Finland : Turku Archipelago


Finland is an unparalleled country in Europe in terms of its archipelagos, lakes and rivers. In addition to sea archipelagos there exist a considerable number of freshwater archipelagos. Altogether there are 179,584 islands. There are 187,888 lakes, 647 rivers and 314,604 km of coastline. 54,000 inhabitants live permanently in the Finnish archipelagos and of these people, 8,769 live all year round on 455 islands without a permanent road connection with the mainland. They rely on commuter ferries and their own boats. Some roads on the ice are also operational during the winter.

As a bilingual country of 5.3 million inhabitants this manifests itself with the lake archipelagos being inhabited mainly by Finnish speaking people, while on many of the sea archipelagos the majority speaks Swedish. The autonomous Aland Islands are an entirely Swedish language region. The Province, which belongs to Finland, has its own governing bodies and a member of parliament. Aland also has a flag of its own, as well as own stamps and a public service radio and television company. There is an Aland International Institute of Comparative Island Studies and Peace Institute.

The National Association of Finnish Islands (FOSS) established in 2006 is working for the sustainable future and improved living conditions for all these small island residents. There has been in force in Finland since 1981 the Island Development Act that obliges the State and municipal communes to work to secure the means of livelihood and the availability of transport and services on the island areas and to protect their environment. The Government appoints an Island Committee that from 2008 has operated from the Ministry of Employment and Economics and published a useful booklet (Finland: The Land of Islands and Waters ). It is a permanent statutory advisory body, acting for the benefit of insular areas, jointly with municipal communes, government departments and other agencies that draws up an Island Development Programme. The ongoing programme is from 2007-2010 and the main targets in force are to implement coastal and beach policy, turn leisure-time dwellings into second homes or even the primary form of dwelling, and make island and water-based tourism into a European attraction factor. Securing the traditional means of livelihood, such as fishing and farming, and creating new expertise-based means of livelihood are a visible part of the programme. The needs of recreation, environmental protection, landscape protection and culture are taken into account from the whole country's point of view.

FOSS has an office in the city of Turku and executive manager working within the same building as the Archipelago Institute of Abo Academy University. This institute undertakes a variety of research projects, offers Open University online training courses in Archipelago Knowledge and since 1978 has published the journal Archipelago. The University of Turku also has an Archipelago Research Institute which carries out projects studying the biological and geological condition of the Archipelago Sea.  Pro Saaristomeri is a cooperative programme the key objective of which is to slow down and stop eutrophication of the Finnish southwest archipelago. It works in conjunction with the Green Path website whose content is provided by the students of sustainable development at Turku University of Applied Sciences. Here you will find information and study materials about the Archipelago Sea and climate change.

For the purposes of this case study we are focusing down to the Turku archipelago in southwest Finland and in particular the islands of Hogsara, Tunhamn, Vano and the so called Viking Islands of Hitis and Rosala.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

The small island of Hogsara, 3.5 km long and 2.5 km wide, has 50 permanent inhabitants and rises to 150 in the summer when people return to their holiday homes. A ferry has only connected the island to the mainland since 2000, running 7 times daily. In 2004 work began on establishing three 2MW wind turbines after an enterprising islander, Mats Enberg, gained the support of the local community, found important partners in companies like Hafmex Wind Oy, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and sourced EU funding for the Hogsara Island Demonstration Project.

To quote directly from an article and accompanying video "Due to the conditions prevailing on site, the project demanded creative innovations from scientists, engineers, builders and islanders alike. In order for materials to be transported to the planned locations of the three two-megawatt turbines under the safest possible conditions, these were first shipped to the island on a barge and thereafter by truck over temporarily widened village roads. In order to lay the foundation, anchors were drilled 20 metres down into the solid bedrock. This made a smaller foundation possible using a third of concrete than with normal turbines of similar size. In three stages, the 62.5 metre high towers were hoisted up with cranes and the 50 ton generator was lifted to the nacelle. Each individual rotor blade is 34 metres long. All three were assembled on the ground and then hoisted up and mounted by crane as well."

