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Scientists see Wadden Sea at serious risk due to climate change

International Scientific Symposium on Wadden Sea World Heritage formulates recommendations on protection of ecosystem and biodiversity.

The Westerhever Lighthouse. Photo: Martin Stock

The Westerhever Lighthouse stands in the middle of the Wadden Sea World Heritage, the status of which was the focus of the scientific symposium. Photo: Martin Stock

From 30.11. to 2.12.2021 more than 180 scientists from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands presented and discussed the latest scientific findings on the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Wadden Sea at the 15th International Scientific Wadden Sea Symposium (ISWSS). The event was originally planned as a face-to-face meeting in Büsum, Germany, but now took place online.

Climate change and sea level rise

Climate change and the associated sea level rise are considered among the greatest threats to the globally unique ecosystem of the Wadden Sea. Their impact on the biodiversity and geological dynamics of the Wadden Sea as well as possible protection measures were the focus of the symposium.

In six separate sessions, the participants explored the impact of climate change. The key topics were Birds, Marine Mammals, Alien Species, Sublittoral Habitats, and Socioeconomic/Ecological Sustainable Development. In addition to various presentations on the latest research results, recommendations for the management of the Wadden Sea and further research needs were discussed and formulated by the expert groups on each topic.

The symposium also looked beyond its own protected area and featured international World Heritage experts as well as guest speakers from the Korean Getbol wetlands, which was designated a World Heritage Site this summer. “International cooperation is of great importance for the protection of marine natural world heritage sites, as they are particularly endangered by climate change. The Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation makes an important contribution to the protection of these sensitive ecosystems and for this is recognised worldwide,” says Ilka Wagner, Head of the Marine Nature Conservation Division at the German Federal Environmental Ministry.

“Persistently high numbers of new species in the Wadden Sea and their successful establishment show how human factors can interact,” said Dr. Christian Buschbaum, marine ecologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute on Sylt, who moderated the session on alien species. “With global shipping foreign organism species are being introduced. Due to climate warming they find good living conditions in the Wadden Sea. What effects these exotics have on the ecosystem is a central topic of research. Developing measures to protect the Wadden Sea from further spreads of new species is an increasingly important international task.“

At the end of the three-day meeting, the Chair of the Wadden Sea Board, the highest operating body of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation, summarized the findings of the symposium: “Science shows that the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site is already significantly affected by climate change impacts. The symposium particularly emphasized the need to further intensify the exchange of data and information between the three countries to be able to adapt the management for the protection of the Wadden Sea to new challenges,” said Prof. Dr. Karin Lochte.

The results from the scientific discussions will provide the basis for the Ministerial Declaration of the next Trilateral Governmental Conference of the three Wadden Sea countries. The conference sets the political course for the protection of the Wadden Sea in the coming years and will take place in Wilhelmshaven at the end of 2022 at the invitation of the German government, marking the end of its presidency of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation. The scientific results will also be published under “Biodiversity and Ecology of the Wadden Sea under changing environments” in the journal “Marine Biodiversity”.

"With more than 200 international participants, the virtual symposium was very well received. Thanks to the multifunctional platform, the collegial exchange online also worked out great,” Marina Sanns from the National Park Authority “Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer”, who was instrumental in organizing the symposium, is pleased to say. “This was a great conclusion to this year’s National Park theme “Science in the Wadden Sea – uncovering the hidden”.

15th ISWSS

The 15th ISWSS was organized by the National Park Authority “Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer” in cooperation with the German Federal Environmental Ministry and the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS). In the framework of the Trilateral Cooperation for the Protection of the Wadden Sea, this event is regularly held one year before the end of the presidential term of one of the three Wadden Sea states. The previous scientific symposium was held in Tønder, Denmark, in 2017.

Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation

The Wadden Sea in the North Sea is the largest tidal flats system in the world, where natural processes proceed undisturbed. It extends for 500km along the coasts of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, protected as national parks and nature reserves. For its globally unique geological and ecological values the Wadden Sea is listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. It is home to more than 10,000 species of plants and animals, who adapted to the everchanging conditions. In the framework of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands take on the responsibility of preserving this irreplaceable ecosystem for the benefit of present and future generations.

More information on the website Wadden Sea World Heritage