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Baltic Sea

Summary

The Baltic Sea is almost completely enclosed and – except for a few areas – shallow. Its waters are renewed very slowly. Its north and northeast extremities are frozen over for part of the year, and salinity levels there are very low. As a result, the marine environment is very vulnerable, particularly to eutrophication – a build-up of nutrients from urban waste water, coastal agriculture, industrial pollution and atmospheric deposition.

Following the end of the Cold War, shipping and trading have resumed in the Baltic on a large scale; passenger and goods transport is now the main economic activity.

Map of the Baltic Sea region.

Population

There are 85 million inhabitants on the shores of the Baltic.

Many of the urban areas on its shores are active commercial ports. The biggest city is Saint Petersburg (5 million inhabitants). Other large cities are Stockholm (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark), Helsinki (Finland), Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia (Poland), Riga (Latvia) and Tallinn (Estonia).

Many of the urban areas on its shores are active commercial ports. The biggest city is Saint Petersburg (5 million inhabitants). Other large cities are Stockholm (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark), Helsinki (Finland), Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia (Poland), Riga (Latvia) and Tallinn (Estonia).

Exploitation of resources

Fishing is focused on three main species: sprat, herring and cod account for 85% of catches and are overexploited. Catches amount to 800 000 tonnes (2007), or 950 000 tonnes if Kattegat-Skagerrak is included.

Marine aquaculture is not highly developed other than on a local basis, as in the Åland islands. The sector as a whole provides work for around 55 000 people, including over 30 000 in processing.

Marine aquaculture is not highly developed other than on a local basis, as in the Åland islands. The sector as a whole provides work for around 55 000 people, including over 30 000 in processing.

Transport of goods

Half of inter-Baltic trade takes place by sea, with the transport of oil, raw materials (wood, ores and grain) and containers. This trade was worth 438 million in 2006 (Eurostat). External maritime traffic moves through the Danish straits and the Kiel canal, the world's busiest waterway in terms of small and mid-sized container vessel traffic.

The Baltic is a supply route for oil, coal and natural gas for the European Union, delivered from the oil ports of Primorsk and Ust-Luga (Russia). An underwater gas pipeline running from the far end of the Gulf of Finland to south of the Island of Rügen is in the planning stage (Nord Stream project). The Baltic has few large ports, apart from Primorsk and Saint Petersburg (Russia), but a number of medium-sized ports.

Table: Ports in the Baltic Sea area

General traffic (1)

Container traffic (2)

Major traffic

Major ports

Primosk (Russia)

Saint Petersburg (Russia)

74.2

59.6

-

1.7

Oil

All freight

Medium-sized ports

Göteborg (Sweden) (*)

Tallinn (Estonia)

Ventspil (Latvia)

Lübeck (Germany)

Klaipeida (Lithuania)

Rostock (Germany)

Riga (Latvia)

Gdansk (Poland)

39.9

36.0

31.0

29.4

27.3

26.5

25.9

19.8

0.8

0.2

0.3

0.2

All freight

Oil

Oil

RO-RO

All freight

RO-RO

Dry bulk

All freight

Container ports

Gdynia (Poland)

Kotka (Finland)

Helsinki (Finland)

17.0

13.4

0.6

0.6

0.4

(1) Million tonnes - Data for 2007 – Website of ports concerned.
(2) Million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) - Data for 2007 – Website of ports concerned

(*) Göteborg is located outside the Baltic proper on the borders of Skagerrak and Kattegat, but is a gateway to the Baltic (Source: Swedish statistics)

Passenger transport

Numerous maritime routes cross the Baltic, including car ferries. The number of passengers is close to 90 million (2007). Some of the routes were discontinued recently, when new bridges (Øresund and Store Belt) were built.

Tourism

Coastal tourism has been expanding for over a decade on the former East German coast and more recently in Poland and the Baltic States. In addition, a cruise activity based on cultural visits to Baltic cities has developed.

Shipbuilding

The Baltic is home to numerous shipyards. Helsinki and Turku (Finland) are specialised in steamships, car ferries and icebreakers. Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin (Poland) build roll-on roll-off carriers and ship hulls. The Kiel region (Germany) builds container vessels, submarines and luxury yachts.

