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Marine Litter In The Baltic Sea: An Introduction To Case Study 8

Marine Litter | Baltic Sea

Given the different and often diffuse sources of marine litter and plastics ending up in the ocean, purely sectoral approaches have so far been unsuccessful in combatting plastic pollution. More coordinated, multi-level action is needed to address pressures and impacts at the scale of marine ecosystems.

Solutions to tackle marine litter produced by fisheries (abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, aka ALDFG) and shipping (lost cargo) require efforts across different governance layers to operationalise concrete actions, including better marking, monitoring, search, and reporting. Relevant EU directives and a future binding global plastics agreement, like the one supported by the UN Environment Assembly, provide additional impetus to act in Europe and globally.

This case study will evaluate interactions between different sectoral governance regimes and will produce lessons, conclusions and recommendations to inform HELCOM’s approach to marine litter. The output of this case study will assist HELCOM in aligning regional efforts to tackle ALDFG and lost cargo with wider international developments. This will reduce the duplication of efforts and will ensure that HELCOM’s ecological and managerial commitments on marine litter are fulfilled.


Geographically, the case study covers the Baltic Sea region while its thematic scope is limited to the issue of marine litter, with a focus on ALDFG and lost cargo.


In the Baltic Sea, regional cooperation to combat marine litter is well established so the case study has a wealth of experience to draw upon (e.g. multi-stakeholder approach, public-private cooperation) to build a rich collection of lessons and good practices for analysis. Through the Baltic Sea Action Plan and the revised 2021 HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter, HELCOM countries have put forward an updated framework for regional cooperation in combatting marine litter. The framework contains a list of concrete actions where HELCOM countries need to act collectively to succeed. For HELCOM’s EU parties, the framework also provides important building blocks that can help them make progress on the ‘Zero pollution action plan’ linked to the EU Green Deal.

Research questions

The main research question is which institutional barriers exist within the HELCOM’s approach that impact cross-sectoral implementation of actions to address ALDFG and lost cargo, and how can these barriers be overcome?

Additional questions are:

  • What are the main institutional barriers that affect the management of ALDFG and lost cargo in the Baltic Sea region?

  • How do these institutional barriers affect initiatives targeting ALDFG and lost cargo at various governance levels, from national to global?

  • What are the opportunities for enhancing the HELCOM approach in addressing ALDFG and lost cargo through the integration of various sectoral governance regimes and levels in the Baltic Sea region, including via e-governance?

PERMAGOV partners

The case study is managed by RIFS in cooperation with HELCOM. HELCOM’s Secretariat will serve as a bridge between the project consortium and the HELCOM Expert Group on Marine Litter (HELCOM EG Marine Litter). Other working groups relevant to the case study are:

  • The HELCOM Working Group on Reduction of Pressures from Sea-based sources (WG Sea-based pressures) which is responsible for following up the implementation of the Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter as well as those commitments in the Baltic Sea Action Plan related to marine litter

  • The HELCOM Maritime Working Group (WG Maritime) which aims to prevent any pollution from ships, including deliberate operational discharges and accidental spills, while ensuring safe navigation

  • The HELCOM Working Group for the Implementation of the Ecosystem Approach (WG GEAR) which is active across several HELCOM work streams to support region-wide co-operation on all horizontal strategic elements of regional policy related to HELCOM’s work

Connection with other case studies

  • Seabed integrity in the Baltic Sea (case study 3) due to the overlapping regional scope, as well as HELCOM's policies and working groups

  • Marine litter in the Mediterranean (case study 9) due to thematic overlap

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PERMAGOV has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme HORIZON-CL6-2022-GOVERNANCE-01-03 under grant agreement No 101086297, and by UK Research and Innovation under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee grant numbers 10045993, 10062097, 101086297.

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