Coping with persistent environmental problems: systemic delays in reducing eutrophication of the Baltic Sea

Riku Varjopuro, Thorsten Blenckner, Tobias Dolch, Anna-Stinna Heiskanen, Mia Pihlajamaki, Matilda Valman, Kira Gee, Tavis Potts, Iwona Psuty

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ABSTRACT. In this paper we focus on systemic delays in the Baltic Sea that cause the problem of eutrophication to persist. These
problems are demonstrated in our study by addressing three types of delays: (1) decision delay: the time it takes for an idea or perceived need to be launched as a policy; (2) implementation delay: the time from the launch of a policy to the actual implementation; (3) ecosystem delay: the time difference between the implementation and an actual measurable effects. A policy process is one characterized by delays. It may take years from problem identification to a decision to taking action and several years further for actual implementation. Ecosystem responses to measures illustrate that feedback can keep the ecosystem in a certain state and cause a delay in ecosystem response. These delays can operate on decadal scales. Our aim in this paper is to analyze these systemic delays and especially to discuss how the critical delays can be better addressed in marine protection policies by strengthening the adaptive capacity of marine protection. We conclude that the development of monitoring
systems and reflexive, participatory analysis of dynamics involved in the implementation are keys to improve understanding of the
systemic delays. The improved understanding is necessary for the adaptive management of a persistent environmental problem. In
addition to the state of the environment, the monitoring and analysis should be targeted also at the implementation of policies to ensure that the societies are investing in the right measures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number48
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

The research leading to this paper has received funding from the
European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme
[FP7/2007-2013] under grant agreement number 226675
"Knowledge-based Sustainable Management for Europe’s Seas."
The research was funded also by grants from the Swedish Research Council Formas Project “Regime Shifts in the Baltic Sea
Ecosystem” and the strategic program at Stockholm University
“Baltic Ecosystem Adaptive Management Program.” Research
presented in this paper contributes to the Nordic Centre for Research on Marine Ecosystems and Resources under Climate Change (NorMER), which is funded by the Norden Top-level Research Initiative subprogram "Effect Studies and Adaptation to Climate Change." The authors are grateful to the two anonymous reviewers whose critical comments helped to improve the paper substantially.


  • adaptive management
  • Baltic Sea
  • ecosystem delays
  • monitoring of implementation


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