The Wadden Sea is considered to be the location of the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats. With its location in northern Europe, bordering the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, the sea stretches 500 kilometers long and across a total area of 10,000 square kilometers. Included in this area are the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area, the German Wadden Sea National Parks of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, and the Danish Wadden Sea Maritime Conservation Area. It is famous for its rich biodiversity, especially its transitional habitats of tidal channels, sandbars, mudflats, salt marches, beaches, and dunes, among others. The islands in the Wadden Sea are known as the Frisian Islands.
The Wadden Sea’s natural history reveals an even more diverse region. Grey seals were dominant in the area, according to archaeologists. After the Middle Ages they disappeared completely, but have recently reappeared in the sea. From the years 1000 to 1500 AD the sea was an important source of water power for Netherlands, and as the population increased there was significant change in the coastal landscape of the Wadden Sea. Dikes were built to protect the expanding communities against flooding from the sea. However, in January of 1362 a flood devastated the coast, destroying land and lives. The sea was also the site of peat mining, which allowed local trade to flourish. Unfortunately, this resulted in large portions of coastal land sinking below sea level. Nevertheless, the islands in the Wadden Sea have been popular seaside resorts since the Nineteenth Century.
Today the Wadden Sea is famous for its unique wildlife. The Dutch and German areas of the sea were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2009, followed by the Danish part in 2014. These three governments have been working together since 1978 to ensure the protection and conservation of the sea. They cooperate in monitoring species and in conducting research on local ecosystems, along with political and economic issues that affect the Wadden Sea. In 1982, the Joint Declaration on the Protection of the Wadden Sea was signed and in 1997 the Trilateral Wadden Sea Plan was put into action. The sea is of vital importance since it is one of the last large-scale intertidal ecosystems where natural processes function mostly undisturbed.
Habitat and Biodiversity
2,700 marine species, and at least 5,100 semi-terrestrial and terrestrial species across the island salt marshes and sand dunes, call the Wadden Sea their home. Waders, ducks, and geese use the area for wintering or as a stop in their migration flights. Gulls and terns are also prevalent. Wadden Sea is recognized as one of the most important areas in the world for migratory birds. Six million birds can be in the Walden Sea region at once and around 10 to 12 million pass through the area on a yearly basis. Grey seals, harbor porpoises, and Atlantic white-beaked dolphins were once locally extinct but are once again colonizing the region. Some of the fish in the sea are the herring, sprat, whiting, and cod. There are over 140 species of fish in the Wadden Sea.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Unfortunately, unlike those species which have re-colonized, a number of species, such as the North Atlantic right whales and the gray whales were made extinct as a result of shore-based whaling. The size of the sea has decreased by fifty percent and no longer receives nutrients which once flowed from the Rhine River. This has resulted in ninety percent of Wadden Sea’s species being at risk. Invasive species, such as algae and smaller organisms and human interference in the North Sea has also detrimentally affected Wadden Sea. Other threats include fisheries, oil and gas rigs, wind farms, and the increase in tourist industries.