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Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 18 Jan 2019

Eastern Gulf of Finland

General Information
The area is a relatively shallow (maximum depth 80 m) archipelago, characterized by hundreds of small islands and skerries, coastal lagoons and boreal narrow inlets, as well as a large area of open sea. The area’s geomorphology shows clear signs from the last glaciation, such as end moraines, sandy beaches, rocky islands and clusters of erratic blocks. Due to the low salinity (0 to 5 permilles in the sea surface layer), the species composition is a mixture of freshwater and marine organisms, and the diversity of aquatic plants in particular is high. Many marine species, including habitat-forming key species, such as bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and blue mussel (Mytilus trossulus), live at the limits of their geographical distribution, making them vulnerable to human disturbance and the effects of climate change. The area has a rich birdlife and supports one of the most endangered populations of the ringed seal (Pusa hispida botnica) in the Baltic Sea.
The area is situated in the north-eastern and eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, in the Baltic Sea, which is the largest brackish-water area in the world. The area includes several types of sea areas: (1) a morphologically very complex archipelago with a specific geology, with clear signs from the last glaciation (ca. 18.000 – 9.000 BP); (2) a relatively open shallow coast with various sediment types, including large sandy shores; and (3) open-sea areas characterized by offshore conditions with few rocky islands and relatively deep bottoms (Kaskela et al. 2012, Kaskela & Kotilainen 2017). Water depth is relatively low in the coastal areas (mostly 0 to 30 m), while the maximum depth of the open sea area is 80 metres (Fig. 2). The high geodiversity of the eastern Gulf of Finland arises from its Precambrian crystalline basement, and the variable bottom types, including rapakivi granite, large boulders, moraine, gravel, sand and mud (Kaskela et al., 2012; Kaskela and Kotilainen, 2017, Kaskela et al., 2017). Till deposits, moraines, eskers and underwater sandbanks are typical seabed features of the area (Häkkinen and Åker 1991). The offshore seabed sediments in the middle part of the area are mud, hard clay and hard bottom complex. Many of the islands, especially in the western parts of the area, have shores consisting of rocks, boulders, stones or shingle. The shores eastward from Vyborg Bay are characterized by sandy shores with high dunes followed inshore by marine terraces, and the southern coasts of the area are formed by moraines and Paleozoic clays intermixed with Pleistocene deposits (Amantov et al. 2012). The area also features certain spectacular islands, such as Pitkäviiri (http://www.nationalparks.fi/gulfoffinlandnp/nature), a 2 km-long esker island, and Gogland, an 11 km-long island in the open sea, which is the highest island of the Baltic Sea, peaking at176 m above sea level (Sokolova & Trifonov 2016). The water quality and salinity of the eastern part of the area are significantly influenced by the River Neva, the largest river in the Baltic Sea (Golubkov 2009). All coastal areas freeze over every winter for at least a few weeks, and even the open-sea areas tend to freeze over during most winters. Regular monitoring of the ecological state of the sea takes place in the Finnish Sea area, implementing EU directives and Finnish legislation. The Finnish Inventory Programme for Marine Underwater Environment (VELMU) has conducted extensive biodiversity inventories in the area. The inventories conducted from 2004 to 2017 have included dive lines and drop videos, benthic sampling, fish larvae sampling and echo soundings. Observation data for hundreds of species is available, and species distribution models (SDMs) have been made for more than 100 species (below referred to as “VELMU data”; viewable at https://paikkatieto.ymparisto.fi/velmu). To the west, the physical and chemical parameters of the water, as well as benthic and planktonic communities, have been monitored both in offshore and coastal areas by several institutes, including the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Russian State Hydrometeorological University. Distribution of Red List species, particularly waterbirds, seals, and aquatic plants and algae, are available for existing nature reserves. The data has been collected and compiled by several institutes, such as Komarov Botanical Institute, St. Petersburg State University, Zoological Institute, St. Petersburg Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Baltic Fund for Nature. A Finnish-Russian project, Transboundary Tools for Spatial Planning and Conservation of the Gulf of Finland (TOPCONS), which ran from 2012 to 2014, has collected data on species and habitats in the northern part of the area (http://www.merikotka.fi/topcons/index.php/en/overview.html). Also, the recent Gulf of Finland Assessment was prepared through a Finnish-Russian collaboration (Raateoja and Setälä 2016). The area also has socio-ecological significance. Since pre-historic times it has been home to coastal Finns, Karelians, Votians, Izora and other minority and indigenous peoples and local communities. For example, in the Virolahti archipelago, in the northern part of the area, local fishers have practised self-governance of the seasonal harvest of sprat and Baltic herring by distributing the harvest locations and boat harbours using indigenous local knowledge (ILK) (Raussi 1966). Suursaari Island has been home to traditional seal hunters, whose legacy has been carried out by the present-day seal hunters based in Kotka. Their harvests and knowledge focus on the grey seal, and they wish to protect and keep the ringed seal as a non-harvest species, due to its low numbers, and maintain self-management and regulation of hunting (Mustonen and Mäkinen 2004).
