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Urban Eco Islands

Local nature tourism in an urban archipelago in Helsinki and Tallinn

The Urban Eco Islands - Urban and Smart Island Tourism Destinations project developed Vasikkasaari island in Helsinki and Aegna island in Tallinn into new types of smart nature tourism destinations. The islands were developed based on the principles of sustainable tourism, taking into account the sensitive archipelago nature. At the same time, the project examined how experience-based and sustainable tourism could be promoted with new, innovative and smart solutions.

The main coordinator of the two-year project was 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
Sustainable nature tourism and smart solutions were developed in Vasikkasaari, Helsinki.

Aegna island

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

Handbook for developing Urban Eco-Islands with smart solutions

One of the objectives of the project was to produce a sustainable tourism manual that takes into consideration the special characteristics of Helsinki’s and Tallinn’s island destinations. The manual compiles 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 examines how these objectives can be promoted with smart solutions. Link to the handbook is included below.

Towards assessment criteria for sustainable nature tourism

The Urban Eco Islands -project seeked 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 was monitored with the help of a visitor counter and sensors installed on Vasikkasaari.

As part of the project and the City of Helsinki's maritime strategy, mobility on Vasikkasaari was facilitated by restoration of paths and marking routes to the terrain. The island’s paths were 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.

Mobility of visitors was directed to the restored trails on Vasikkasaari also by building attractive resting places and creating mobile nature trails. The Vasikkasaari mobile guide was integrated into the website.

New resting places with the sea view along the marked nature trails

Recreational structures at Vasikkasaari are located along marked routes.

Aegna island, owned by the City of Tallinn, is a popular local tourism destination. The project included the construction of a new waste collection station on the island. In addition, the island’s information boards and maps were renewed to provide visitors with a wider range of information on the island’s nature, history and sustainable operating models.

New info signs, path improvements and waste management system on Aegna island

Improvements on Aegna island during the project: info signs, trail improvements and new waste management system.

During the two-year project general public and school groups were encouraged to make nature observations and take part in citizen science activities. Citizens could join iNaturalist community to record their nature observations and view others from the same area. Guiding materials were created in the form of a video and user’s guide for citizens and teachers. Special attention was paid in Tallinn to observe marine litter on the beaches. Teachers were provided a material package for outdoor teaching, which was piloted with nature school group on Aegna island.

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

Smart solutions as part of environmental monitoring

Vasikkasaari island and Aegna island were 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 were piloted to monitor the islands’ environments were drones. Drones were 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. Drone was also piloted to test bird nest counting instead of traditional field work.

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. 

The mobile nature trail on Vasikkasaari encourages visitors to observe various natural phenomena and enjoy the health benefits of the nature tour. The project also provided a virtual tour on Vasikkasaari. Visitors are able to familiarize to the island`s sights and trails in advance.

Vasikkasaari is located within a short distance from Helsinki market square by boat. The World Heritage Site Suomenlinna is well visible from the west cost of the island.

More information about the project

Kaisa Pajanen, team leader, Nature and Environmental Awareness
Tel. +358 50 5932 137, kaisa.pajanen @

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

Further information and links

Project parties

Forum Virium

Tallinn Centre District Administration

Stockholm Environment Institute

Maritime Strategy, handbook and information on project islands

City of Helsinki’s Maritime Strategy

Handbook for developing urban eco islands

Vasikkasaari island on

Aegna island on

Aegna brochure

Aegna map

Aegna island webpage

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31.03.2021 12:16