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Urban Eco Islands

Local nature tourism in an urban archipelago in Helsinki and Tallinn

THE URBAN ECO ISLANDS project will develop Vasikkasaari island in Helsinki and Aegna island in Tallinn into new types of smart nature tourism destinations. The islands are being developed based on the principles of sustainable tourism, taking into account the sensitive archipelago nature. At the same time, the project will examine how experience-based and sustainable tourism can be promoted with new, innovative and smart solutions.

The main coordinator of the two-year project is the City of Helsinki, with the other project partners being Forum Virium Helsinki, the City of Tallinn and the Tallinn unit of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

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Helsinki Vasikkasaari, photo 110th Street Productions
Helsinki’s Vasikkasaari island is being developed into a smart nature tourism destination. 

Aegna island

Aegna Beach Tallinn, photo Annika Harlio
White beaches are just one aspect of the diverse nature of Tallinn’s Aegna island.

Towards assessment criteria for sustainable tourism

The two-year EU project Urban Eco Islands – Urban and Smart Island Tourism Destinations is coordinated by the City of Helsinki’s Environmental Services. The project seeks means of monitoring and preventing the environmental impacts of growing visitor numbers on Helsinki’s Vasikkasaari island and Tallinn’s Aegna island. The development of visitor numbers is being monitored with the help of a visitor counter installed on Vasikkasaari in summer 2019, among other means.

The City of Helsinki has already initiated nature management efforts, including the restoration of paths, on Vasikkasaari as part of the promotion of the City’s Maritime Strategy. The island’s paths are being designed so that visitors will not need to veer off them to see the best parts of the island. The restoration of paths and trails is an important part of sustainable nature tourism, as they steer people to follow routes that do not damage the sensitive environment.

diversity brushwood fense, Vasikkasaari
The excess pruning waste left over from the restoration work on Vasikkasaari has been assembled into a ‘diversity brushwood fence,’ which offers suitable habitats for birds and insects. Photo by Annika Harlio 

Aegna island, owned by the City of Tallinn, is a popular local tourism destination. The project will include the construction of a new waste collection station on the island, to replace the current station, which has proven to be too small. In addition to this, the island’s information boards will be renewed to provide visitors with a wider range of information on the island’s nature, history and sustainable operating models.

Aegnan saari Amiraalin talo
Located in Tallinn, Aegna island has been inhabited since the 15th century. At one point the island used to house a sea fort, one of the remnants of which is the island’s Admiral’s house, which is now used for tourism. Photo by Olli Rinne

One of the objectives of the project is to produce a sustainable tourism manual that takes into consideration the special characteristics of Helsinki’s and Tallinn’s island destinations. The manual will compile a set of criteria on the ecological, economic and social factors that should be taken into account the development of nature tourism destinations located in urban areas. In addition to this, the manual will examine how these objectives can be promoted with smart solutions. The manual is set to be published in 2020.

Smart solutions as part of environmental monitoring

Vasikkasaari island and Aegna island will be used by the City of Helsinki’s development company Forum Virium and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Tallinn unit to test smart solutions for monitoring the islands’ environments and visitors.

Among the technologies that will be used to monitor the islands’ environments are drones. Drones will be used to carry out regular air photography on the islands, the benefits of which include more accurate data on the erosion of paths and the environment.

The aim is to develop the islands in collaboration with visitors by, for example, inviting them to test out new technologies. In summer 2019, visitors were invited to participate in a visitor survey carried out on Vasikkasaari island and Aegna island. In the future, visitors will also be able to personally contribute to the development of the islands with the help of smart solutions, by reporting on the islands’ environments and littering, for example.

The project will also involve the creation of a mobile nature trail on Vasikkasaari island, which will encourage visitors to observe various natural phenomena. On Aegna, the project will involve increasing the amount of information provided along paths, encouraging visitors to enjoy the environment.

More information about the project

Annika Harlio, project coordinator, Nature and Environmental Awareness
Tel. +358 40 3560 720, annika.harlio @

Maria Suomela, project specialist, Nature and Environmental Awareness
Tel. +358 40 5950250, maria.suomela @

About the project

  • Project name: URBAN ECO ISLANDS – Urban and Smart Island Tourism Destinations
  • Duration: 1 April 2019 – 30 June 2021
  • Funded by: European Regional Development Fund, Interreg Central Baltic
  • Project parties:
    • City of Helsinki Environmental Services (main coordinator)
    • Tallinn Centre District Administration (project partner)
    • Forum Virium Helsinki Oy (project partner)
    • Stockholm Environment Institute, Tallinn unit (project partner)
  • Total budget: EUR 1,093,704
  • European Regional Development Fund’s share: EUR 858,225

Forum Virium

Tallinn Centre District Administration

Stockholm Environment Institute

City of Helsinki’s Maritime Strategy

Further information on Aegna island>Aegna and

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02.03.2021 10:04