Pollution and solutions for the Baltic Sea

Going beneath the surface of the Stockholm Archipelago with WWF to find out how plastics and micro plastics are effecting the Baltic Sea.

I’m in the Archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden. Nearly 30,000 islands, inlets and rocks make up this rugged landscape in the Baltic Sea. The water here is so calm, like a bathtub but without a plug hole – it takes over 30 years for the water to cycle through which means a lot of the pollution gets stuck here. I’ve been talking with Ottillia Thoreson, Program Director for WWF Baltic Eco Region Program and local sailing veteran and Föreningen Allmogebåtar
Maritime Museum guide Ulf Johan Templeman about pollution and solutions for the Baltic Sea.

‘By 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic that fish by weight.’ WWF

Just a few minutes away from the city of Stockholm, the archipelago begins.

The Baltic Sea is in trouble. Even after a decade of the adoption of the first Baltic Sea Action Plan reports show there have only been a few improvements.

‘I am a sailor since the beginning. The fish used to be really fish. The fishing is not good nowadays, the plastic is everywhere. And it’s a problem.” Ulf Johan Templeman – sailor and Stockholm Archipelago Maritime Museum guide.

Ulf Johan Templeman has been a sailor ‘since the beginning’.

What are the threats to the Baltic Sea?

  • Before we can find a solution, we must first understand the problem. Here are the top five challenges facing the Baltic Sea:
  • The changing climate – including warming seas, reduced ice cover and changing salinity levels.
  • Ocean acidification
  • Derelict fishing gear
  • Underwater noise
  • Micro plastic pollution

Nearly 30,000 islands, inlets and rocks make up this rugged landscape in the Baltic Sea.

‘The degradation of the Baltic Sea not only affects the wildlife and habitats but has consequences for the human population too”. WWF

What lies beneath

We don’t often see the damage in our ocean because its hidden under the water. We are currently using 1.6 planets worth of excess consumption. Ok Lauren, the blinkers are off. You can’t ignore this anymore…

Rugged nature blends with wooded islands, rocky cliffs and sandy beaches.

Here’s some numbers I learnt from WWF about what lies beneath our seas.

  • 6.4 million tons of plastic each year make it into our oceans each year
  • One PET bottle takes up to 450 years to break down
  • 80% of the waste is land based plastics
  • 16% is plastic bags
  • 16% is cups and bottles
  • 11% is straws

Simple changes such as taking your own bags to the shops, using a reusable bottle or cup and saying no to straws are simple ways to change these statistics.

  • There is already so much stress on our oceans ecosystems.
    The ocean is already dealing with so many of our issues, maybe it’s time we gave them a bit of a break. Just some of them are:
  • 2 billion plus population,
  • 300% increase is ship traffic
  • 29% of global fish stocks are over exploited
  • 1/3 of oil and gas coming from offshore sources and interest in deep sea deposits.
  • 80% of tourism is based near water

Nearly 30,000 islands make up the archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden.

How does this effect our oceans?

Marine diversity has declined 58% between 1970-2012 and our global ecological footprint is only growing. The sad state of affairs means that at current rates of temperature rise it is estimated that coral reefs will disappear by 2050. As an Australian I have seen the change to our famous Great Barrier Reef in only my lifetime… this is real people.

Why is the Baltic Sea different to other oceans?

The Baltic Sea is the worst place to throw a plastic bag or any piece of plastic. This sea is a particularly sensitive shallow semi-enclosed sea, which means that whatever finds its way in here struggles to find its ways out. As the water doesn’t circulate and its so cold the bag takes so much longer to break down.

We can use our seas in a wise sustainable way with balance for both nature itself and also for the different sectors that are use the sea

Talking with Ottillia Thoreson, Program Director for WWF Baltic Eco Region Program.

What is your role?

I work for WWF, specifically for all international program called the Baltic Eco Region Program. We are focused on all of the marine issues when it comes to the Baltic Sea.

What is the biggest threat to the Baltic Sea?

The ultimate biggest threat is Eutrophication – the excess of nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off the catchment area into the Baltic Sea.

