Press release 2018-12-05

The impact of shipping on the Baltic Sea

Ant-fouling paints, underwater noise, emissions of air pollutants, greenhouse gases and pollutants to water - the environmental impacts of both commercial shipping and small boats on the Baltic Sea are considerable. The BONUS Sheba project has now reached harbour laden with new knowledge about the effects of emissions from current and future shipping.

– Among the biggest challenges facing shipping, both today and for many years to come, are nitrogen oxide emissions. These emissions affect both human health and ecosystems contributing significantly to algae blooms and the spread of oxygen-poor bottoms in the Baltic, says Jana Moldanova, project manager for BONUS Sheba.

The three-year project BONUS Sheba, Sustainable Shipping and Environment of the Baltic Sea Region, has focused on how the Baltic is being impacted by increasingly intensive shipping. Around 40 researchers from eleven different institutes and universities in all Baltic countries have participated in the project.

Since the volume of shipping is expected to increase significantly over the entire Baltic in the future, researchers have modelled both current and future shipping emissions to water and air, as well as emissions of underwater noise. Mapping and visualization show, for example, the propagation of noise and predicts future changes in different parts of the Baltic.

– As expected, the most noise is emitted by container ships and freight vessels, but the most culpable, per distance travelled, are car ferries. Studies on how fish react to noise shows that loud sounds trigger defensive behaviours, but we were unable to observe any unequivocal panic reactions or physical damage. However, much work is needed before we get a more comprehensive overview of noise impacts, says Jana Moldanova.

The research team also see a risk of further negative impacts on marine ecosystems from so-called scrubber water, when many ship owners now choose to install scrubber systems to meet the new stricter sulphur regulations that will come into force in 2020. Scrubbers clean the ship’s exhaust gases from air pollution, but unclean scrubber water is discharged directly into the sea where it has negative effects on the marine ecosystem.

The impact of small boat traffic on the Baltic Sea was also a subject of research. The consumption of fuel and carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from small-boat traffic is almost negligible in comparison with that produced by commercial shipping. On the other hand, the findings show that total emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide from small boats are very high.

Another problem ventilated by the research project is that many sites in the Baltic Sea have excessively high concentrations of copper and zinc that come from anti-fouling paints. Small boats are a significant source of pollution in this regard, expressed in ship miles emissions are roughly equivalent to those of commercial maritime traffic, and, unlike the latter, these vessels also spend considerable periods docked in ports.

The project will now, in collaboration with several other maritime projects and HELCOM, form an Interreg-platform for Clean Shipping, CSHIPP, which will compile project results and make recommendations to decision makers, industry and other stakeholders.

Sheba has been funded by the Baltic Sea Program BONUS, financed by the EU and national financiers, including the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the report summary on Helcom’s website
See a film about Sheba on Youtube

For more information, please contact:
Jana Moldanova, jana.moldanova@ivl.se, phone +46 10 788 67 63