The eternal problem of the Baltic Sea – cyanobacteria, nutrients and water eutrophication

The Baltic Sea is one of the shallowest seas in the world. Its depth, combined with a large inflow of fresh waters, carrying numerous loads of nutrients, leads to the bloom of cyanobacteria. This more and more frequent phenomenon in the Baltic Sea makes it difficult for all tourists who come to the seaside to relax. All this is due to eutrophication – excessive water nutrition.

The aim of the marine waters protection program – aPOWM, is to stop the pollution of the Baltic Sea, and eutrophication is one of the 11 features that contribute to maintaining or improving the good environmental status of marine waters. One of the basic elements negatively affecting the condition of the Baltic Sea are nutririents – nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that are carried by rivers that supply the Baltic Sea in large numbers. Both of these elements occur in nature in different forms. In the natural environment, nitrogen is most commonly present in the gas form – N2, which is the main component of air. The present form of nitrogen is ammonia – NH3, which is produced by the decomposition of organic matter. The oxygen form of nitrogen compounds are nitrates (the formula of the nitrate ion -NO3) and nitrites (the formula of the nitrite ion -NO2). Both nitrite and nitrate ions are soluble in water and therefore they are displaced with it. Changes in nitrogen between its various forms are called the nitrogen cycle in nature. In the case of phosphorus, the most common form is phosphate (-PO4). Limiting the inflow of these nutrients to rivers is one of the key challenges in the protection of the Baltic Sea.

Source: Copernicus Sentinel Data [2021],processed at the Satellite Teledetection Department, IMWM-PIB

Sources of eutrophication

According to the BALANCE OF LOADS OF POLLUTANTS DISCHARGED BY RIVERS TO THE BALTIC SEA – PLC 7 prepared by Poland in 2020, reported to HELCOM, the general structure of loads “at source”, according to the categories included in the balance, is presented in the table below. As shown in it, agriculture is the absolute largest source responsible for two-thirds of both nitrogen (67%) and phosphorus (66%) reaching Polish surface waters. The second largest source, i.e. municipal sewage treatment plants, accounts for only 9% of nitrogen and 14% of phosphorus. The third place, with a share of 7% in the nitrogen balance and 5% in the phosphorus balance, is occupied by the transboundary loads, followed closely by the natural background of 5% in relation to the nitrogen and phosphorus balance. It is worth noting that we have virtually no influence on the amount of loads from the last two categories mentioned. The remaining 9 categories account for only 12% nitrogen and 9% phosphorus. Sanitary wastewater from non-sewage areas accounts for only 4% of nitrogen and 3% of phosphorus.

Source of nutritients

Nitrogen [%]

Phosporus [%]

Direct communal point sources



Intermediate municipal point sources



Intermediate municipal point sources



Indirect industrial point sources



Indirect point sources – aquaculture



City runoffs and combined sewer systems transfers



Sanitary sewage from non-sewage areas






Direct atmospheric deposition



Forests and wastelands



Natural background



Cross-border cargo



Unknown origin loads



Source: Study of the balance of pollution loads discharged by rivers into the Baltic Sea – PLC 7 for HELCOM

The structure of nitrogen and phosphorus loads at the source is presented below, taking into account the division into five “regions”, ie the Vistula within Poland, the Oder within Poland, the basins of the Przymorze, Pregoła and Niemen rivers and cross-border catchments.


Source: Study of the balance of pollution loads discharged by rivers into the Baltic Sea – PLC 7 for HELCOM

Discharges of sewage from ships are also significant in the case of the Baltic Sea. It was not until 2016 that a ban on discharging sewage by vessels directly into the Baltic Sea was introduced.

In the case of the Baltic Sea, the greatest amount of nutrients comes from the rivers flowing into it (Fig. 1). According to the data of the Helsinki Commission, the Vistula River introduces 9% of nitrogen and 16% of phosphorus, and the rivers of the Odra River supply 6% of nitrogen and 8% of phosphorus entering the Baltic Sea, respectively.

