Mapping and monitoring the sea areas of Åland

Various mapping projects are being carried out to create a reliable foundation for the protection of marine areas, the management of Åland's waters, and the planning of various activities, as well as their possible exploitation in sea areas.

Charlotta Björklund

The author works as Project Coordinator at the Provincial Government of Åland

The geological and biological properties in water bodies are studied in various projects. The bedrock, sediment, habitats, and species of marine areas are surveyed using various methods, e.g. echo-sounding, diving, as well as video imaging of the seafloor. Mapping below the surface is mostly done in collaboration with Åbo Akademi University through various projects, such as ÅlandSeaMap.

The information gathered is used to make a wide variety of decisions. This information can be used, for example, when planning new protection areas, preparing wind power or fish farming projects, and choosing measures concerning the emissions of potentially harmful substances.

These inventories also provide the information needed to report on several different EU directives. This kind of reporting takes place, for example, in policy areas of environmental, nature, and water protection.

Besides other studies, future mapping projects will also examine marine littering, particularly from microplastics and plastic waste.

Research and monitoring the status of the waters around Åland

The purpose of water monitoring is to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of the aquatic environment. This includes the entire region of the Sea of Åland, the inner archipelago, as well as large lakes and groundwaters.

One of the most important tasks is to create a basis for the continuous quality assessment and classification of different water bodies. A modified monitoring programme has been developed as per the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. Currently, the requirements of the Maritime Directive are also being adapted in cooperation with Finland and HELCOM.

Most of the monitoring is carried out in the laboratory of Åland's Environmental and Health Protection Authority (ÅMHM). The laboratory is accredited and approved and uses quality assured methods for both sampling and analysis.

The Provincial Government of Åland has been working closely with Husö Biological Station for almost 60 years. The station, which belongs to Åbo Akademi University, is centrally located, and surrounded by one of Åland’s inner bays.

The classification of Åland’s waters

While the classification of Åland's water bodies is carried out in accordance with the Åland Water Act and the guidelines of the European Commission, it differs somewhat from that of the corresponding classification on the Finnish mainland.

Although the classification on Åland follows the Finnish system as far as possible, on Åland the Swedish classification is also considered. For example, near the Swedish border, certain reference values have been modified according to their counterparts in Sweden.

Mapping various occurrences, as well as monitoring the state of the aquatic environment are important tools for the proper and efficient management of Åland’s marine areas.