Beneath the waves
Finland’s terrestrial flora and fauna are well documented, but much less is known about the biodiversity of Finnish waters of the Baltic Sea.The Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment (VELMU) aims to collect data on marine habitats and species all the way around the coast. This is a truly Herculean task, as the total lengths of the intricate coastlines of the mainland and Finland’s thousands of marine islands add up to an amazing 40,000 kilometres – comparable to the length of the Equator.
“If we look at a map of Finland’s natural habitats, we can see that on land we have plenty of information, but in the sea there are big blanks on the map where we don’t know anything about the nature of the sea bed, or even the depth of the water,” says marine biologist Anna-Leena Nöjd from the Finnish Environment Institute, where the VELMU programme is coordinated.
“We need accurate information about marine habitats so that we can effectively plan coastal developments and the sustainable use of marine resources. The most signifi cant activities include shipping, dredging, fisheries and possible marine wind parks,” explains Nöjd.
Unique brackish water ecosystems
The aim is to use the new geological and biological information to produce detailed maps showing the distribution of diff erent kinds of marine habitat. A special habitat classification system will have to be devised for the Baltic Sea, whose chilly brackish waters are home to a unique mix or marine and freshwater species.
VELMU is an umbrella programme encompassing many local inventory projects. The programme was launched in 2004 and is due to run until 2014, but Nöjd stresses that learning about marine habitats is a never-ending task.
Chartings initially commenced in the labyrinthine waters of the beautiful Archipelago Sea in South West Finland.
“The first pilot projects tested new inventory methods and worked out how data can best be collated. A balance needs to be found between surveying small areas in detail and covering much larger areas with the help of habitat modelling.”
By Fran Weaver