Source: Study of the balance of pollution loads discharged by rivers into the Baltic Sea – PLC 7 for HELCOM

Nutrient surpluses reaching the Baltic Sea cause a number of unfavorable phenomena. The key one is eutrophication, i.e. water fertilization.

Dead zones

The basic parameters describing eutrophication are nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in sea water. Their growth in water leads to the development of phytoplankton. Its quantity is the second criterion for assessing the intensity of the eutrophication process. It is measured in the form of chlorophyll concentration in water. The development of phytoplankton disturbs the transparency of the water. Therefore, it is transparency that is an indicator that is the criterion for assessing eutrophication. For the rapid development of phytoplankton, in addition to nutrients, oxygen is also needed, which organisms take from the water. The reduced amount of oxygen, combined with the decreased transparency of the water, leads to the formation of deep zones known as dead zones. Therefore, the degree of oxygenation in the bottom waters is another criterion for eutrophication. The reduced amount of oxygen in the water and the poor transparency of the water cause a decline in biodiversity, especially in the case of seaweed and seagrass sensitive to the lack of light. Hence, the state of the so-called macrophytes

The effects of the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea affect not only aquatic organisms, but also us, users of coastal areas. The most famous and visible eutrophication effect is the mass blooms of cyanobacteria showing a green “scum” on the water surface. They can be visible even from long distances – in satellite images (Fig. 2). These blooms are also dangerous to human health, as cyanobacteria release various types of toxins into the water. Therefore, seaside bathing areas are closed at that time, being the bane of tourists coming to rest on the Polish coast.

PGW Waters Polskie is responsible for developing an update of the marine waters protection program (aPOWM). it will include a catalog of activities aimed at achieving good environmental status of marine waters – GES (Good Environmental Status) by improving the indicated features of the state and pressures. Eutrophication (feature 5) is a very significant pressure for the Baltic Sea, therefore the aPOWM document will propose many new actions to improve this situation, including disseminating phosphorus fertilization plans, introducing fees for nutrients in wastewater, extending monitoring and increasing requirements for the removal of nutrients in wastewater treatment plants, or catchment agricultural pollution reduction programs.

Activities under the project are carried out by governmental and local government units and entities, but they are also activities in which each of us can get involved. Together, we can stop eutrophication and protect the sea!

Source: Copernicus Sentinel Data [2021],processed at the Satellite Teledetection Department, IMWM-PIB


“The Baltic Sea is a very specific sea” – interview with Przemysław Gruszecki, director of the Environmental Management Department

Preventing degradation of the marine environment, restoring ecosystems or reducing pollution of the Baltic waters are some of the activities indicated in the program for the protection of marine waters, developed and updated by Polish Waters. Przemysław Gruszecki, Director of the Water Environment Management Department at PGW Polish Waters, talks about the benefits for the sectors dependent on the Baltic Sea and for each of us.

Under the slogan Save the Sea! Polish Waters update the Marine Waters Protection Program. What is its purpose?

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive is an EU legislation that aims to protect our seas and oceans and their resources. The aim of the directive is to restore marine waters to good condition. It is not about literal water and the improvement of their quality, but about the condition of ecosystems functioning in these reservoirs. Poland is committed to improving the condition of the Baltic Sea waters, and the Marine Waters Protection Program is part of this strategy. It is understood as a 6-year process of managing sea waters in a way that will allow us to maintain or improve the good condition of the Baltic Sea.

At what planning stage of the project are we currently?

We are in the process of updating the document, which is a summary of environmental and economic analyzes, presenting a package of measures aimed at meeting the directive objective, i.e. achieving good condition of the Baltic Sea waters.

What are these activities?

In the draft update of the Marine Waters Protection Program (aPOWM) we are talking about two types of measures: on the one hand, measures resulting directly from other programs and directives, and on the other hand, about new tasks that we propose for implementation if the former seem insufficient. In addition to these two groups, which make up the basic actions, we also have the possibility of implementing ad hoc actions, implemented in the event of emergency situations requiring intervention.

Are these activities only carried out at sea?

