Nature inventories to support marine conservation in Åland

The project aims to map the underwater marine nature of the Åland Islands to enable true ecosystem-based management of the area. Based on the project results, the most suitable areas for nature conservation can be identified, and new marine protected areas (MPAs) will be designated. By managing the different uses of the sea in a sustainable way and by protecting high nature values, the society can benefit from the sea also in the future.

Situation and background 

The sea area around the Åland Islands, especially its northern parts, is one of the most pristine archipelago areas of the northern Baltic Sea, but its potentially high marine nature values remain largely unmapped. Activities such as shipping, fish farming, wind energy production and tourism are expanding rapidly in the area, being threats to the marine environment. To manage the marine areas proactively in an ecologically sustainable way and to establish new MPAs, information on the distribution of important marine habitats and species is urgently needed.

 

A very small division in the Government of Åland (GÅ) deals with all nature protection issues in Åland, without possibilities to carry out marine mapping. Therefore, Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU), with long experience in marine mapping and spatial modelling, and with a biological field station at Åland Islands, will provide the managers with valuable data and information for management purposes. As ÅAU has taken part in the Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment, VELMU, since its beginning in 2004, we can and will use best practices to obtain new data and to process and develop end products. Through a site selection analysis that uses information produced in the project and via communication with the stakeholders, we can suggest the best possible areas to be designatied as new MPAs. Furthermore, our results will support management actions arising from other EU directives (e.g. MSFD, WFD and MSP), ensuring sustainable use of the unique sea areas around Åland Islands.

 

Project activities and effects 

The project goal is to map the marine underwater nature around Åland Islands to enable ecosystem-based management and the designation of new MPAs. Extensive field inventories are carried out by diving, video filming and acoustic methods to get new information from areas where data does not exist or is too scarce. Based on both new and existing data, distribution models and maps of habitats and species are produced. These data and maps are used to support ecosystem-based management and maritime spatial planning but also for marine research activities. Further, a site-selection analysis using MARXAN is done to identify the most suitable nature areas that should be incorporated into the MPA network of Åland Islands, taking into account socio-economical aspects. The involvement of managers and communication to stakeholders are central activities of the project, to receive input to the site-selection analysis. In addition, the communication of the project activities and results to the local people is considered of special importance, to raise awareness about the underwater nature, the importance of a healthy marine environment and on the MPA designation process.

      Beneficiary

      Åbo Akademi University

      Partners

      • Government of Åland
      • European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

      Project region 

      The Archipelago area of the Åland Islands

      Project duration 

      2019-06-01 – 2023-05-31

      Budget

      total project budget: € 796,000.00
      funding baltfc: € 230,000.00