The project was officially completed in July 2007 and the islanders "have been able to profit from the electricity generated by the wind. At an average monthly speed of approximately 7 meters per second, enough electricity is generated to provide for the demands of about 800 Finnish households - many more than on Hogsara itself. The energy produced by the wind generators is fed in to 20 kilovolt distribution power grid. The adaptation of the wind generators to the weak power grid manifested itself as another challenge for the project.

Before the wind turbines were brought out to the archipelago, measurements were taken of wind strength, wind direction and ground quality. Moreover, they inquired about the ways the wind turbines could affect nature or residents through noise and visual appearance. VTT - Technical Research Center of Finland, collected data and came to the conclusion that the wind power stations could become an economically successful future project on the archipelago. The island offers nearly the same characteristics as offshore facilities, but is easier to access and the windmills can be erected and maintained with less financial and logistical difficulties. For Finland, the Hogsara Island Demonstration Project thus became a groundbreaking pilot project. The current state of the usage of wind power in Finland is 100 megawatts, which accounts for 0.2 percent of Finland's whole energy consumption. But the government is planning to increase the usage of wind power in Finland and already supports small scale projects with some new innovations, like the HISP project. The approximately 180,000 islands along Finland's coast could end up playing a very important role in that effort."

An electricity supply has come to the last permanently inhabited island in the Turku archipelago that has lacked regular power. The island of Tunhamn has been populated since the mid-16th century but is now home to only two families and was too remote for an electric cable to the mainland to be feasible. Instead, a hybrid power plant was established in 2004 by Abo Academy combining three small wind turbines constantly charging batteries, ten solar panels and a diesel-powered generator. The whole setup cost EUR 45,000, whereas the undersea cable would have cost more than EUR 300,000. It was further upgraded by Renewable Energy Production Solutions who specialize in helping those with a house or summer cottage in the archipelago outside of the electricity network.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

For the most part refuse and recyclable materials on the islands are taken to a central collection point that has various containers. From there it is picked up by the municipal-owned waste management company Rouskis Ltd and transported to their Kimito small waste station where it is further sorted for recovery or disposal. Their website gives comprehensive sorting instructions, price lists and other useful advice. One novel aspect is their waste gang of nine hand puppets, each of which represents one of the most common types of waste, loaned free of charge for environmental education in schools.

The 'Keep the Archipelago Tidy' association was founded in 1969 as an initiative by private individuals in the Turku archipelago, but these days its activities extend beyond the island and coastal communities, all the way to the Finnish Lakeland. The association has a membership of more than 13,000 and maintains several waste disposal sites in the Finnish archipelago alone, most of which include a chemical toilet. It also organises special projects to collect rubbish and problem waste from individual islands. The Rubbish Seal is their logo and through becoming a member you get a seal sticker entitling you to use their services and other various benefits. The sticker has a new colour each year, and a straight flush on your boat mast or car windscreen is a source of pride for many people travelling in the archipelago.

From the beginning of 2005, it has been prohibited for a vessel of any size to discharge untreated wastewater into a lake or the sea. The association has improved the opportunity for boat owners to empty their own chemical toilets by means of a suction machine that are provided at the busiest marinas. Floating suction emptying machines have been placed along shipping channels, and in order to save space on piers, further away from harbours. The association has its own service vessel that is able to receive and transport up to 14 m3 of discharged wastewater.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Under the EU Interreg IIIA Skargarden programme the southwest archipelago of Finland was brought together with others to be marketed as the Scandinavian Islands on a commercial tourism portal in conjunction with another portal site with information on specific projects. The internet guide of the Turku archipelago tourist association  is one of the best of its kind offering comprehensive online information in several languages including a virtual version with ReadSpeaker voice of the 40 page brochure to the villages in the outer islands of the Archipelago National Park  The 250 km Archipelago Trail marked by brown signs is an easy way to experience the region with eight ferries and a dozen bridges taking cyclists and cars from one island to another. Accommodation and excursions can be obtained in advance through Archipelago Booking Finland.