Some of them are taken on land, some are directly related to sea waters. As examples, I can mention the development of port infrastructure in the part serving to supply electricity to ships, the promotion of the use of natural gas as fuel by ships, and even plans to save animals suffering from oil spills. On land, we will focus, for example, on the conditions of fertilizer storage, agriculture or municipal wastewater treatment, which will contribute to reducing the amount of nutrients flowing into the Baltic Sea, and thus improving the quality of water in our sea.

Who will perform these tasks?

Activities in the Marine Waters Protection Program are divided between various institutions. Polish waters have their share for which they are responsible. Only by acting together can we achieve our goal of a clean, rich in biodiversity Baltic Sea in the long term.

As users of the Baltic sea waters, whether it’s every day or just on holiday, will we feel the impact of the program on our daily life? Can we have a say in the program?

First of all, we must realize that the Baltic Sea is a very specific sea. It is shallow – the average depth is about 53 m, which corresponds to the height of a 20-story building. Compared to, for example, the North Sea, which is several times deeper, it is not much. The deepest point in the Baltic Sea is about 450 m. In the case of the Black Sea, the deepest point is over 2 km. These natural conditions obviously affect the effectiveness of the actions taken and how quickly their effects can be seen. And while we do not have a direct influence on the implementation of the program, we can contribute to the improvement of the condition of the Baltic Sea through our everyday behavior, especially during a holiday by the sea.

And how is the Baltic Sea in terms of salinity compared to other seas?

When we speak of the Baltic Sea, we mean a shallow body of water with a positive water balance. More water flows into it through rivers and drainage basins than it evaporates. Moreover, these are fresh waters. The salinity of the Baltic Sea is relatively low, and here we are also talking about multiple differences compared to other reservoirs.

Certainly, many of Poles who travel around Europe and spent their holidays at a different sea, the first thing they notice is the difference in the salinity of their waters compared to the Baltic Sea; Adriatic, Mediterranean and Black Sea are much saltier. In the Baltic Sea, the average salinity ranges from 7-8 per mille in the vicinity of Denmark, to 3 in the north, between Finland and Sweden. The Mediterranean Sea is salinity 39 per mille. As we can see, the Baltic Sea is not very salty and depends on infusions of definitely saltier waters from the North Sea.

We already know that the Baltic Sea is relatively shallow and not salty. What are the consequences?

The Baltic Sea is much smaller than we might think. In addition, it is intensively ‘supplied’ by fresh waters, rich in nutrients from human activities, including agriculture. This causes algae blooms. The inhabitants of Pomerania and the coast regularly observe algae blooms, which translates into closing beaches and limiting swimming in the sea.

Can you describe the problem of eutrophication of the Baltic Sea in more detail?

As a result of algae bloom, the transmission of sunlight to deeper layers is limited, which in turn causes the loss of other species of sea grasses. Rotting algae, disintegrating, deplete the oxygen from the bottom layers and the parts of the Baltic are formed that are deprived of oxygen in the deeper layers – the dead zones. The infusions from the North Sea can improve the oxygen situation, because these waters are heavier, more salty. As a result of natural processes, they push out the deoxygenated waters of the Baltic Sea. The bad luck of the Baltic Sea is that there are fewer and fewer infusions. In the 1970s and 1980s, this was approximately 5-7 infusions over 10 years. Meanwhile, from 2000 to the present, there were only 2.

What is the cause of this?

Climate change. The occurrence of this North Sea infusion process is conditioned by the specific circumstances that must occur; wind directions, layering, Baltic waters inclination, pressure, temperature difference. If not for the Danish straits, the Baltic Sea would be a lake, as it would quickly turn into a reservoir of fresh water.

The Baltic Sea is also specific due to its geopolitical location, right?

Yes, we can say that the Baltic Sea is almost an internal sea of the European Union. Almost, but it’s not a EU country. Here it is worth emphasizing the role of cooperation between the EU countries and the Russian Federation on the basis of the Helsinki Convention on the protection of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea. The EU countries are additionally connected with the so-called the maritime directive, pursuant to which they are developing a joint project for the Baltic Sea – the already mentioned Marine Waters Protection Program.

