Discharges of nutrients are still cause for concern in Baltic Sea

The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) is raising concerns over the level of nitrogen and phosphorus being discharged into the Baltic Sea, causing eutrophication, although the good news is that, on the whole, nutrient discharges have decreased since the end of the 1980s.

According to a report into the progress of the Baltic nations in implementing a 1988 ministerial declaration that nutrient loads should be cut by 50% by 1995, published by HELCOM, the target has been reached as far as phosphorus discharges from point sources is concerned, but diffuse sources, particularly agriculture, are the main cause of concern. These reductions in phosphorus discharges have occurred mainly in the transition countries, as a result of fundamental changes in their political and economic systems, and there have been smaller reductions in the European Union countries, which have been attributed water protection measures.

“Most of the nitrogen discharges are coming from agriculture,” said Göran Mårtensson from HELCOM. “The Challenge is to gain control over the numerous diffuse sources within the agricultural sector.”

In general, agricultural sources decreased their nitrogen discharges, with smaller cuts in phosphorus emissions. There was no decrease in agricultural phosphorus loading in Finland, Germany and Sweden, despite considerable reductions in the use of phosphorus fertilisers. This anomaly has been attributed to a net surplus of phosphorus in the soil due to past agricultural activities. However, estimates suggest that all the transition countries, barring Poland, have achieved their 50% agricultural nutrient loading targets, with 80 to 90% cuts in the use of fertilisers, and a 30 to 40% decrease in agricultural production.

Two weeks ago, HELCOM also announced that the Baltic region had reached its goal of reducing discharges of hazardous substances into the Sea by 50% (see related story).

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