Each of the five islands in this case study has a rich cultural heritage with various tourist attractions. Hogsara is situated along a historic seafaring route, Jungfrusund. As far back as the 16th century, Hogsara’s tenant farmers piloted ships owned by the Swedish royal navy through the island’s rocky waters. Hogsara is also famous as an anchoring site: during the First World War, the Russian navy was anchored in front of the island, and at the start of the Finnish Winter War, the island provided anchorage for the majority of the Finnish navy. Hogsara’s Imperial Harbour is famous for the numerous visits that Russian Tsar Alexander III and his family and court made to it at the end of the 19th century. In the Imperial Harbour visitors can learn about piloting and the history of the village by going to the Jungfrusund Museum, a member of the Archipelago Museums Association.   Piloting services ended in 1985 and these days the island hosts a Finnish Maritime Administration’s shipping route station. Beata cottage is another small museum displaying the home of a single woman at the turn of the century. The Farmors Café serves traditional meals in the house of a former pilot.

The Viking Centre on Rosala brings history to life for visitors with a reconstructed village comprising the chieftain hall where it is possible to dress, eat and live like a Viking for a day or more; a typical dwelling house of a merchant with its smoke filled interior; the Helga Chapel; a smithy and animal shelter; sacrificial stone, sacrifice altar, runes and bordering stones on a grave; field labyrinth and axe-throwing target; and a wishing well. There is also a museum displaying local archeological findings and an exhibition of Viking clothes and weapons together with an auditorium with films about Nordic mythology. A reconstructed Viking warship Alvida, 17m long and 4m wide and weighing 14 tons when at sea, built out of larch and oak in Saaremaa in Estonia, along with a smaller boat called Hogland can be seen at the nearby harbour.

From Rosala you can take an 18km boat trip to the Bengtskar lighthouse that was built in 1906 and at 52m is the highest in Scandinavia. It is now owned by the Turku University Foundation and serves as a museum as well as providing a café, post office, chapel, accommodation and conference facilities.

Vano has a land area of only 190 hectares with 16 people living on the island all year round. However, it is a very dynamic community that swells considerably in the summer with the arrival of tourists attracted by the guided tours along the 1.5km nature trail, the long, shallow, sandy beach, the Frisbee golf course and availability of boat, dinghy or kayak hire. Furthermore, the village association organises the Vano Festival and the Wooden Boat Festival every summer. Catering is provided by the one cafeteria/shop and the island’s long tradition of fishing ensures a supply of fresh smoked fish as well as woollen gift items from the local sheep. .

In order to attract more young people to move and work permanently on the island, the shortage of housing had to be addressed. A company Vano Ahlstegen was set up by Friends of Vano to raise share capital to start building or restoring property on the island. As a start, they persuaded the owner of a large disused barn to allow the community to rent it for a nominal fee, so it could be renovated and turned into a cultural centre for different events and functions. It also has a photographic exhibition illustrating life on the island over a period of several decades.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The Archipelago National Park was designated in 1983 to protect the many beautiful natural and cultural landscapes of the islands in the Archipelago Sea. The park also aims to preserve traditional local livelihoods, to ensure local communities remain viable, to promote environmental research, and to encourage interest in natural history. The islands in Finland's Southwestern Archipelago lie within the Kimitoon and Vastaboland municipalities. These local authorities collaborate closely on the management of the whole archipelago. The national park, administered by Metsahallitus, includes all the State-owned lands and waters within this wider area, with the exception of some military areas. The park covers a total area of some 500 sq km, including a couple of thousand islands and skerries with a total extent of about 32 sq km.

Conservation of nature and the pressures of increasing tourism have been balanced so well in the Archipelago National Park, that in 2007 it received the international PAN Parks certificate and was the first marine protected area to join this network. Scottish Natural Heritage also chose this park for two case studies and to help inform their thinking on coastal and marine national parks.

The park also forms the core area of the large Archipelago Sea Biosphere Reserve, which was established by UNESCO in 1994 to promote sustainable development, and research on interdependency between man and nature.