What would fulfill the assumptions of the Protect the Sea! in 100%?

If the Marine Waters Protection Program and its update could be fully implemented, meeting the directive’s objective of achieving good status for marine waters in 2027, then we would have a sea that would be a healthy ecosystem.

A healthy ecosystem means full of fish and other marine life. How is it now?

We have problems with the overfishing of the Baltic Sea, i.e. the availability of fish. Each of us loves to eat fish during the holidays, but there are less and less of these fish. Here we are dealing with both the tourist aspect and the economy, because we are talking about our fishermen and the economy sector, therefore ensuring the biological balance and good condition of the Baltic waters is also an action that is going to help restore the resources of species that have been overfished.

Is there a chance that the Baltic Sea will regain its ecological balance?

Yes. We want our sea to be rich in biodiversity and safe for tourists to swim. A sea that we can use in a sustainable way, which does not become a reservoir in need of rescue. As a result of this: cleaner water in the Baltic Sea, better functioning aquatic ecosystems, and the restoration of biological life. For us, it means the safety of using its benefits during the holidays, including the lack of restrictions related to, for example, algae and closing beaches. For fishermen – greater job opportunities and thus everyone enjoys eating good, healthy fish. These are both social and economic benefits of the program implementation, the draft of which we are preparing. It must be an action taken by all the Baltic states. The actions of one country, be it Poland, Lithuania or Sweden, will not be enough.

Are pollution the main threats to the Baltic Sea?

Not completely. By pollution, we most often mean water quality, i.e. a set of chemical indicators, temperature, color, salinity, chemicals, nutrients. We have a fairly traditional approach. On the other hand, the condition assessment is much more extensive. It concerns not only the quality, such as nutrient concentration, but also the functioning of the ecosystem. We are talking about underwater noise, seabed integrity, eutrophication. We distinguish as many as 11 phenomena described by these features.

Is it true that Polish waters are the dirtiest?

No. Poland is the most populous country in the Baltic Sea, apart from Russia, of course, which is a downfall. 38 million inhabitants is the dominant number on the Baltic scale. In addition, we have two largest rivers in the catchment area of this sea: the Vistula and the Oder, and the area from which waters flow into them also includes part of Germany, Ukraine and Belarus. Therefore, the load of pollutants that we introduce into the Baltic Sea is necessarily the greatest. On the one hand, this makes it easier to show that Poland is the biggest polluter of the Baltic Sea, but it is not a fair statement. It is enough to convert it into the number of inhabitants or the catchment area and then our role is drawn in a slightly different light. However, it is difficult to overestimate the scale of Poland.

Will it be possible for the public to refer to the propositions of the project by the society as part of the update of the Marine Waters Protection Program?

Yes, at the beginning of July, we plan to submit the draft update of the document to public consultations, which will last 3 months. As part of consultations in Baltic cities, we will organize 3 regional conferences. At the same time, a 21-day consultation on the environmental impact assessment of this document will be conducted.

Will the consultation and legislative path be straightforward after the consultations are over?

The very procedure of creating and approving aPOWM update is quite complicated. We are talking about sectors of the economy, departments of government administration, which is why as many as 10 ministers who agree on this document and to whom these activities in some way relate, or the sectors of administration they control, play their role in the process. After being approved by the Council of Ministers, the draft is sent to the European Commission for an opinion, which is why the process is quite complicated.

Nevertheless, its essential element is actually social consultations. Anyone who is interested, regardless of whether they live by the Baltic Sea or not, but is characterized by concern for the Baltic Sea, can comment and suggest something, pay attention to certain aspects that may have been omitted, or, in the opinion of the person submitting the comment, are not properly treated or nor is the problem given the proper weight. We are waiting for all the voices and we hope that the response will be significant and that not only offices and authorities, or environmental organizations, which we can certainly count on, will express their opinion. Let us remember that the Baltic Sea is our common business!

Thank you for the conversation.

Interview was conducted by Joanna Sasal

PGW Polish Waters


Contest “Protect the sea. Don’t litter!”

