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Protected areas under international law

Marine Protected areas (HELCOM MPAs), contracting parties and Convention area under the Helsinki Convention

Marine protected areas (HELCOM MPAs) in under the Helsinki Convention in 2015

HELCOM marine protected area network in the Baltic Sea shows gaps despite expansion

The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) initiated an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas (HELCOM MPAs) for the Baltic Sea in 1994. By 2015, the number of designated protected areas had increased from the original 62 to 174, representing almost 12 percent of the Convention area. Nonetheless, gaps still remain in the protected area network.


Under the 1992 Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment Area of the Baltic Sea, all nine Baltic coastal states agreed concrete goals to protect the area’s natural environment and its biodiversity. The establishment of an ecologically coherent (interconnected) network of marine protected areas (HELCOM MPAs) is thus a priority nature conservation measure. In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, HELCOM was able to report that, among other things, the Baltic Sea was the first marine area to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) targets calling for effective conservation of at least 10 percent of each of the world’s ecological regions by 2010.

At the time of writing, some 174 HELCOM marine protected areas have been designated (compared with 78 in 2007 and 62 in 1994). These cover a combined area of 54,367 km² and thus 11.9 percent of the Convention area. The HELCOM MPAs span some 17 percent of coastal waters and 4.6 percent of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs, between 12 and a maximum 200 nautical miles from the coast). Germany has 12 HELCOM marine protected areas measuring a total of 5,840 km².

Marine protected area network still shows gaps

The share of HELCOM marine protected areas varies greatly across the different regions of the Baltic Sea. Given the at times vast spatial distances between the MPAs, the network’s coherence has yet to be secured. The unequal geographic distribution of the HELCOM MPAs results in the fact that marine areas which are situated at a great distance from the coast, and also certain physiographic regions of the Baltic Sea, are not yet adequately represented in the marine protection area network.

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