The Blamusslan Visitor Centre located in the village of Kasnas contains a wealth of information including an exhibition, films and with staff on hand to provide guided tours and details about the parks ten nature trails as well as opportunities for camping, canoeing, sailing, motor boating and fishing. The Korpostrom Archipelago Centre offers similar customer services and guidance. The Archipelago Nature School organises camps for schoolchildren of various ages to learn about the environment in a hands-on way. The Archipelago Folk High School on the island of Houtskar is the only one of its kind in Finland providing accommodation and courses year round on subjects such as fishing, net-making, seafaring, timber boat building and textile making.

The park's signature bird is the white-tailed sea eagle that was once classed as vermin. In 1868, under a decree from Alexander II, Russian Emperor and Grand Duke of Finland, a bounty was paid to promote the persecution of sea eagles taking them to the brink of extinction. Although they were placed under protection in the Aland Islands in 1924 and on the Finnish mainland in 1926, persecution continued for decades. The birds began to recover during World War II. However, with the return to peace they were again hunted with a steep decline evident in the population by the 1960s. The numbers of offspring decreased and one nest after another was abandoned. Environmental toxins, which accumulated in the food chain, also impacted negatively on sea eagles, creating infertility in adults and preventing the successful hatching of eggs. There were some years during the 1970s when not a single pair of sea eagles managed to successfully raise young in the Turku area of the archipelago. In 1973 the Finnish World Wildlife Fund set up the sea eagle task force after only five young hatched throughout the country. They began winter feeding as well as systematic monitoring and protection of the population. Over the course of the next few decades hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly in various conservation measures including the construction of artificial nests and in 2009 a record number of 349 chicks hatched.

Integrated Development Planning

Prior to the formation of FOSS, the Vano islanders had already taken the initiative of establishing the Association Pro Abolands Utskar in 1999 with the objective of taking practical steps to encourage year-round habitation on the outer islands of the Turku archipelago and to maintain the heritage of their maritime culture. They obtained EU funding to undertake projects on local environmental protection, the development of a sustainable cultural tourism industry, marketing island products, the construction of a 3km nature trail on the island of Berghamn and helping to build social networks like the European Small Islands Network.

The islands of Hitis and Hogsara had also been partners in the EU LEADER programme Small Islands for Survival and Understanding (SISU) project 2004 - 2006 along with others from Finland, Sweden and Scotland. They undertook SWOT analyses and exchanged information and ideas of how the islands can succeed to maintain island life and also a permanent population in the future. Not unsurprisingly, they found what they had in common was a lack of affordable housing, costly transport and poorly developed infrastructure.

In September 2008, FOSS initiated the project Stepping Stones - Development Plans for Small Islands with funding from the Sameboat LEADER Action Group for the Turku archipelago and support from other partners including Nötö Hembygdsförening, ProSaaristo Association, Southwest Finland Villages Association, Vanno Vanner, and Velkuanmaa saaristolaisyhdistys Association. The aim of this year long pilot project covering five permanently inhabited islands -Borsto, Noto, Palva, Ruotsalainen and Vano - was to produce village plans through direct community participation methods and use of discussion forums developed by Svensk Byaservice as well as to seek the opinions of summer residents and tourists. Thereafter, an investment programme can be agreed upon in order to seek both national money and EU funds for regional development to help turn their plans into practical reality.

These village plans are not intended to be 'set in stone' but act more as route map for islanders to identify, discuss and prioritise what particular issues like improved ferry services, better health care, more housing and other basic infrastructure requirements are most needed for their particular island. Another major reason for compiling these village plans and making their needs known is that the local government municipalities covering the Turku archipelago have recently been merged and become bigger. The islanders feel having a collective voice will put them in a much stronger position to be heard and influence decisions that might directly affect their future.


Kristin Mattsson, Executive Manager, National Association of Finnish Islands
Pirjo Hoffstrom, Chairperson, National Association of Finnish Islands
Mats Enberg, Hogsara Island
Satu Tanskanen, Blamussian Visitor Centre