Conservation areas protect the diverse nature of the Baltic Sea

The marine nature of the Baltic Sea is protected in various conservation areas. The purpose of these nature reserves is to safeguard valuable marine and coastal habitats and to ensure the survival of the species living within them.

Although the best-known nature reserves are national parks, there is also a whole host of other types of marine conservation areas. Some are located in state-owned areas, while others are private. Many nature reserves belong to an international network or programme.

National parks are open to all

National parks are large nature reserves, which cover at least one thousand hectares each. They have two functions: to safeguard natural biodiversity and to allow people to explore nature for recreational purposes.

National parks are located in state-owned areas. There are 40 national parks in Finland, five of which also include sea areas. Established in 2011, the Bothnian Sea National Park was the first one aimed to specifically protect underwater marine nature.

Seal sanctuaries protect both grey and Baltic ringed seals

Seal sanctuaries are also located in state-owned areas. Although such seal protection areas were established in 2001 to protect grey seals in particular, some areas are also important for the Baltic ringed seal.

There are seven seal sanctuaries in Finland. They include not only the sea itself but also the rocky islets the seals rest on. Additionally these islets are often surrounded by otherwise valuable marine habitats that also benefit from seal research and the monitoring of seal populations.

Seal conservation areas are managed by Parks and Wildlife Finland. On the Åland Islands, seal sanctuaries are administered by the provincial government.

 A seal pops its head out of the water.
In the Gulf of Finland, a curious seal observes the photographer. In particular, the seal sanctuaries protect the valuable rocky islets and their surrounding waters in the Baltic Sea.

The state also has many other marine protected areas

In addition to national parks and seal sanctuaries, the Finnish state also has other conservation areas. These cover a total of 90 square kilometres of marine areas. Their purpose is to safeguard, for example, those habitats that have been otherwise poorly protected.

Although such protected areas are usually quite small, they can play a major role in habitat conservation. Many of these reserves are former privately-owned protection areas that have been acquired by the state. Read more about other protected areas!

In the Bothnian Bay national park, a flad or coastal lagoon gradually becomes closed off from the sea.
Flad lakes or coastal lagoons, which are sensitive to the mixing of water and bottom sediments, are important fish spawning grounds and nursery areas for juvenile fish.

Privately-owned nature reserves cover almost as much sea area as the national parks

Privately-owned nature reserves are an important part of protecting the marine environment, covering almost as much area as the marine national parks. A private protection area can be established either on the initiative of the landowner or by the authorities.

Most privately-owned protected areas are part of some nature conservation programme, e.g. for either bird or shoreline conservation. Many are also included in the European Union's Natura 2000 network. 

The Natura 2000 network of the European Union protects species and habitats

The European Union's Natura 2000 is a network of nature reserves with the aim to safeguard the conservation of Europe's most endangered species and habitats. The species and habitats that require protection are defined in the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.

Several habitats found in Finnish sea areas are among such priority habitats needing protection, such as underwater sandbars and reefs, as well as islets and islands in the outer archipelago. Similarly, several marine species occurring in Finland are listed among those requiring primary protection.

Marine Natura 2000 areas range in size from a few dozen hectares to hundreds of square kilometres. A large part of their surface area is composed of national parks, other state reserves or private nature protection areas. Read more about Natura 2000 areas.

The international Ramsar Convention protects wetlands and shallow bottoms of the coast

The Ramsar Convention, which entered into force in 1975, is an international agreement promoting the protection of wetlands and the sustainable use of water resources. In addition to actual wetlands, it also covers shallow marine areas up to six metres in depth. The agreement obliges the signatory countries to establish nature reserves in such areas and to promote the protection of waterfowl.

There are 49 Ramsar sites in Finland, of which 17 include shallow marine environments. All Ramsar sites are also part of the Natura 2000 network.

The Kvarken archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Kvarken archipelago is the only Finnish nature site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It possesses unique geological features characterised by rapid land uplift and rocky, post-glacial landscapes. The flora, fauna, and cultural landscapes of the area are an integral part of the whole entity.

 Read more about the Kvarken archipelago UNESCO World Heritage Site

 Wooded archipelagos and lush sea bays.
The unique Kvarken Archipelago is constantly undergoing change due to land uplift - this landscape will not be the same a century from now.

The Archipelago Sea Biosphere Reserve is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Programme

A considerable part of the Archipelago Sea forms part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Such reserves aim to improve the interaction between man and nature. As such, they are not only nature reserves but are defined instead by both nature and culture.

MPA-protection areas of the Baltic Sea Conservation Commission safeguard marine and coastal habitats

The Helsinki Commission, i.e. HELCOM, which implements the Convention for the Protection of the Baltic Sea, has established a network of HELCOM Marine Protected Areas, MPA. This network aims to protect valuable marine and coastal habitats and thus ensure the preservation of the biological and genetic diversity of the Baltic Sea.

Both species and habitats are protected within MPA areas, whose aim is to safeguard the ecological functions and processes of marine nature. There are 33 MPA areas in the marine areas of Finland.

 An underwater algae landscape, which includes bladder wrack, red algae, and vascular plants.
Sea bottoms dominated by bladder wrack kelp, i.e. Fucus vesiculosus, are one of the most important habitats in the Baltic Sea. Their preservation is vital for many other species.

Marine protected areas. The data partly overlap, as some areas are included in several types of protected areas.

Type of Protection Area Sea surface-area (km2) Number
Natura (minimum one hectare of seawater area) 8120 141
HELCOM MPA 6310 33
Ramsar 1830 17
UNESCO 6220 2
Seal sanctuary 190 7
National park 1580 5
Privately-owned protection area 1480 2338
Other state-owned reserves 90 43