The Wadden Sea World Heritage: responsibility for migratory birds between Africa and the Arctic

Concluding a 2-day international workshop in Wilhelmshaven, 35 experts from the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, England, Mauritania, Senegal, Kenya and the United States underlined the importance of international cooperation for the protection and management of migratory birds along the African-Eurasian Flyway and made concrete suggestions in this regard.

Declining numbers for certain bird species in the Wadden Sea, which cannot be explained on the local level, indicate a possible worsening of living and environmental conditions along the flyways. While the Wadden Sea is a well-protected area covered by a joint monitoring program, which delivers extensive information on the number of migratory birds, the situation in West Africa and the Arctic can only be inadequately assessed due to the lack of data. Therefore, it was common understanding that there is a need monitoring programs financed on a long term basis, investment in training and knowledge capacity and sustainable development. An overall action plan that defines tasks and priorities would be necessary for the entire flyway. One option to be considered would also be the twinning of important habitats, e.g. between the two World Heritage sites Wadden Sea as the main staging area in spring and autumn and Banc d'Arguin in Mauritania, which is the world's most important wintering area for migratory birds.

"The meeting has demonstrated that we need to collect further data along the migratory route to set priorities and determine what protection measures are necessary," said Jens Enemark, Head of the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat. "For all the participants the meeting in Wilhelmshaven is considered to be a first important step in this direction".

The meeting results from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision in 2009 when the Wadden Sea was included on the World Heritage List. It requires the strengthening of the cooperation of the Netherlands and Germany on management and research with other states along the flyways. The crucial significance of the Wadden Sea as resting grounds for millions of migratory birds was one of the reasons why the Wadden Sea has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. 10-12 million birds migrate annually through the Wadden Sea, which is one of the highest numbers of birds counted globally.

"Birds connect countries and continents, birds fascinate people, and birds also remind us that we live in a fragile world" stressed Jens Enemark at the end of the meeting.

The workshop was funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and coordinated by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat.