General presentation of the strait
The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea that extends between Finland (to the north) and Estonia (to the south) to Saint Petersburg in Russia. Major cities around the Gulf include Helsinki and Tallinn. The Port of Tallinn (including ports of Muuga and Paldiski) and the Port of Helsinki are some of the busiest ports on Baltic Sea. The eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland belong to Russia, and some of Russia’s most important harbours are located near St. Petersburg. The Gulf of Finland is a crucial sea route and maritime area to the regions of Harju (Estonia) and Uusimaa (Finland) from an economic, environmental and social perspective. Seven million passengers cross the seaway between Helsinki and Tallinn by ferry annually.
Description of the strait
The Gulf of Finland is a very shallow bay of 29 500 km2, with a length of 428km and width up to 120km. The narrowest distance across the Gulf is 52km from Porkkala to Rohuneeme outside Tallinn. The deepest parts of the Gulf are at a depth of only 80-100m at its mouth. There are depths of over 100m on the southern coast, while the northern side never exceeds 60m. About 5% of the water mass in the Baltic Sea is located in the Gulf of Finland.
The Baltic Sea is one of the largest bodies of brackish water in the world, which is reflected in the relatively narrow but unique biota that includes both sea and fresh water species. Subsequently the ecosystem of the Gulf of Finland is vulnerable to loss of biodiversity, as there may not be substituting species for ones that diminish or disappear. The Gulf also lies along the main migration route of arctic birds. There are many national nature conservation areas in the Gulf of Finland most of which are part of the European Natura 2000 network. All the conservation areas in the Gulf are part of the Baltic Sea Protected Areas network.
Cross-boundary cooperation in the strait
The Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio, a political cross-border dialogue platform, was established in June 1999. The Euregio supports, plans and implements mutually appealing projects related to business, cross-Gulf transportation, vocational training, higher education collaboration and social work. Its aim is to increase awareness of the region and its cooperation in the areas surrounding it, as well as in Europe.
Among other things, Helsinki, Tallinn and the surrounding areas are currently cooperating on the Helsinki-Tallinn TransPlan project. The project’s purpose is to discover the best ways to improve cross-Gulf transportation through an analysis of potential scenarios from an economic and land use perspective on both sides of the Gulf. The results of the project will be ready by the end of 2012.
The Finnish and Estonian authorities and ports have also developed cooperation for many years. The ports of Helsinki and Tallinn are partners in several projects working towards more environmental maritime practices, and enhancing the economic competitiveness and social standing of the region, such as Clean Baltic Sea Shipping and PENTA.
Main environmental challenges of the strait
The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted in the world. Its eutrophication is caused by farming, municipal and industrial wastewater, transportation and other industrial pollutants and it manifests most obviously in the summer as algal blooms cover large areas. In many places the sea floor waters hold little oxygen and there is no fauna to be found in these areas. However, according to recent research by the Finnish environmental administration, eutrophication in the Gulf of Finland seems to have peaked in the 2000s, and the quality of water is slowly improving thanks to efforts by the Gulf’s coastal regions and national authorities.
As the maritime transportation of both people and goods increases in the Gulf of Finland, so does the risk of collision. This is compounded by the way the routes cross; the majority of passenger traffic moves on the north-south axis and the majority of freight shipping on the east-west axis of the Gulf. Additionally, the transportation of oil through the Gulf of Finland is estimated to rise from 155 million tons a year to about 200-230 million tons a year by 2015, depending on Russia’s progress in port development.
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