Description of the location
Baltic Sea
The area is situated in the north-eastern and eastern Gulf of Finland, in the northern Baltic Sea. It extends 247km east-west and 122km north-south and covers a total of 13,411 km2.
DISCLAIMER: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Area Details
The area features various types of marine habitats that harbour a rich variety of marine algae and freshwater vascular plants, and are important for fish, invertebrates and birds. These include estuaries, coastal lagoons, large shallow inlets and bays, boreal Baltic narrow inlets, underwater sandbanks, reefs, and Baltic esker islands with sublittoral vegetation (EU Habitats Directive classes 1130, 1150, 1160, 1650, 1110, 1170, 1610). Many of the habitats have been declared marine protected areas due to their high value to the flora and fauna of the area (cf. VELMU data; Pogrepov and Sagitov 2012). The surface salinity in the open sea varies from 4 to 5 psu, but may be close to zero in the estuaries. In the deep water, the salinity ranges from ca. 4 to 8.5 psu (VELMU data). Due to the low salinity, the species composition is a mixture of freshwater and marine organisms, and the number of species is therefore high. Many marine species, including keystone and habitat-forming species like bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and blue mussel (Mytilus trossulus), live on the edge of their geographical distribution range in the area (VELMU data). This makes them vulnerable to human disturbance and the effects of climate change. The freshwater regions are characterized by, for example, the green algae Cladophora glomerata and Ulva intestinalis, while the more saline areas are characterized by red and brown algae, such as Ceramium sp., Pylaiella littoralis (Nikulina and Gubelit 2011), and Fucus vesiculosus and F. radicans. To the west, charophytes (many classified as VU or NT in HELCOM 2013) form large meadows in sheltered lagoons and bays. Several rare charophytes, such as Nitellopsis obtusa (NT), Nitella hyalina (VU) and Chara braunii (VU), have been found in the Finnish underwater inventories (VELMU data). Water mosses (Bryophyta), which normally are freshwater species, are also found in these sheltered sites (VELMU data; for threat status according to the Helsinki Commission, see HELCOM 2013). The shallow-water invertebrate communities feature species tolerating strong salinity variation. There are 10 amphipod species in the eastern area, four of which are invasive, originating from Lake Baikal (Gmelinoides facsiatus) and the Ponto-Caspian region (Berezina and Maximov 2016). Deep-water benthos communities are influenced by recurrent influxes of saline water masses from the west, and of the freshwater outflow from the River Neva. The invertebrate fauna of the Russian part of the area consists of ca.130 taxa (Baluskhina and Golubkov 2015). Macoma balthica and Marenzelleria spp. are the speies usually dominating the biomass of benthos (Maximov 2011). Macroplea pubipennis (FIN: VU ; HELCOM: DD), a leaf beetle species of the subfamily Donaciinae that feeds on aquatic plants and is endemic to Finland, has recently been found to have viable populations in the area. Globally, the species is only found in Finland, Sweden and China (Saari 2007; Fauna Europaea). Threatened salmonid species, such as salmon (Salmo salar; VU), sea-spawning whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus f. pallasi) (FIN: VU) and anadromous whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus f. lavaretus) (FIN: EN), eel (Anguilla anguilla; (CR), sea trout (Salmo trutta) (FIN: CR; HELCOM: VU), and a near threatened river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) (NT) are occasionally found in the area (e.g., Lappalainen et al. 2000; Urho and Lehtonen 2016). There are several important bird areas in the area, both in the coastal and open-sea areas. Baltic lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus fuscus), a subspecies of lesser black-backed gull that is considered vulnerable in Finland, has a strong population in the area. Common tern (Sterna hirundo) and the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) breed abundantly on the skerries. Threatened bird species, such as velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca, FIN: EN; HELCOM: VU), common eider (Somateria mollissima; VU), common redshank (Tringa tetanus; FIN: VU; HELCOM: NT), ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres; FI EN; HELCOM: VU), and also common murre (Uria aalge) breed in the area. The Russian Kurgalskiy Peninsula, on the southernmost part of the area, features 250 bird species, 180 of which nest on site. One of the key species in Kurgalskiy is dunlin (Calidris alpine), an endangered species. Several areas, such as the Gulf of Vyborg, Beryozovie islands and Kurgalskiy peninsula, are important sites for birds of prey, such as white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The endangered Steller's eider (Polysticta stelleri) rests in the Seskar Island (Valkama et al. 2011; Buzun 2015). The area is an important stopover and nesting area for migratory birds (Valkama et al. 2011; Hokkanen, 2012; Buzun 2015). During the spring migration the area attracts several million long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and common scoters (Melanitta nigra), and thousands of greater scaups (Aythya marila) and velvet scoters (Melanitta fusca) (Buzun 2015). Some 180.000 brent geese (Branta bernicla) and 70,000 barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) make a migratory stop in the Gulf of Vyborg. The spring numbers of migrating Bewick’s swans (Cygnus bewickii) and whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) have occurred at several sites across the eastern Gulf of Finland, in numbers approximating 7000 and 3000 individuals, respectively (Buzun 2015). Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are common in the area, both on the Finnish outer archipelagos, and on the Russian sea area, e.g. Hallikarti and Ityakivi near Kopytin, Beryozovie islands, Malyi Tuters and Kurgalskiy Peninsula. The total count of grey seals at Kurgalskiy Peninsula and other Russian sites is estimated to be ca. 400 individuals. On the Finnish side of the area grey seals have numbered between 500 and 700 individuals during the aerial counts in May and June. The area supports a threatened subpopulation of the ringed seal (Pusa hispida botnica; HELCOM category VU, Finnish category NT) (Halkka and Tolvanen 2017). The total size of the Baltic ringed seal population in the whole Gulf of Finland is a few hundred individuals, most of which inhabit the western end, with main breeding grounds located at the Beryozovie islands (Verevkin and Sagitov 2004; Pogrepov and Sagitov 2012; Jussi et al. 2016; Halkka and Tolvanen 2017). Although the ringed seal is only classified as vulnerable in the Baltic Sea (Liukko et al. 2015), the population in the eastern Gulf of Finland needs special protection due to its small size.
The outer archipelago area is in a more natural state than many other Baltic Sea areas. While there are many smaller buildings and summer cottages in the inner archipelago, the outer archipelago is almost completely uninhabited, with few buildings. The ecological status of the water is, however, presently not good, mainly because of anthropogenic nutrient loading. This makes the water in the inner archipelago turbid, especially in late summer (e.g., Kauppila et al. 2016). During the past five years the state of the area has slightly improved, apparently because the nutrient loading from the River Neva has decreased due to the improved wastewater treatment in the St. Petersburg area. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32008L0056, and the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (HELCOM 2007), oblige Finland and the Russian Federation to improve the state of the marine environment by 2020 and 2021, respectively, so the water quality in the Gulf of Finland will probably gradually start improving. There have been changes in the benthic communities in the recent past. The changes have been attributed to long-term changes in environmental conditions, coastal infrastructure development of the Port of St. Petersburg, and introductions of invasive alien species (e.g., Orlova et al. 2006). Until the year 2008, soft bottom benthic communities were dominated by Arctic estuarine arthropods, Monoporeia affinis, Corophium volutator and Saduria entomon (Maximov 2000; Berezina and Maximov 2016). As of 2009, the invasive alien spionid polychaete Marenzelleria arctica became the dominant species in most soft sediments of the area (Golubkov 2009; Maximov 2011). Also, the invasive alien zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) has, in recent decades, dispersed to the area, occurring on the hard bottoms of the area. Climate change has been predicted to decrease the salinity of the Baltic Sea (Meier et al. 2012). The marine algal species, e.g., bladder wrack and some red algal species, may diminish or disappear if salinity is reduced. In contrast, the freshwater tolerant species, including invasive alien species, might increase in abundance. Climate change is a major threat to the ringed seal. The reduced ice and snow cover decreases its breeding success because the pups need sea ice lairs for shelter during the long lactation period (Jussi et al. 2016). Organic environmental contaminants pose a major threat to seals, although no clear connection between contaminant levels and pathological changes in the seals has been observed. Bycatch may be a threat to the ringed seal populations, but no reliable data exists yet. In some areas use of the marine environment, such as dredging and coastal construction, can indirectly affect seal populations, e.g. through changes in fish stocks. Small-scale fishing and seal hunting communities, such as coastal Finns, Karelians, Votians and Izora people, and their descendants, live in the area. Many of the communities are suffering from the deterioration of the environment and expanding industrial development. Their existence increases the socio-ecological uniqueness of the area, and means for maintaining the living conditions of such communities should be sought. Studies on their small-scale fishing and hunting practices and other indigenous and local knowledge would yield new information on historic and present distribution of seals, fish and birds, and would contribute to preserving such traditional socio-ecological communities.
