SOS – Save Our Sea

SOS – Save Our Sea

The John Nurminen Foundation is a champion of the seas, or, to be specific, the Baltic Sea. The campaigning organization fights to preserve both the unique environment and heritage of the 377,000 square kilometer arm of the Atlantic, conducting activities that focus on measurable results and lasting change. CEO Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt outlines key issues, ambitions and the desire for collaborative commitment. 

Founded in 1992 by maritime counsellor and entrepreneur Juha Nurminen, the John Nurminen Foundation has evolved from a guardian of local maritime heritage to a 21-strong team dedicated to preserving the future of the Baltic Sea as much as its past. Although culture is still central to the foundation – it has produced over 50 books, organized countless exhibitions and events, and created one-of-a-kind digital resources – its environmental projects increasingly take center stage. Of the 40 projects that have been launched since its inception, 33 have been finalized, supported by corporate sponsorships, individual contributions and also funding from bodies such as the EU.

CEO Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt says much has been achieved, but a great deal more needs to be done. Particularly with regard to eutrophication, whereby excessive nutrient loads, such as fertilizer run-offs, trigger events like algal blooms, effectively robbing the sea of oxygen and disrupting fragile ecosystems.

Arrakoski-Engardt sat down with Generations to explain more.

Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt, CEO, John Nurminen Foundation
Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt, CEO, John Nurminen Foundation

Why is the Baltic Sea so important?

For us Finns, the sea is a bridge to the rest of the world. It is a one-of-a-kind, northern brackish sea that has been instrumental to human development and trade - it is one of the greatest shipwreck sites in the world - while also harboring a unique ecosystem. Unfortunately, the relationship has its downsides, with human activity negatively impacting on marine wildlife, particularly through eutrophication, which is being exacerbated by climate change.

What are the aims of the foundation?

Put simply, our mission is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations.

We share a love for the sea and tell its story, creating understanding of its importance, while working with businesses, private people and key stakeholders to implement concrete Baltic Sea protection projects that deliver measurable results and impact.

We benefit from being completely independent: so, what benefits the Baltic Sea is the one and only goal that steers our operations.

Our mission is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations.

What are the greatest challenges you currently face and how are you working to address them?

In a word, eutrophication. If we can reduce it through projects that decrease the nutrient load of the sea then we can support a healthier, more resilient marine ecosystem.

Failing to tackle this challenge spells disaster, as seawater becomes increasingly enriched with minerals, particularly phosphorous and nitrogen, and biomass generation accelerates. This leads to, for example, algal blooms that reduce light penetration, starting a chain reaction whereby other plants die from an inability to photosynthesize, oxygen in the water depletes, and larger lifeforms perish.

So, eutrophication really is public enemy number one.

The foundation has undertaken numerous projects to both reduce the volume of nutrients entering the sea, and also remove what’s there. For example, agricultural fertilizers are a key source of nutrient pollution, with approximately two thirds of the phosphorus that causes Baltic Sea eutrophication originating from farming. The discharge from cities and industry has been tackled over recent years, but agricultural run-off continues.

We want to show that it’s possible to recycle nutrients, presenting a solution that not only helps the sea, but also improves the self-sufficiency of domestic food production. To that end a recent initiative saw the recycling of 1.4 tons of manure phosphorous for use in crop cultivation. In addition, we’ve supported gypsum spreading trials in six Baltic sea countries to enhance soil health, reduce runoff and combat erosion.

Moving onto nutrient removal projects, we’ve collected 60 hectares of reeds from six coastal sites, while cooperating with the food industry in Finland and Sweden to create new products from cyprinid fish. Again, this has the dual benefit of helping the marine habitat while supporting self-sufficiency in terms of food supply.

Eutrophication occurs when marine environments become enriched with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, boosting plant and algal growth. Image credit: John Nurminen Foundation
Eutrophication occurs when marine environments become enriched with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, boosting plant and algal growth. Image credit: John Nurminen Foundation

Is shipping a major concern for the marine environment?

The main issue is on land, primarily with regard to agriculture-induced eutrophication. That said, the loading and unloading of fertilizers and chemicals is definitely an area of concern, and to address that we’ve launched a fertilizer shipping project.

The risk of nutrient discharges from maritime is linked to the loading and unloading of fertilizers at harbor, as well as cleaning the ship holds that carry fertilizers in the open sea. In this project we will, together with our partners ranging from harbors and harbor operators to shipping companies and fertilizer manufacturers, survey the best techniques and practices to load fertilizers at harbor and clean cargo holds. We will also investigate the true extent of the problem. This will lead to the promotion of measures aimed at reducing discharges throughout the Baltic Sea area.

Away from fertilizers, there are also issues with black and grey water discharges from vessels, as well as a growing awareness of the impact of underwater radiated noise from marine operations. Regulations are coming into to effect to tackle such issues, but we’d like to see proactive industry action to demonstrate real environmental commitment from shipowners and operators using the Baltic Sea.

What changes would you like to see in the Baltic Sea over the next five to ten years?

A further decrease in eutrophication, helping safeguard marine biodiversity. I’d also like to see greater collaboration to protect our beloved Baltic Sea, with countries, companies and citizens working as one to support this crucial cause.

I want to get the message across that it’s still not too late to save the Baltic Sea! But to do so, we must work together!

Find out more about the John Nurminen Foundation and its current projects here.

In 2021, ABB‘s Azipod® propulsion won the Finnish Engineering Award. ABB donated the monetary prize of 30,000 euros to the John Nurminen Foundation to help sustain ongoing marine protection projects.

Image credit: Raimo Sundelin / John Nurminen Foundation
Image credit: Raimo Sundelin / John Nurminen Foundation

Eutrophication explained

Eutrophication occurs when marine environments become enriched with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, boosting plant and algal growth. This can lead to an ‘overabundance’ of plants and algae, straining ecosystems and robbing fragile environments of oxygen. And that’s not all. This ‘blooming’ plant life will eventually die and decompose, producing large amounts of carbon dioxide and lowering seawater pH in a process known as ocean acidification.

Eutrophication – a difficult word and a very challenging problem, especially in the Baltic Sea.


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