Wadden Sea, Denmark / Germany / Netherlands

Protecting natural values in times of rapid climate change

Sunset (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

One Wadden Sea. One Global Heritage

The Wadden Sea is a place like no other on earth. A unique natural seascape bursting with life, it offers a vital home to global wildlife and unforgettable experiences to all those who visit. In 2009, the Wadden Sea took its place on the World Heritage List, joining global natural wonders including the Galápagos Islands and the Grand Canyon.

Common shore crab at low tide (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

Nature has no borders

Nowhere else on earth will you find such a diverse and dynamic coastline on this scale. The Wadden Sea forms a cohesive ecosystem that spans 500 km along the shores of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, and supports over 10,000 different species of animals and plants.

Some call it home and, for others, it’s a life-saving stopover on their global travels.

Islands of Scharhörn and Nigelhörn (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

World Heritage since 2009

Being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list is the highest global recognition for a natural site. It celebrates the area’s outstanding universal value, both now and in the future, and the efforts being made to preserve and manage it for all humankind.

Outstanding Universal Value: The Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world.
World Heritage selection criteria: 
- Geological processes
- Ecological & biological processes
- Biodiversity
Area: 11,434 km2

Salt marsh with blooming sea lavender (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

A unique landscape shaped by wind and water

Over the past 8,000 years, this dynamic coastline has been shaped by the elements and strongly influenced by rising sea levels. The continuous interplay between wind, currents and tides creates an ever-changing tapestry of islands, sandbanks, channels, sand and mudflats, saltmarshes, beaches and dunes. 

As these natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed, the site’s extraordinary geological variety makes it home to thousands of incredible plant and animal species that have cleverly learned to adapt to their shifting environment.

Sunbathing seal (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

A guardian of biodiversity

The Wadden Sea is an irreplaceable hotspot for global biodiversity, from single-celled organisms to plants, fishes, birds and marine mammals.

Here exists an intricate food web, making the site a bountiful home to vast numbers of wild residents, and crucial to the conservation of millions of migratory birds visiting on their world travels. Biodiversity on a worldwide scale is reliant on the Wadden Sea.

Artic tern with offspring (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

An avian service station

Its central position along the East Atlantic Flyway makes the Wadden Sea a vital refuge for over 10 million migratory birds each year. Many birds, such as red knots, brent geese and dunlins, rely on our coastal tidal flats and salt marshes for food and rest. 

Here they will find enough fuel to complete the long journey from their winter homes in Africa and Europe to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Flock of birds resting in the Wadden Sea (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

Safe travels

The Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative was launched in 2012 to support the conservation of migratory birds as they travel along the East Atlantic Flyway, through monitoring and capacity building in habitat preservation and site management.

Engelsmanplaat at low tide (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

A joint effort

The integrity of this vast natural treasure trove is jointly protected by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. From local residents, visitors and businesses to national parks, governments, green NGOs and cross-border collaborations, we’re all playing a part.

Transition from land to sea at low tide (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

Cooperation across borders

In 1978, encouraged by the research community and green NGOs, governments across the Wadden Sea region formed the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation. 

The Cooperation fosters collaboration and exchange between partners from politics, nature conservation and science, as well as local stakeholders, to ensure a coordinated approach to managing and safeguarding this huge shared ecosystem.

Guided mudflat walk (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

Explore a natural wonder

A visit to the Wadden Sea will bring you stunning scenery, restorative tranquillity and spectacular wildlife encounters. Your senses will come alive as you gaze towards the far horizon, listen to the crackling in the mudflats generated by thousands of little crabs, taste the salty air, feel the mud squeeze through your toes and breathe in the smell of the mud flat soil.

Knowledgeable and friendly guides are ready to ignite your passion for this special place on guided walks and wildlife adventures, including seal trips and bird tours. We look forward to welcoming you.

Group of children on an exploration tour walking on the beach (2009) by Wadden SeaUNESCO World Heritage

Near You

No matter which part of the Wadden Sea you visit, they all have their own charm and character and are full of highlights. For more information and to find a visitor centre near you, visit: www.waddensea-worldheritage.org/visit/

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat: www.waddensea-worldheritage.org/

More on the Wadden Sea and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1314/

Photos: Martin Elsen, Marleen Annema/ Waddenagenda, Martin Stock/LKN.SH, Tandrup Naturfilm, Marcel van Kammen/ Waddenagenda, Red Star, Thomas Høyrup Christensen/ Frame & Work.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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