The Baltic Sea produces benefits for people

Humans have been exploiting the Baltic Sea for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The Baltic Sea offers us many benefits, such as food and possibilities for recreation. It also brings us benefits that are harder to see, like climate regulation, which occurs by binding carbon within the bottom sediments. All such benefits from the Baltic Sea and the rest of nature are known as ecosystem services.

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Susanna Jernberg

The author is preparing a doctoral thesis at the Marine Research Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE. She studies how the Baltic Sea diversity produces ecosystem services and how these services could be taken into account in decision-making.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, published in 2005, brought the importance of ecosystem services to the attention of the general public for the first time. This report assessed the state of the planet’s various ecosystem services and the effects on humans caused by weakened ecosystems.

The concept of ecosystem services aims to make visible how important functioning ecosystems are to humans. Humanity is dependent on the ecosystem services provided by nature, and it is therefore important to ensure that there are enough ecosystem services for future generations also.

There are three types of ecosystem services

Ecosystem services can be divided into three groups, i.e. production, regulation and maintenance, and cultural. Some classifications also include services that support other services. These are the different processes and functions of an ecosystem, such as primary production, which is carried out by photosynthesising algae.

The most important production services in the Baltic Sea mainly include fish, such as herring and pikeperch, which we use as food. Not only does fishing provide us with food, it is also an important livelihood for many people.

Regulatory and maintenance services include, but are not limited to, eutrophication buffering. The catchment area of the Baltic Sea is large compared to its surface area. Although the Baltic Sea is eutrophic due to human activities, the situation would probably be even worse without the organisms that bind nutrients to themselves and the bottom sediments. Thus, it is organisms that alleviate the effects of eutrophication.

Recreation occurring along the coastlines of the Baltic Sea, such as recreational fishing and hiking, are important activities for many people. It has been found that up to 80% of the inhabitants of the Baltic Sea coastal states have spent time by the sea within the past year.

Although recreation is considered to be a cultural service, it also includes, for example, symbolic values associated with a particular place or other spiritual well-being that the sea offers us.

In the future, it will be interesting to see how climate change affects the Baltic Sea and what will happen to all the ecosystem services that the sea currently offers.