Pioneer in focus: Mariehamn, Finland - Tourism, local initiatives and the Baltic Sea

Mariehamn Municipality on Åland, Finland participated in the Baltic Sea City Accelerator. We take a deep dive to learn about the city, its Blue Vision and their work in the Accelerator programme. This article was originally published in our Baltic Sea City Accelerator magazine.


Growing as a “Big Small Town”

Mariehamn is the capital of the Åland Islands, an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea belonging to Finland. The city is located on the main island of Åland, which makes up 70 per cent of the region’s total land area, and is home to 90 per cent of the island’s growing population. Situated midway between Stockholm and southern Finland, Mariehamn is a regular stopping point on ferry routes (ca 5,500 dockings per year). Approximately 2 million visitors pass through this port city annually, either on business or as tourists seeking to enjoy Åland’s numerous recreational activities, which range from boating, swimming, and angling to cycling, hiking, and golf.

Mariehamn faces a number of challenges as both its local population and number of seasonal residents and visitors continues to grow. These include an increased impact on the environment, particularly local waters, and the city’s infrastructure, harbour, and community services in general. These are difficult challenges for any city - but it is especially acute for a city of this size that also has the ambition to maintain a small island town atmosphere on the Baltic Sea.


Investing in Sustainability

Mariehamn has actively sought ways to change its trajectory in the Baltic Sea, knowing that it must also address the issue of carbon emissions. In 2011, the city adopted a policy to reduce emissions and climate change.  In 2017 these emissions are 75% lower than they were in 2002. Emission reductions have been achieved by updating district heating systems, which now use 85% bio-fuel. The city also recently installed solar energy panels on schools that are capable of producing 7,000 kWh/per year. An environmentally-certified nursing home has been opened, and its school lunch programme has launched a “vegetarian only” day, reducing 1.8 tons of CO2 annually. Additionally, Mariehamn also is active in “Bärkraft”, an Åland-wide co-operation of public and private sectors, businesses, education, and volunteer organisations dedicated to a resilient and sustainable Åland.



Restoring a wetland in Mariehamn’s urban environment adds value to the tourist industry

Through its own sampling and analyses, Mariehamn has been aware of the Baltic Sea's general deteriorated condition and the increasing signs of eutrophication around the city and the surrounding water areas. Slemmern, a sea bay, is located just along the eastern coastline of the city and is classified as a EU bathing beach. It is very sensitive to local loads of nutrients, sediments, and runoff that are common to areas in the inner archipelago that have limited water turnover.  However, in 1996 the city decided to begin tackling the problem with a survey that resulted in a purification plant being installed in 1998. In 2008, a decision was taken to further improve the area and together with the neighboring municipality of Jomala, four delay basins were constructed to level out congestion of stormwater but also to increase the retention of nutrients and heavy metals. This project is presently ongoing and a study is being carried out now, in 2017, to highlight the problems of contaminants, nutrients, microplastics, and pollution, as well as to investigate the possible construction of wetlands that can meet additional needs for the purification of traditional contaminants and the retention of nutrients and heavy metals.


Mariehamn's blue strategy

We seek to jointly develop an overarching plan for Åland that addresses land use, water, wastewater treatment, sewage, tourism, stormwater and urban development in a comprehensive manner.