References
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Russian Ornitological Journal, Vol. 24, No.1112, P. 729-731 (in Russian) Fauna Europaea https://fauna-eu.org/cdm_dataportal/taxon/1cd8581b-67c9-4455-a2f5-6629b84048c8 Finnish Bird Atlas. Suomen III Lintuatlaksen tulokset. Luonnontieteellinen keskusmuseo Luomus, Helsingin yliopisto. Creative Commons 4.0 (Finnish Bird Atlas III results.Natural History Museum Luomus, University of Helsinki. CC4.0.) Golubkov, S. M. (2009). Changes of biological communities in the eastern Gulf of Finland during the last century. In Proc. Zool. Inst. RAS (Vol. 313, No. 4, pp. 406-418). Häkkinen, A., Åker, K. (1991). Kotkan, Pyhtään ja Vehkalahden merenpohjan maalajikerrostumat. Summary: Quaternary seafloor deposits offshore from Kotka. Pyhtää and Vehkalahti. Geological Survey of Finland. Report of Investigation 109. Halkka, A., Tolvanen, P. (eds.) (2017). The Baltic Ringed Seal – An Arctic Seal in European Waters – WWF Finland report 36. https://wwf.fi/mediabank/9825.pdf HELCOM (2007). HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. HELCOM. 101 pp. http://www.helcom.fi/baltic-sea-action-plan HELCOM (2012). Checklist of Baltic Sea Macro-species. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings No. 130 HELCOM (2013). HELCOM Red List of Baltic Sea species in danger of becoming extinct. Balt. Sea Environ. Proc. No. 140. Helsinki Commission, 106 pp. HELCOM Depth. http://metadata.helcom.fi/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/5dcf182a-517a-4599-be0d-626bea8e058d. Hokkanen, T. (2012). Itäisen Suomenlahden saaristolinnuston pitkäaikaismuutokset – erityisesti vuosina 1992–2011. Metsähallituksen Luonnonsuojelujulkaisuja. Sarja A 195. 174 pp. ICES (2017). Report of the Baltic Salmon and Trout Assessment Working Group (WGBAST), 27 March–4 April 2017, Gdańsk, Poland. ICES CM 2017/ACOM:10. 298 pp. Jüssi, M., Ahola, M., Verevkin, M., Loisa, O. (2016). Marine mammals. In: Raateoja, M., Setälä, O. (eds.): The Gulf of Finland Assessment. Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 27/2016: 217-223. Kaskela, A.M., Kotilainen, A.T. (2017). Seabed geodiversity in a glaciated shelf area, the Baltic Sea. Geomorphology 295, 419-435. ISSN 0169-555X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.07.014. Kaskela, A.M., Kotilainen, A.T., Al-Hamdani, Z., Leth, J., Reker, J. (2012). Seabed geomorphic features in a glaciated shelf of the Baltic Sea. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 100, 150–161. ISSN 0272-7714, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2012.01.008. Kaskela, A.M., Rousi, H., Ronkainen, M., Orlova, M., Babin, A., Gogoberidze, G., Kostamo, K., Kotilainen, A.T., Neevin, I., Ryabchuk, D., Sergeev, A., Zhamoida, V. (2017). Linkages between benthic assemblages and physical environmental factors: The role of geodiversity in Eastern Gulf of Finland ecosystems, Continental Shelf Research, Volume 142, 1-13. ISSN 0278-4343, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2017.05.013. Kauppila, P., Eremona, T., Ershova, A., et al. (2016). Chlorophyll a and phytoplankton blooms. In: Raateoja, M., Setälä, O. (eds.). The Gulf of Finland assessment. Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 27/2016: 114-223. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/166296 Koljonen, M.-L., Janatuinen A., Saura, A., Koskiniemi J, (2013). Genetic structure of Finnish and Russian sea trout populations in the Gulf of Finland. Working papers of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Institute 25/2013. 