Eutrophication is the ultimate biggest threat to the Baltic Sea

What can we do to help?

There are lots of ways to help, on lots of different levels.

Just as a personal consumer you can eat less meat for example – we see that with the increase in meat consumption there is a lot more nitrate or nitrogen that comes into our water system that can’t be taken out using our current water treatment systems.

Our watering filtration processes are struggling to process the minerals of meat in our human waste. Expensive filtration methods can be introduced or we can take measures into our own hands – by simply eating less meat.

WWF has studies that show that 500 grams of meat per week contains enough protein and nutrients for the average humans needs. If we make a simple shift to include more vegetarian options into our weekly menus we can drastically help solve this problem.

WWF have also developed a simple ‘traffic light system’ to help us choose what fish to buy, consider and avoid.

If you’re a boat owner you can make sure that all the sewerage you have on your boat can go to an on-land sewerage treatment.

Sweden has one of the highest numbers of boats per capita in the world

And to also engage our politicians to meet their commitments when it comes to reducing nutrient excess from both agriculture but other issues from the Baltic region.

‘People and policy can make big changes.’ Ottillia Thoreson

When we come together we can make a huge impact. Sweden is one of the first countries to ban the use of phosphate in detergents so that we can all be free to wash our dishes and clothes without polluting the rivers and seas.

Ottillia Thoreson, Program Director for WWF Baltic Eco Region Program share her vision for the future with me

What is your vision for the future?

There are so many ‘one’s’ in that vision. Coming from a marine biology background and working with oceans my vision is that we manage to meet the goals that we have under the UN Sustainable Development Goals for oceans. Which means that we can use our seas in a wise sustainable way with balance for both nature itself, what’s in the sea but also for the different sectors that are using the sea.

Is there anything you would like to share with the world?

Everyone can make a difference. It can be little steps but everyone can take their part, their responsibility and I think we all owe it to our oceans and to nature in general to take that little step.

Sweden rated highest on the WWF Baltic Sea Action Plan scorecard.

How can we help?

It’s not all doom and gloom. Scientists are working on ways to fix this problem by balancing the nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. There are multiple theories such as dredging – which comes with its own environmental impact or pumping oxygen in to the water – which have huge costs associated with it. However, there are no definite solutions being actioned at this moment. But we – ‘the makers’, ‘the uses’ and ‘the offenders’ can all be the solution.

  • Pick up your trash – start
  • Recycle – deposit hazardous waste and medicines and proper recycling stations
  • Consume sustainably – follow consumer guides, compost food waste, eat less meat.
  • Buy natural, sustainable textiles and don’t over wash your clothes. (Micro plastics lie in synthetic clothing and every wash releases them)
  • Boat owners – use alternative cleaning methods, improve engine fuel system, deposit sewerage on load.
  • Use environmentally friendly detergents and overall products
  • Decrease your plastic waste and choose micro plastic free products.

Weleda and WWF are both dedicated to preserving our natural environment, to produce better and to consumer more wisely.

So this got me thinking…

Shifting my attitude from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ to ‘I do’ make a difference

Why not me? We can all make a difference.

We all sometimes find ourselves thinking…’what is the difference can one person make, really?’… but what I’m learning is that one person can make a hell of a lot of a difference.

The first change I want to make it to shift my attitude from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ to ‘I do’ make a difference.

The second change is that I’m going to eat less meat. I’m not into labels so I’m not going to declare now that I’m becoming a vegetarian. But I am going to be more conscious of my meat consumption and make a concerted effort to have more meat free days.

Learning that we only need 500grams of meat per week to meet our average protein and nutritional needs makes me feel like it’s a healthy and sustainable choice too.

‘Being depressed about our oceans isn’t going to solve it. Things are moving in the right direction. But not quickly enough. We need to acknowledge the issues and do what we can to change – to find the right balance with the least impact on the sea. We can all be inspired so that we can change.” Ottillia Thoreson, WWF Sweden.

If we all shift our perspectives to the positive of what a difference we can all make – we will.
Improving our marine eco system can be all of our responsibility.

What’s the first step you would like to take to protect our marine life and water ways?