As part of the “Protect the Sea” project, we have prepared a special competition for entrepreneurs!

Do you run a small or medium-sized business in the coastal area? PGW Polish Waters invite you to take part in the competition “Protect the sea. Don’t litter”, which aims to draw attention to the protection of the waters of the Baltic Sea by showing pro-environmental activities as part of business activities conducted by small entrepreneurs in the coastal zone, in terms of waste management for the sake of the Baltic Sea. Record a video showing how you reduce waste production in your business and win PLN 2,000 gross! We are waiting for applications until August 31, 2021 at the following address:
We are waiting for your films!

Regulations and details in the CONTEST tab.


Save the Sea! We act for the biodiversity of the Baltic Sea

Ensuring good condition of the Baltic Sea waters is the goal of the Marine Waters Protection Program – POWM, updated by PGW Woda Polskie. Biodiversity is one of the features that testify to the state of our sea. On the Biological Diversity Day, we would like to remind you that by protecting the Baltic Sea, we provide the opportunity to develop and maintain species diversity of marine flora and fauna.

The Baltic Sea is one of the shallowest and most polluted seas in the world. The Baltic Sea is surrounded by economically highly developed countries inhabited by nearly 100 million people. The economic and social progress of the last century has had a significant impact on the marine ecosystems of the Baltic region. The inflow of nutrients to the sea basin, overfishing and other forms of our economic activity, together with the observed climate changes, do not remain indifferent to the animals and plants found in the Baltic Sea.

What does Baltic biodiversity look like?

Due to the specificity of our sea, the most abundant species in the Baltic Sea are those with high tolerance to changes in salinity of its waters. Too low salinity makes it impossible for typical marine species to live, therefore in the Baltic Sea we meet much less species than in the neighboring North Sea. This is of course related to the limited possibility of inflow of the highly salty waters of the North Sea and the inflow of large amounts of fresh waters by the extensive network of rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea. Interestingly, some animals also reach much smaller sizes than their northern relatives, the best example of which are marine mollusks, the size of which can be easily verified by comparing the shells of the same species found on the beaches of the Baltic Sea and other seas. A very popular common cockle, whose shells can be found not only on the beach, but also as part of numerous souvenirs, in the Baltic Sea reaches a size of 30 mm, while outside the Baltic Sea – even 50 mm. Another example is the sand-climber, which in the Baltic Sea reaches only 60-80 mm, while in fully salty seas, it grows up to 15 cm!

What floats in the depths of the Baltic Sea? [1]:

Although the gray seal is the most recognizable representative of the Baltic Sea, there are many more organisms inhabiting this reservoir. Many of them are practically imperceptible to the human eye, and it is they that inhabit the Baltic Sea in such great numbers. The following are the groups of organisms inhabiting our sea:

– phytoplankton – microscopic plant organisms (algae) passively floating in the overexposed layer of water. Over 700 species have been found in the phytoplankton of the Baltic Sea – diatoms, cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates dominate.

– phytobenthos – plants growing on the seabed. In the Baltic Sea, sedentary vegetation is composed of green algae (e.g. seaweed, tape), brown algae (e.g. algae), red algae (e.g. rose and fork) and flowering plants (e.g. seagrass).

– zooplankton – animal organisms more or less passively floating in the water. This group includes both single-celled animals and multi-celled organisms with a complex structure: rotifers, crustaceans (e.g. copepods), and jellyfish that grow up to several dozen centimeters in diameter – cyanea and  Aurelia aurita. Moreover, there are numerous fish larvae, polychaetes and molluscs in the zooplankton of the Baltic Sea.

– zoobenthos – animals living on the seabed. The benthic fauna of the Baltic Sea is dominated by representatives of mussels, e.g. mussels, cockles, sand clams, Baltic hornbeam, crustaceans, e.g. barnacles, shrimp, gudgeon, double, shrimp), snails, e.g. aquatic fish, polychaetes e.g. nereid and oligochaetes. The most diverse benthic communities can be found on the rocky bottom.