100p. Konkova, O.J. 2009. Izora. Ozerko Istorii i Kultur. St. Petersburg. Kouzov, S. (2012). Baltic dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii) on Kurgalsky Peninsula: features of biology, the annual cycle, and factors of the environment limiting its distribution in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. Proceedings of Zoological Institute RAS, vol. 316, No. 2, pp. 172-188. Lappalainen, A., Shurukhin, A., Alekseev, G., Rinne, J. (2000). Coastal‐Fish Communities along the Northern Coast of the Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea: Responses to Salinity and Eutrophication. International Review of Hydrobiology, 85(5‐6), 687-696. Liukko, U-M., Henttonen, H., Hanski, I. K., Kauhala, K., Kojola, I., Kyheröinen, E-M., Pitkänen, J. (2016). Suomen nisäkkäiden uhanalaisuus 2015 – The 2015 Red List of Finnish Mammal Species. Ympäristöministeriö & Suomen ympäristökeskus. 34 p Maximov А.А. (2000). The role of Monoporeia affinis (Lindstrom)(Crustacea; Amphipoda) in benthic communities of Eastern Gulf of Finland. PhD Thesis, Zoological Institute RAS. Maximov, A. A. (2011). Large-scale invasion of Marenzelleria spp. (Polychaeta; Spionidae) in the eastern Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea. Russian Journal of Biological Invasions, 2(1), 11-19. Meier, H.E.M., Hordoir, R., Andersson, H.C., et al. (2012). Modeling the combined impact of changing climate and changing nutrient loads on the Baltic Sea environment in an ensemble of transient simulations for 1961–2099. Climate Dynamics 39(9-10): 2421-2441. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00382-012-1339-7 Mustonen, T, Mäkinen, A. (2004). Pitkät hylkeenpyyntimatkat ja muita kertomuksia hylkeenpyynnistä. University of Applied Sciences Tampere, 2004. Nikulina, V. N., Gubelit, Y. (2011). Cyanobacteria and macroalgae in ecosystem of the Neva estuary. Knowledge and management of aquatic ecosystems, (402), 06. Orlova, M.I., Telesh, I.V., Berezina, N.A., et al. (2006). Effects of nonindigenous species on diversity and community functioning in the eastern Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea). Helgoland Marine Research 60(2): 98. Paulaharju, Marjut (ed). 2010. Samuli Paulaharjun Inkeri. Helsinki: SKS. Peuhkuri, N., Saura, A., Koljonen, M.-L., Titov, S., Gross, R., Kannel R., Koskiniemi, J. (2014). Current state and restoration of sea trout and Atlantic salmon populations in three river systems in the eastern Gulf of Finland. Working papers of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute 26/2014. 56p. Pogrepov, V.B., Sagitov, R.A. (eds.) (2006). Nature Conservation Atlas of the Russian part of the Gulf of Finland. St. Petersburg: Tuscarora. 60 pp. ISBN 5-89977-126-7. Pälsi, Sakari. 1924. Suomenlahden jäiltä. WSOY. Raateoja, M., Setälä, O. (eds) (2016). The Gulf of Finland Assessment. Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 27/2016, 365 pp. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/166296 Raussi, E. (1966). Virolahden kansanelämää 1840-luvulla. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, Helsinki. Saari, S. (2007). Meriuposkuoriaisen, Macroplea pubipennis (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), levinneisyys ja elinympäristövaatimukset Espoonlahdessa. M.Sc thesis (in Finnish). University of Helsinki. https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/18928 Sokolova AA, Trifonov AN 2016. Geological Structure and Lithomorphic Landscapes of the Island of Gogland as Excursion-Educational Resource. // G 36 Geology, geoecology, evolutionary geography: Proceedings. -. - P. 407. Tolvanen, T., Mehtonen, T., Lehtiniemi, T. (2014). Lintujen päämuuttoreitit Suomessa (Main migration routes of birds in Finland; in Finnish). Birdlife 2014. 21 pp. http://www.ymparisto.fi/download/noname/%7BFA98FD1F-987F-4546-84F7-93BDC1F0CE06%7D/100332 Urho, L., Lehtonen, H. (2016). Fishes and Fisheries. Viewpoint. In: Raateoja, M., Setälä, O. (eds). The Gulf of Finland assessment. Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 27/2016: 224-228. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/166296 Väinölä, R., Strelkov, P. (2011). Mytilus trossulus in northern Europe. Marine biology 158(4): 817-833. Valkama, J., Vepsäläinen, V., Lehikoinen, A. (2011). The Third Finnish Breeding Bird Atlas. – Finnish Museum of Natural History and Ministry of Environment. http://atlas3.lintuatlas.fi/english ISBN 978-952-10-7145-4 VELMU. Data collected from VELMU database managed by Finnish Environment Institute (Markku Viitasalo, Juho Lappalainen. Email: name.surname@environment.fi) Map service available online (https://paikkatieto.ymparisto.fi/velmu). VELMU data: VELMU Map Service: https://paikkatieto.ymparisto.fi/velmu Verevkin, M.V., Sagitov, R.A. (2004). Number and distribution of seals in the Gulf of Finland. Birds and mammals of the North-West of Russia. Proc. of Biological Research Institute of the St. Petersburg State University, 48, 35-39. Verevkin, MV, Vysotsky, VG, Dmitrieva, LN, & Sagitov, RA (2008). The distribution of gray seal and ringed seal in the Gulf of Finland in the warm winters of 2007-2008. In Marine mammals of the Holarctic: Sat. sci. tr. by mater. V Intern. Conf. Odessa: The Astroprint (pp. 575-578).
Status of submission
Areas described as meeting EBSA criteria that were considered by the Conference of the Parties
  • 14/9
Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria
C1: Uniqueness or rarity Medium
This is the easternmost sea area in the Baltic Sea. The area displays unique geomorphological and habitat characteristics with a high number of valuable and vulnerable habitats and species. The area is a seabird biodiversity hotspot (Fig. 3) and serves as a migration and/or nesting site for several threatened or endangered bird species. Other features include: • one of the few areas in Europe that typically freezes over every winter, which creates unique conditions and influences the seasonal succession and dynamics of most species in the area. • Due to the low salinity (below 5 permilles at the surface), the area harbours a unique combination of marine, brackish-water and freshwater organisms. • The area also has socio-ecological significance. Since pre-historic times, coastal Finns, Karelians, Votians, Izora (Paulaharju 2010) and other minority and indigenous or local societies have inhabited the area (see for example Raussi 1966). In particular, Virolahti (Raussi 1966) and Izora (Konkova 2009) fisheries and Suursaari seal hunt (Pälsi 1924, Mustonen & Mäkinen 2004) are unique examples of past and present endemic regimes of marine stewardship and self-governance of marine resources using indigenous and local knowledge.
C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High
The area contains several habitats that are important for various life-history stages of fish, invertebrates and birds. In particular, coastal lagoons, large shallow inlets and bays and Boreal Baltic narrow inlets (EU Habitat directive Annex I habitats 1150, 1160 and 1650, respectively), as well as outer skerries and sea ice are important for various species: • Several migration routes cross the area, and the birds rest and feed in the area (Toivanen et al. 2014). • Certain vulnerable bird species, such as velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca; FIN: EN; HELCOM: VU), breed on the rapakivi granite islets typical of the outer archipelago of the area (Hokkanen 2012). • The area harbours numerous habitats, such as coastal lagoons, large shallow inlets and bays, and Boreal Baltic narrow inlets, reefs, underwater sandbanks and Baltic esker islands (EU Habitat directive Annex I habitats 1150, 1160, 1650, 1170, 1110, 1610) that are important breeding and living habitats for many ecologically and biologically important fish species, including pike (Esox lucius), perch (Perca fluviatilis), pikeperch (Sander lucioperca), roach (Rutilus rutilus), smelt (Osmerus eperlanus), gobies (Potamoschistus spp.) and three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). • The sea ice has special importance for the Baltic ringed seal (Pusa hispida botnica); its breeding success relies on good ice coverage (Halkka and Tolvanen 2017). • The outer skerries are important for the springtime moulting of grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) (Verevkin et al. 2008).
