Multidisciplinary research exploring solutions to combine blue growth and healthy waters

BlueAdapt aims at demonstrating the options and pathways towards the win-win solutions that healthy aquatic ecosystems provide for business opportunities and human welfare, writes the leader of the BlueAdapt-project Anna-Stiina Heiskanen from the Finnish Environment Institute.


Country of thousands of lakes faces a twin challenge concerning the water resources

Finland is a country of thousands of lakes, hundreds of rivers and with an exceptionally large archipelago in the Baltic Sea. No wonder that the blue resources are an important part of the Finnish culture – and of its’ economy.

Large part of recreational activities is carried out in the vicinity of waters particularly during the summer but also in the winter. Most of the Finnish people have an access to a summer cottage, which is typically by a lake or in the coastal areas. Tourism industry relies on good water quality, hydropower is an essential part of our energy system and offshore wind energy has a great potentiality. Fisheries is not a big industry, but a fundamental element of the culture in the Archipelago. Aquaculture provides additional livelihood in the coastal areas although being controversial due to its’ environmental impacts.

The EU Water Framework Directive requires achievement of good status in all waters by 2027. However, the climate change impacts are counteracting the restoration efforts and causing increasing organic matter and nutrient loads from watersheds. At the same time, there are growing needs for economic utilization of blue resources, such as aquaculture, hydropower, and tourism development.

The society is facing a twin challenge: how to increase economic growth in sectors that are dependent on water resources or impose pressures on water quality, and concurrently ensure improvement of ecological quality of water bodies.

Different disciplines build adaptive water governance solutions together

Our multidisciplinary BlueAdapt research group is tackling this challenge by developing novel approaches and tools and co-creating solutions together with national and regional stakeholders, entrepreneurs, NGOs, river basin managers, and decision makers. Regional solutions to reach sustainable blue economy are developed in two transition arenas, where stakeholders facilitated by researchers co-create visions, targets, and alternative pathways to improve both regional economic growth and water quality. In the transition arenas both the new technological and regulatory innovations are considered to avoid the path-dependency of business-as-usual solutions.

To combine social and ecological trends, we are developing national scenarios based on shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP), focusing on eco-tourism, food, and energy production. These scenarios are fed into modelling system that is driven by climate change scenarios (representative concentration pathways, RCP).

We are also developing aquatic ecosystem models to enable evaluation of the impacts of the ecosystem changes and to model the uncertainty of future conditions. In addition, we analyse the role of law in adaptive governance, and merge ecological modelling tools to this analysis. Finally, we carry out an evaluation of the economic potential of ‘blue economy’ sectors nationally.

Together, these approaches and tools form “Adaptive Governance Framework for Blue Economy” (AGORA) which is created through a co-creation process with the projects core-stakeholders. Tools and approaches can eventually be used by other projects and researchers in sustainable ecosystem-based management of aquatic resources.

Where are we now?

During the one and half year of the project, we have completed two regional transition arenas and an assessment of the contribution of the blue economy sectors to the national economy and employment in Finland. Furthermore, the potentiality of nutrient compensations in freshwater and marine environment has been evaluated based on the watershed model on nutrient loading.

Throughout the project, we co-create tools and approaches needed for adaptive governance of aquatic resources together with a number of stakeholder groups. All these studies form pieces of a puzzle to evaluate causes and consequences and to promote adaptive governance of aquatic resources.

The writer Anna-Stiina Heiskanen is an expert in marine and freshwater assessment and management, and the director of the Finnish Environment Institute’s (SYKE) Freshwater Centre. She is the consortium leader of the BlueAdapt-project.

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