Baltic Sea professor calls for action from all of us

Alf Norkko has taken up his position as professor of Baltic Sea research at the Tvärminne Zoological Station.

Alf Norkko

Norkko and his wife, Joanna Norkko, spent more than seven years abroad, more than five years in New Zeeland and two in Sweden, before returning to Finland in 2005.

“New Zeeland was fantastic and we had a great time there. Unfortunately, it’s about as far from Finland as you can get,” says Alf Norkko. “After five years, we realised that we either had to stay for good or move closer to home.”

After his return to Finland in 2005, Norkko worked at the Finnish Institute of Marine Research.

“When the FIMR was closed down in 2008, I became an employee of the Finnish Environment Institute. The opportunity to return to the academic setting was a decisive factor for me, and when I was offered the post as Baltic Sea professor, I didn’t hesitate.”

Around the same time, Joanna Norkko was appointed amanuensis of Tvärminne Station, and it was an obvious choice for both to move to the station.

“It feels good to start a new task and, hopefully, to be a positive force in the Baltic Sea research,” says Norkko.

Which are the greatest threats to the Baltic Sea today?

“I see eutrophication and the resulting depletion of oxygen, both in the open waters and in our coastal waters, as the biggest problem, and it's increasing in severity. Hypoxia knocks out macroscopic organisms and changes the biogeochemical cycle. The hypoxic, or low-oxygen, areas in the Baltic Sea correspond to the areas of Denmark and Estonia put together.”

What can each one of us do to stop or reduce the emissions?

“Every man and woman has to realise that you can’t just sweep the problems under the carpet and that every single drop counts – local emissions have a local, and sometimes major, impact. That you can’t always see a problem under the glittering surface of the sea doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there.”

What can we do to make decision-makers finally take a stand?

“We have to make sure that the Baltic Sea stays on the agenda. The general opinion has improved, but political decision-making is cowardly. And maybe the cost of measures is considered too high. At the end of the day, a well functioning sea provides eco-system services that society can profit from. Maybe we should put greater emphasis on the economic benefits of a healthy sea. The maritime environment has a value of its own, and it ought to be possible to protect the sea without money becoming the only trigger.”

How is it to work at Tvärminne Station?

“In summer, the place is full of life when scientists come to the station to conduct research. I thought it would be really quiet in winter, but I was wrong. Personally, I’m looking forward to engaging more researchers at the station year-round. Our international profile is important and we will continue to enhance it in the future as well.”

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Text: Nadine Aschan
Photo: Tvärminne Zoological Station
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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