World Heritage – the Wadden Sea

The action of the tides along the North Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands has created a unique natural landscape, the Wadden Sea.

picture-alliance/chromorange

Every six hours the magical spectacle begins all over again. The ebb and flow of the tides in the Wadden Sea demonstrate the powerful force of nature by uncovering an up to 30 kilometre section of the seabed twice a day. The tides give this unique coastal landscape a constantly changing face. However, it is not only this interplay of natural forces that makes the Wadden Sea along the German and Dutch North Sea coast a nature paradise, which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage site. The Wadden Sea is also an unique habitat and the world’s largest ecosystem of this kind. An area of approximately 10,000 square kilometres is home to exceptional species diversity with roughly 10,000 animals, plants and microorganisms – lugworms, grey seals, cockles and seagrass. Flora and fauna have to adapt to the constantly changing landscape and many species are found nowhere else. Additionally, every year ten to twelve million migratory birds rest in the Wadden Sea on their way from South Africa to Siberia or Canada and search for food in the mudflats. Hidden under the seabed lies one of the special treasures of the Wadden Sea: up to 100,000 small animals live in one cubic metre of water, mud and sand – frequently well-camouflaged and unrecognizable at first glance.

In June 2009, UNESCO justified inscribing the German Wadden Sea National Parks of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein and the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area on the World Heritage List because of their “outstanding universal value and unique beauty”. This move had been supported jointly by Germany and the Netherlands. The Wadden Sea is the second German natural site on the World Heritage List, but the first German natural landscape with World Heritage status. It is thus on an equal footing with other famous natural wonders of the world like the Grand Canyon in the USA, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The UNESCO World Heritage List currently names 962 unique natural phenomena and cultural achievements in 157 countries that must be preserved. Germany is represented by 37 sites – including Cologne Cathedral and the Museum Island in Berlin. However, the Dresden Elbe Valley has now had its World Heritage status withdrawn because of a controversial bridge project.

Black silt, salty air, white sand dunes – and colourful wicker beach chairs: Wadden Sea is not only an ecological treasure trove, but also a popular tourist destination. The new World Heritage site, which includes the five Nord Frisian and seven East Frisian islands, has a lot to offer tourists. Every year, up to 10 million holidaymakers come for a few days or weeks and an additional 30 to 40 million day-trippers travel to the 400-kilometre-long section of coast. Many of them want to feel the sand between their toes, walk through the mudflats with their trousers rolled up while the tide is out and undertake carriage rides or ship excursions. Along the coast and on the islands, numerous information centres and nature paths in the national parks present insights into the fascinating world of the Wadden Sea – a public education campaign that combines tourism with nature conservation and creates greater understanding for this unique coastal oasis of life.