The shoreline at Österlen, Sandhammaren. Advent first 2013
In times when we are facing serious environmental problems throughout the Globe, Europe, and especially in aquatic environments such as the Baltic Sea, there is a common need to highlight the existence of good examples which proves that we are able to turn the tide. Through extensive collaboration between academia, authorities and different types of stakeholders, our LIFE-project clearly demonstrates that we can improve environmental conditions and recreate important ecosystem functions by eliminating unhealthy disturbances through land based conservation actions.
For me, it is hard to understand that one of the world’s most spectacular shorelines along the south-eastern coast in Scania (Österlen) belongs to one of our planets most polluted and overexploited Sea, The Baltic Sea. The situation is paradoxical; on the surface level the sea looks healthy, but underneath it, high concentrations of toxins, nutrients and alien species circulates, resulting in adverse conditions, and as a result disturbances of ecosystems and collapses of fish stocks. A recently published SMHI-study confirms that the situation is alarming; about 15% of the bottom area is affected by anoxia (total absence of oxygen) and about 30% is affected by hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) in the Baltic Sea!
The ecosystem collapse in Hanöbukten (the southern Baltic Sea) serves as a local example, demonstrating the consequences also from a social-economic perspective. In addition to unhealthy water quality and biodiversity losses along the coastline, important ecosystem services are lost, both in terms of services (tourism) and goods (fishery). The number one and the number two trade-marks of Österlen are seriously threatened.
The problems in the Baltic Sea is the result of a political ignorance and the lack of powerful measures necessary to halt and reduce the negative impacts, mainly derived from land based sources such as agriculture, forestry, hydro-power plants and sewage plants in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea. On top of that, we are facing serious future challenges due to climate change. Even more alarming is that society hardly reacts to these environmental disturbances any more, probably due to a common feeling of helplessness amongst people, and especially for the younger generations. It is therefore an important objective to use this project as a good example, highlighting that it is possible to improve environmental conditions, both inland and at Sea. By doing so, we might see a positive change in the attitude by those (mainly school kids and locals) exposed to our different information activities.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS BUT NOT NEARLY AS OFTEN. M. Twain
Last year, parts of the Fyledalen area was subjected to a floodplain restoration. The former channelized ditch was transformed into a curvy creek (meandered); and at a floodplain level, several wetlands, smaller ponds and tributaries were restored to improve water quality and biodiversity in the Valley and the downstream areas, the Baltic Sea included.
The Fyleån Creek meandering work during 2013
Europe’s most threatened freshwater mussel, the thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus), is sensitive for disturbances, functions as a pedagogue and constitutes our project symbol. The species has been extinct for decades, but are currently re-introduced at the restored parts of Fyleån Creek after being farmed successfully for the first time ever in Scandinavia.
In addition to the positive effects on water quality, habitats and species diversity, preliminary results from an on-going cost-benefit study reveal that the restoration work in Fyleån Valley will pay itself of after approximately six years, mainly as a result of an increase in the recreational value, improved capacity to reduce the transportation of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and the predicted increase in fish production, mainly brown trout (Salmo trutta), minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus) and bullhead (Cottus gobio).
Clean nature for future generations
Although the restoration of the Fyleån Creek has come to an end, the journey for a healthier Baltic Sea has just begun. We believe that our work may act as a good example, which in turn might inspire to additional projects with a similar agenda. Hopefully, you will join us towards a healthier environment!