C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats High
The area is important to many near threatened or vulnerable species, as follows: • The easternmost subpopulation of Baltic ringed seal (Pusa hispida botnica) (Halkka and Tolvanen 2017). • Threatened bird species, such as velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca; FIN: EN; HELCOM: VU), breed in the area (Hokkanen 2012). The endangered southern dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii) nests at Kurgalskiy Peninsula (Kouzov 2012). • Critically endangered sea trout (Salmo trutta m. trutta; FIN: CR), and near threatened river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) and lumpsucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) are present in the area (Koljonen et al. 2013, Peuhkuri et al. 2014; Urho and Lehtonen 2016; ICES 2017). • The sea-spawning whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus f. pallasi; FIN: VU) and anadromous whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus f. lavaretus; FIN: EN) and eel (Anguilla anguilla; EN) are at least occasionally found in the area. • The Luga River, which flows into the area, harbours the easternmost semi-natural Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar; VU) stock in the Baltic Sea. • Several rare charophytes (Fig. 4), such as Nitellopsis obtusa (NT), Nitella hyalina (VU) and Chara braunii (VU) occur in the area. • The water-nymph Najas tenuissima (EN) is only found in a few locations in the inner archipelago of the area, and in some lakes in Eurasia (VELMU data). • Macroplea pubipennis (VU/DD), a leaf beetle species of the subfamily Donaciinae that is endemic to Finland, and feeds on aquatic plants, has viable populations in the area (VELMU data; not presented in map service). Globally, the species only exists in Finland, Sweden; and China (Saari 2007).
C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery Medium
There are several habitats and species groups that are particularly vulnerable: • The sea ice is vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change, which affects the viability and resilience of the ringed seal population in the area. When such habitats and environments are degraded, their recovery may be slow. • Certain habitat-forming species, such as Mytilus trossulus, Fucus vesiculosus and Fucus radicans, live on the edge of their geographical distribution limits. This makes the habitats that they form particularly vulnerable to hydrographical and trophic changes caused by climate change or human disturbance. • The Boreal Baltic narrow inlets, coastal lagoons and large shallow inlets and bays are vulnerable to human disturbance, e.g. high nutrient loads, dredging, overfishing and excess boat traffic. This makes the rare aquatic plants and birds inhabiting such areas vulnerable, too.
C5: Biological productivity Medium
The area has a comparatively high biological productivity. The lagoons, inlets and bays have a high primary and fish production. Marine birds, especially sea ducks, nest abundantly in the outer archipelago. Benthic invertebrates have medium-to-average biomass in the area. Infaunal bivalves Macoma baltica, Mya arenaria and Cerastoderma glaucum have medium densities in the western part of the area (Gogina et al. 2016). Aquatic plants and macroalgae can colonize large areas due to the shallowness of the area, also creating habitats for invertebrates and small fish (VELMU data; Maximov 2010).
C6: Biological diversity Medium
The area has a high biodiversity for a brackish-water ecosystem. This is because both marine and freshwater organisms thrive in the area. • Freshwater species, especially charophytes and vascular plants, are plentiful, and their species richness is high, especially in the sheltered bays and lagoons of the inner archipelago (Fig. 4) • The area has high species richness of macroalgae compared to its salinity range (Fig. 5) • Macroalgal species composition is unique: many red algal species are absent, while green algae, such as Cladophora rupestris, are abundant (VELMU data). • Many species of water mosses, which normally only occur in fresh water, are present in the inner archipelago and in Gulf of Vyborg, increasing the plant diversity in the area.
C7: Naturalness Medium
The inner archipelago is much used and burdened with human influence, while the outer archipelago is in a relatively natural state. • The inner archipelago on the Finnish side and the inner part of the Bay of Vyborg are densely built up with summer cottages and other settlements or constructions. Most of the cottages are, however, mainly used in summer, and during the rest of the year human disturbance is low. The outer archipelago is virtually inhabited, and does not have much human disturbance during most of the year.
Additional Information
Rights and permissions Contact persons: Finland: Markku Viitasalo, Finnish Environment Institute, markku.viitasalo@ymparisto.fi Penina Blankett, Finnish Ministry of the Environment, penina.blankett@ym.fi Russian Federation: Evgeny Genelt-Yanovskiy, Laboratory of Molecular Systematics, Zoological Institute RAS, genelt.yanovskiy@gmail.com