the Gulf of Finland theme year aims to facilitate.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said: "The situation is far from satisfactory. Excessive inputs of nutrients remain one of the key threats to our marine ecosystem. We need to do more. We also need to know more."

More data exchange

Researchers invited to the opening are also craving more information – and its exchange.

“We are always talking about a lack of data exchange. It’s very hard for our three countries, Estonia, Finland, and Russia especially, to enable good data exchange, because many institutions get their own datasets, but they are not often accessible,” lamented Alexandra Ershova, a researcher at the RGGMY University in St Petersburg.

The exchange of data has been hampered by a lack of uniform systems of measurements and methodology. Debates over who – or what – is putting the biggest environmental strain on the Baltic have also made parties suspicious of each other.

Professor Urmas Lips, research coordinator for the event, notes that “the most important thing is to actually assess the cumulative impact and then find the easiest way to reduce this impact and pressures.”

Optimism in the air

The Gulf of Finland Year has already given rise to co-operation. The Finnish marine research vessel Aranda has taken some Russian researchers aboard, and allowed them to take more samples than before.

Also attending the Gulf of Finland Year opening was Finnish Environment Minister Ville Niinistö, who is positive about the project.

“There’s goodwill at a high political level, with presidents on board as patrons, and high level research co-operation being done. Ministries are also working closely together to concretely implement projects reducing emissions, so we have a good drive going on,” he told Yle.  

There is cause for optimism on a more concrete level too, as water samples collected by Aranda show some improvement over a short period of time.

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