Many citizens living in the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea consider the Sea to be an important recreational area but are concerned about its environmental status, with regard to litter, biodiversity loss, heavy metals and hazardous substances, oil spills and algal blooms. These are the findings of a survey of 9000 citizens, which indicates widespread support for the polluter pays principle to tackle environmental problems in the Baltic Sea.
The research surveyed 9000 people from nine countries that surround the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Roughly 1000 participants from the general public were interviewed from each country about their connection with the Baltic Sea, their views on its environmental status and their attitudes towards how to combat environmental issues.
About 80 per cent of respondents reported that they had spent leisure time at the Baltic Sea. Citizens in most countries agreed that the Baltic Sea environment has deteriorated over the last ten years and in six of the countries (Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Russia and Sweden) over half of the respondents expressed concern about the Baltic Sea environment.
The Finns were the most concerned with 77 per cent agreeing that they were worried about the Baltic environment. The majority of respondents in Poland and Sweden agreed that they personally affect the Baltic Sea environment, believing that they could play a role in its improvement. In the other seven countries, 17 to 37 per cent agreed they could play an active role in improving the marine environment.
Respondents were asked to rate 14 different issues in terms of how problematic they were in or around the Baltic Sea. Litter was viewed as a serious issue by at least half of the respondents in all countries, particularly in Russia where nearly 90 per cent of respondents considered it to be a very big problem.
Biodiversity loss was considered problematic for all countries except Denmark. Heavy metals, hazardous substances and small, everyday oil spills were considered problematic for all countries except Germany. Offshore wind turbines were only seen as an issue in Poland where over half of the respondents considered them problematic. Gas pipelines and open sea water quality were considered an issue in Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Respondents were also given the opportunity to identify issues themselves and common examples of these were pollution from boating and shipping and the negative impacts of tourism.
In all countries, a majority tended to consider it necessary that each country should implement actions to improve the Baltic Sea environment. These actions should be taken by each country's own wastewater treatment plants, industry, sea transport, professional fishermen, ports and farmers.
A majority of the respondents in all countries considered increased charges on pollution emissions for individuals and industry to be a suitable way of funding improvements to the Baltic Sea environment, demonstrating widespread support for the 'Polluter Pays Principle'. Although increased taxes or water bills were unpopular, respondents, in general, were less negative of payments that are paid by all and are specifically earmarked for funding actions to improve the Baltic Sea environment.