Baltic Sea Region researchers give the sea a chance

The nutrient load on the Baltic Sea has dropped, but is expected to increase again as a result of global warming. Four EU research projects gathered for a final conference to present and discuss their results on what more we can do.

Jonathan Winsten and Tina Schmid Neset.Jonathan Winsten from the Winrock International Institute of Agricultural Development, USA, was a keynote speaker at the conference. Here together with Tina Schmid Neset from LiU. Photo credit: Siergiej Kanarski“The nutrient load to the Baltic Sea has fallen considerably since the 1990s, to the current lower level, but at best we will start to see the effects after 30 years. What’s more, climate change will increase the loss of nutrients from the basin into the Baltic Sea, according to a model developed by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute,” says Karin Tonderski, docent in ecology at Linköping University. She has been leader of BONUS Miracle, one of the four BONUS projects that have just held their final conference in Gdansk, Poland.

Four different projects

The conference collected 126 participants from 12 countries, many of whom are working in one of the BONUS projects Go4Baltic, Soil2Sea, BalticApp and Miracle, which have studied various aspects of the emission of nutrients into the Baltic Sea.

“We have already picked the low-hanging fruits, implementing measures that were simple and relatively inexpensive. What we now must understand is which further initiatives will have the greatest benefit to improve water quality and the health of the Baltic Sea. This is why the four different research projects have focused on analysing scenarios for the future and examining what more we can do, and how to do it,” she says.

The researchers have used a system for economic analysis that takes into consideration other values than a reduction in nutrient load. For example, a measure that reduces erosion from agricultural fields may also benefit biodiversity and increase opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Useful tool for decision-support

Karin TonderskiKarin Tonderski Photo credit: Jadwiga Subczyńska“This decision-support tool was useful to illustrate potential benefits from suggested actions and create a dialogue in areas where problems with, for example, eutrophication and flooding have created conflict. We have also been able to visualise and display the consequences of various suggestions, and show which measures provide benefits in the form of, for example, improved angling opportunities and cleaner bathing and drinking water,” says Karin Tonderski.

Tina Schmid Neset and Carlo Navarra, Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change, have also worked with the project, which has operated in four areas in which the researchers were already aware of problems with both eutrophication and flooding. These are four river basins: the Helge in Sweden, Reda in Poland, Selke in Germany and Berze in Latvia. The aim was to arrange meetings between researchers and the people living in the regions to learn from each other and thus create local commitment. The researchers were looking for local initiatives and wanted to see how the power expressed in local commitment could be used.

“It was also exciting to discover that issues we thought were major problems were not always the issues prioritized by the inhabitants in these river basins. Around the Helge River, for example, the inhabitants were most concerned about the brown colouration of the water, while biological diversity and the ecological status of the watercourse were the issue that engaged most in the case of the Selke River. Focusing on problems recognised by them stimulated interest and engagement: In several areas we received ideas for new actions that we could assess by simulating what effects they would have on for example water flow and quality,” she tells us.

Steps for the future

One conclusion from the final conference is that there is no single solution that suits everybody.
Thus, there is a great need for increased participation from local actors in order to develop plans and identify measures to reduce the transport of nutrients while at the same time achieving other benefits. In some areas, measures can rely on natural ecosystem services – processes inherent in the natural environment. In other basins, however, the prospects of doing so are poor.

Another important conclusion is that we have ample opportunities to influence the development in the Baltic Sea Region. This will require not only effective regulations that enable increased local participation, but also policies that lead to changes in attitudes and behaviour of people living and acting in the area.

“The next step must be to draw up detailed plans of action and find ways of financing them. We have seen, for example, how economical resources can become available locally when people have common objectives that they feel committed to,” says Karin Tonderski.

The BONUS programme, Science for a better future of the Baltic Sea region, is financed by the eight EU member states around the Baltic Sea, with additional funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme.  More information is available at: http://bonus2018.eu

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