– nekton – large animals, actively swimming in the water. In the Baltic Sea,  there are26 species of marine fish and several species of freshwater and bi-environmental fish. Four species of marine mammals live here: gray seal, ringed seal, harbor seal and porpoise.

According to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, biodiversity is one of the 11 features determining the quality of the Baltic waters, defined as the diversity of life forms around the globe on various levels: within species, between species and the diversity of ecosystems. In order to improve or maintain the good condition of the Baltic Sea, every 6 years, each country in the region prepares a set of corrective actions included in the directional document. In Poland’s case, the most important strategic document is the Sea Waters Protection Program [2], the first update of which (aPOWM) is currently being prepared by PGW Woda Polskie.

Save the sea! What actions for biodiversity are included in the Marine Waters Protection Program?

Ensuring a reduction in the inflow of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), causing uncontrolled growth of harmful organisms, e.g. cyanobacteria, and proper biodiversity was one of the key tasks set out in the first Marine Waters Protection Program prepared in 2016. This is still the current goal and many of the eutrophication activities will also be included in the program update. This is a pressure that directly contributes to the health of many species and their habitats in the Baltic Sea. Apart from them, a set of activities dedicated to the improvement of the condition of sea mammals and birds was prepared, e.g. reducing disturbance of seals by humans at their place of breeding, adding the porpoise as an object of protection in the Natura 2000 area – Słupska Bank, active protection of the ringed plover. These are just some of the measures proposed in aPOWM, aimed at improving or maintaining the proper state of biodiversity, as well as the entire trophic chain.

The Baltic Sea is home to many living organisms. Man, as a user of this ecosystem, has a duty not to harm and even help the organisms living in it. Let us preserve the richness of fauna and flora – let us protect the sea together.


[2] The development of the Marine Waters Protection Program is imposed by the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing the framework for community activities in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) and transposing its provisions – the Water Law.


Let’s stop the journey of garbage from the rivers to the Baltic Sea – join the action Water is not a garbage can!

Rivers are an integral part of the Baltic Sea – as many as 97% of rivers end their course in the north of Poland, in the Baltic basin. By keeping them clean, you have a direct impact on the improvement of the condition of our sea waters. Water is not a garbage can; by protecting the rivers you say Save the Sea!

Maintaining the proper condition of habitats and its species dependent on waters, mainly related to river valleys, is the responsibility of man as a user of the ecosystem. Activities related to the achievement of environmental objectives for individual water bodies, indirectly also contribute to the achievement of good environmental status of marine waters, thanks to, among others, reducing the level of pollution in the waters flowing into the Baltic Sea.

It is a complex problem, the source of which is both human activity at sea and also on land. Incorrect waste management is one of the most important sources of the penetration of substances harmful to the environment into water and soil. Households are responsible for 48% of the waste going to the sea. The waste in the waters ending up in the Baltic Sea is largely the result of washing out illegal landfills in river valleys, deliberately throwing rubbish into river beds and leaving them on the banks, dumping them into various types of reservoirs connected to the rivers through which they can reach the Baltic Sea. Proper waste management is equally important, especially waste hazardous to aquatic ecosystems.

Rivers of garbage

As much as 70% of the mass of waste is plastic, which flows into the river and travels with the current, sometimes settling on the bank or its bottom. The plastic often breaks down into small pieces, releasing harmful microplastics. Remains of paints and other substances that get into the waters from abandoned landfills are toxic. Some of the pollutants travel through the rivers to the Baltic Sea itself. Both solid waste and water-soluble substances leave their mark and affect local ecosystems and our health.

Marine waste

Marine litter is a global problem. Each year, millions of tonnes of garbage end up in the seas and oceans, turning them into the world’s largest landfills and causing environmental, economic, health and aesthetic problems. Poor solid waste disposal practices, a lack of infrastructure and a lack of awareness of the consequences of actions taken are gradually worsening the situation. The Baltic Sea is also exposed to this problem. For years, successive measures have been implemented to organize waste management, in which the theme of water protection, both inland and sea, should be more and more emphasized.