Shipbuilding and repair in Baltic Sea rim countries

Country

Jobs (1)

Construction tonnage

Construction value

Repair value

rank

number

rank

tonnage

rank

value (€)

rank

value (€)

Germany (1)

1

22 500

1

1 171 000

1

3 126 000

1

955 000

Poland

3

17 000

5

397 000

9

584 000

5

304 000

Denmark

13

3 500

6

353 000

7

700 000

8

100 000

Finland

12

4 700

8

284 000

5

1 165 000

-

Source: Annual report of the Community of European Shipyards Associations 2007-2008

(1) Figures for Germany include North Sea shipyards.

Environment

The Baltic is faced with serious marine environment problems related to the accumulation of industrial and urban waste carried by waterways or discharged directly into its waters.

Its populated shores feature many growing industrial centres, particularly in Russia. These phenomena come on top of eutrophication of poorly renewed waters, overexploitation of key fish stocks and contamination of fish by dioxin and heavy metals. The Baltic Sea has 86 protected marine areas that add up to 29 000 km² or 6.5% of its total surface area (Kattegat included). Twenty-five other sites, in the planning stages, will bring this figure to 9.7%.

Its populated shores feature many growing industrial centres, particularly in Russia. These phenomena come on top of eutrophication of poorly renewed waters, overexploitation of key fish stocks and contamination of fish by dioxin and heavy metals. The Baltic Sea has 86 protected marine areas that add up to 29 000 km² or 6.5% of its total surface area (Kattegat included). Twenty-five other sites, in the planning stages, will bring this figure to 9.7%.

Research

The Baltic Sea is one of the world's most intensely studied regions. A large number of marine research centres carry out different common programmes (BALTEX, BASYS and BASIS). Research themes mainly concern oceanography and the marine environment.

Governance

Apart from two areas under Russian sovereignty at the far end of the Gulf of Finland and off Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea is now under the jurisdiction of European Union Member States.

Since the Baltic is very narrow, exclusive economic zones do not reach 200 nautical miles and their limits have had to be set through bilateral agreements. There are consequently no international waters in the Baltic Sea.

Except in Russian waters, the European Union manages fisheries in the Baltic within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy and consults the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council. The European Union engages in cooperation with Russia under a bilateral fisheries agreement.

The Baltic Sea is governed by several environmental agreements:

  • The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, implemented by the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM).
  • The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas.

Since the Baltic is very narrow, exclusive economic zones do not reach 200 nautical miles and their limits have had to be set through bilateral agreements. There are consequently no international waters in the Baltic Sea.

Except in Russian waters, the European Union manages fisheries in the Baltic within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy and consults the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council. The European Union engages in cooperation with Russia under a bilateral fisheries agreement.

The Baltic Sea is governed by several environmental agreements:

  • The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, implemented by the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM).
  • The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas.

Physical data

The Baltic Sea is a long arm of the sea measuring 400 000 km² and stretching over 1 300 km from the far end of the Gulf of Bothnia in the north, where the climate is polar, to the Danish islands in the south, which have a temperate maritime climate. It continues towards the North Sea through the Kattegat.

The Baltic is a shallow sea (60 m) with three important deeps of over 400 m.: Bornholm, Gdansk and Riga. It is a closed sea and only communicates with the marine environment through the Danish straits, which provide inflow of only 740 km³ of seawater a year, while river basins provide 450 km³ of freshwater. Salinity gradually lessens towards the north, from 32°/°° in Øresund to 7°/°° in the Gulf of Bothnia, resulting in winter freezes in the northern parts of the Baltic. Average temperatures range from 4 to 13° C.

The Baltic is a shallow sea (60 m) with three important deeps of over 400 m.: Bornholm, Gdansk and Riga. It is a closed sea and only communicates with the marine environment through the Danish straits, which provide inflow of only 740 km³ of seawater a year, while river basins provide 450 km³ of freshwater. Salinity gradually lessens towards the north, from 32°/°° in Øresund to 7°/°° in the Gulf of Bothnia, resulting in winter freezes in the northern parts of the Baltic. Average temperatures range from 4 to 13° C.

History

The Baltic Sea is an area of maritime circulation that continues to the heart of Europe through the large rivers that flow into it. From Antiquity, resources such as amber and furs travelled along these rivers towards the Mediterranean. The Baltic was the point of departure for most of the Germanic tribes during the great invasions.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, these waterways helped ferry the Vareg Vikings as far as Constantinople, giving rise to the Russian principalities. In the Middle Ages, the island of Gotland was the heart of a trading system that extended from Novgorod to Bruges and London. Ties with the North Sea are very ancient and became institutionalised under the Hanseatic League, whose earliest bases were set up along the Baltic (Lübeck, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gdansk, Visby, Riga and Tallinn) before extending to the North Sea.

The history of the region is characterised by rivalries between Hanse, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the German principalities, and from the 16th century, Russia. These conflicts included numerous naval wars, from the battle of Svolder (1000) to the siege of Bomarsund (1854). in the 20th century it was the scene of confrontations between Russia and Germany during the First World War: the battles of Odensholm (1914), Gotland (1915), Muhu Strait (1917) and Ice Cruise of the Baltic fleet (1918). Later, there were skirmishes between the Allies and the new Bolshevik fleet (1919). During the Cold War, the Baltic marked the boundary between Western Europe and the Communist bloc.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, these waterways helped ferry the Vareg Vikings as far as Constantinople, giving rise to the Russian principalities. In the Middle Ages, the island of Gotland was the heart of a trading system that extended from Novgorod to Bruges and London. Ties with the North Sea are very ancient and became institutionalised under the Hanseatic League, whose earliest bases were set up along the Baltic (Lübeck, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gdansk, Visby, Riga and Tallinn) before extending to the North Sea.

The history of the region is characterised by rivalries between Hanse, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the German principalities, and from the 16th century, Russia. These conflicts included numerous naval wars, from the battle of Svolder (1000) to the siege of Bomarsund (1854). in the 20th century it was the scene of confrontations between Russia and Germany during the First World War: the battles of Odensholm (1914), Gotland (1915), Muhu Strait (1917) and Ice Cruise of the Baltic fleet (1918). Later, there were skirmishes between the Allies and the new Bolshevik fleet (1919). During the Cold War, the Baltic marked the boundary between Western Europe and the Communist bloc.

Bibliography

N. BLANC-NOËL (Ed.), La Baltique: une nouvelle région en Europe, Pouvoirs comparés, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2002.

E. OZSOY & A. MIKAELIN, Sensivity to change: Black Sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea, NATO Advanced Sciences Institutes Series, Kluwer Acadamic Publisher, Dordrecht-Boston-London, 1997.

M. KLINGE, Itämeren maailma, Ed. Otava, Helsinki, 1994.

M. LEPPÄRANTA & K. MYRBERG, Physical Oceanography of the Baltic Sea, Springer Praxis, 2009.

F. LIELD, K.-M. WEBER, U. WITTE, Die Ostsee: Meeresnatur im ökologischen Notstand, Ed. Verlag die Werkstatt, 1992.

Baltic Maritime Outlook 2006: Good flows and maritime infrastructure in the Baltic Sea Region, Institute of Shipping Analysis (Göteborg), BMT Transport Solutions (Hamburg), Centre for Maritime Studies (Turku), 2006.

N. BLANC-NOËL (Ed.), La Baltique: une nouvelle région en Europe, Pouvoirs comparés, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2002.

E. OZSOY & A. MIKAELIN, Sensivity to change: Black Sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea, NATO Advanced Sciences Institutes Series, Kluwer Acadamic Publisher, Dordrecht-Boston-London, 1997.

M. KLINGE, Itämeren maailma, Ed. Otava, Helsinki, 1994.

M. LEPPÄRANTA & K. MYRBERG, Physical Oceanography of the Baltic Sea, Springer Praxis, 2009.

F. LIELD, K.-M. WEBER, U. WITTE, Die Ostsee: Meeresnatur im ökologischen Notstand, Ed. Verlag die Werkstatt, 1992.

Baltic Maritime Outlook 2006: Good flows and maritime infrastructure in the Baltic Sea Region, Institute of Shipping Analysis (Göteborg), BMT Transport Solutions (Hamburg), Centre for Maritime Studies (Turku), 2006.

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