Join the action, because by taking care of the rivers you protect the Baltic Sea!

The problem keeps recurring, and new waste appears soon after the site is cleared. As part of the campaign “The river remembers who poisons it”, PGW Woda Polskie presents the problem of water pollution, educating the elderly and young, children, students, people actively relaxing by the water and water users. The main theme of the campaign is one message: do not leave garbage by the water, do not poison it. Convince others to do so – your neighbors and friends. Teach your children that the garbage from a walk or a picnic can be taken with you and thrown into a bin or container. As much as 97% of our rivers are located in the catchment area of ​​the Baltic Sea, so remember that by caring for rivers, we also protect the Baltic Sea.

Polish Waters comprehensively deal with the improvement of water status. As regards the protection of sea waters, the Marine Waters Protection Program (POWM) is being developed, which includes a catalog of activities aimed at achieving good environmental status of marine waters – GES (good environmental status) * for the indicated features of the state and pressure. Marine waste (Feature 10) is a significant pressure on the Baltic Sea, with the waste carried along with rivers accounting for a significant proportion. As users of all kinds of water bodies, we put pressure on the environment every day. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to stop the negative human impact on aquatic ecosystems. The currently implemented Update of the Marine Waters Protection Program (aPOWM) will propose a number of new measures to improve this situation, including equipping municipalities with modern beach cleaning equipment, cleaning campaigns on the banks of rivers and lakes, or lobbying for the ban on the use of micro- and nanoparticles made of plastics.

By caring for our rivers, we also care for the Baltic Sea. Thanks to the cooperation and increasing the awareness of our citizens, we can improve the condition of our Baltic Sea. Therefore, protect the Sea with us!

* GES – Good Environmental Status, means “the state of the environment of marine waters creating ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas, which are clean, healthy and fertile in relation to their conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is is sustainable and guarantees the possibility of use and activities for present and future generations “(Art. 3 RDSM)


Protect the sea! Gray seal – the endangered pearl of the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is one of the shallowest and most polluted seas in the world. To protect the Baltic Sea, we improve the living conditions of flora and fauna, including native species of seals. Check what you can do for the sea to make the seals better and protect the sea!

Over the past 100 years, the seal population in the Baltic Sea has drastically decreased. Fortunately, we have seen an increase in their numbers for past several years. Unfortunately, their population in the Polish part of the Baltic Sea is still unsatisfactory, therefore activities supporting the protection of these animals are carried out as part of the protection of the Baltic Sea.

While walking along the Polish beaches of the Baltic Sea, we can meet seals resting in the rays of the sun. There are three species of seals in Poland – the gray seal – the most numerous, the harbor seal and the least common ringed seal. Seals are mammals, without which it is difficult to imagine the Baltic landscape, which is why the gray seal has become the symbol of the Polish Waters project – Protect the Sea! It happens that seals go up the rivers in search of food. This winter, one of them appeared at the barrage in Włocławek, swimming through almost a 300-kilometer section of the Vistula!

The protection of the habitats of seals living on the Baltic coast is one of the postulates of the project to update the Marine Waters Protection Program – aPOWM. Although in recent years we have observed an increase in the number of these animals, we still need to continue to protect them.

Pressures and impacts – threat analysis for seals

Seals need access to optimal resting, molting and breeding sites. In Poland, we are dealing with the development of tourism and a lot of tourist pressure; practically on the entire coastal area. It happens that the animals are disturbed while resting. Sea transport, fishingy and even hydrotechnical works, such as the reconstruction of breakwaters or coastal bands, are factors that may affect the state of the seal population. They are not indifferent to pollutants, such as synthetic and non-synthetic substances, radionuclides or waste, as well as noise and water eutrophication.

Conservation activities

The gray seal is under strict species protection and indicated as a subject of protection in eight Natura 2000 areas, including Zatoka Pucka and the Hel Peninsula (PLH220032) and Ostoja in the mouth of the Vistula (PLH220044 Habitats protection).

Protective measures should primarily include the introduction of the so-called “Safe nets”, allowing for a significant reduction of by-catch and the designation of special protection zones in key resting, molting and breeding areas for the species.

The Marine Waters Protection Program (aPOWM) contains a catalogue of activities aimed at achieving good environmental status of marine waters – GES *, based on selected features, including biodiversity, the complexity of which is also evidenced by the presence and state of national seal populations. Man exerts various pressures on the marine environment, changing the state of the marine environment, and also worsening it.

PGW Waters Polskie is responsible for the development of the POWM, and the activities under the project are carried out by various government and local government units and entities. These are also activities that each of us can carry out. Thanks to the cooperation and increasing the awareness of our citizens, we can improve the condition of our Baltic Sea. Therefore, save the sea with us!

* GES – means “the state of the environment of marine waters creating ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas, which are clean, healthy and fertile in relation to their conditions, and the use of the marine environment takes place at a level that is sustainable and guarantees the preservation of opportunities. use and conduct of activities by present and future generations “(Art. 3 RDSM)


Save the Sea! A package of strategic actions for the Baltic Sea is being developed

Preventing degradation of the marine environment, reducing pollution and restoring ecosystems are part of the activities indicated in the update of the Marine Waters Protection Program (aPOWM), developed by Polish Waters. It will be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment and public consultation. Sea transport, fishing, tourism – these are some sectors dependent on the Baltic Sea, the presence and development of which will not be possible without proper protection.

The Baltic Sea is one of the shallowest and most polluted seas in the world. The key threats to its ecosystem are progressive eutrophication, intensive fishing and pollution of the marine environment. In 1997, the Helsinki Commission established March 22 as the World Day for the Protection of the Baltic Sea in order to draw the attention of the international community to the need to take immediate action to improve its condition.

Bloom of cyanobacteria in the Bay of Gdańsk (15 July). © ESA / Copernicus

Protection of sea waters involves not only activities planned on the coast or the open sea, but primarily the rational management of waters throughout our country. Activities undertaken by agriculture and water and sewage management are of key importance in this respect, but each of us takes part in the protection of the Baltic Sea, also through the conscious selection of fish for the dinner table or reducing the consumption of plastic in the household. A large amount of pollutants end up in the sea through our rivers, so let’s remember that by taking care of the rivers, we also protect the Baltic Sea – said Paweł Rusiecki – Deputy President for Water Environment Management in Polish Waters.

The Framework Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 2008/56 / EC, known as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, sets the framework for the integrated approach of the Member States to the protection of marine waters. Its aim is to preserve the good environmental condition of Europe’s seas, maintain their resources and ensure the use of maritime services. Poland implements EU regulations mainly through the provisions of the Water Law Act. The marine strategy consists of the preparation of a preliminary assessment of the environmental status of marine waters, setting environmental objectives and related features for them, determining the properties typical for good environmental status of marine waters, and the preparation and implementation of a monitoring and protection program.

As part of the marine strategy, the State Water Holding Polish Waters sets environmental objectives for marine waters and prepares a draft program for their protection. Currently, the second planning cycle is underway, under which the methodology for the development of the program was prepared along with the analysis of gaps: in activities preventing the achievement of environmental objectives and in knowledge about the condition of the marine environment, preventing or hindering proper planning and monitoring of activities. The works entered the second, key stage, the result of which will be the selection of activities necessary to achieve or maintain good status of sea waters, e.g. identifying water pollutants and restoring or improving the condition of marine ecosystems.

The condition of the Baltic Sea is influenced by activities carried out in almost the entire country, as 99.7% of Poland’s territory lies in the Baltic Sea catchment area. Therefore, the proposed solutions will apply not only to the coastal area, but also to the entire country, including, among others, agriculture sector or water and sewage management. They will be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and a strategic environmental impact assessment, as well as a 3-month public consultation, after which a draft update of the Marine Waters Protection Program (aPOWM) will be prepared for adoption by the Council of Ministers and a report for the European Commission will be prepared in the first quarter of 2022.

The Baltic Sea (Pomeranian Bay, Bornholm, Rügen) as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite, July 26, 2019 © NASA / USGS