Wadden Sea is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site
On 26 June 2009, the UNESCO named the Wadden Sea a World Natural Heritage site and it can now be mentioned in the same breath with world-famous natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Grand Canyon in the US, the Kilimanjaro in Africa, and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. The United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) gave this special award to the 400 kilometer long coastal strip stretching from the Netherlands to the border of Denmark.
Why was the Wadden Sea named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site?
The criteria for adding an area to this list are its outstanding universal value, its intactness, and that its protection is guaranteed. The UNESCO uses various criteria to assess whether an area or region is eligible to be designated a “World Natural Heritage” site.
1) Rare diversity
The Wadden Sea has many different habitats and is thus home to numerous animal and plant species. Some 10,000 species of protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals such as worms and clams, fish, birds, and mammals live here. Every year, some 10 to 12 million birds make a short or long pause here on their migration from their breeding grounds in Siberia, Scandinavia, or Canada to their winter homes in Western Europe or Africa or back. Only here can they find enough food to be able to survive the thousands of kilometers.
2) Where the forces of nature rule
The Wadden Sea shows us in a unique way how plants and animals adapt to the ever-changing surroundings. Between ebb and flow, at the interface between land and sea, where fresh water and seawater meet, there are many ecological specialists. Formed by the powers of nature, by wind, sand, and the tides, very special communities have arisen. Natural events develop here mostly without being influenced by human hand.
3) Young and pristine
The Wadden Sea is a very young formation with salt marshes and dunes, mudflats and sand that are always being reshaped by the wind and the tides. Despite its young age, the Wadden Sea can tell a lot of the earth’s history. Its development began in the last Ice Age (10,000-12,000 years ago) and is ongoing. Even today, and sometimes within a few days, you can see in the Wadden Sea how the dynamics continue to change the landscape.
What makes the Wadden Sea so unique?
The Wadden Sea is an extremely dynamic landscape. Nowhere else in the world has a more diverse landscape been developed by the tides that is still changing today.
An extensive system of large tidal currents and smaller tidal creeks crosses through large areas of the tidal flats and borders firm, dry sands. Clam banks, dense patches of seaweed, and soft silt offer food for many kinds of animals. Thriving salt meadows in the extensive areas in front of the dikes and on the islands and halligs alternate with white beaches and dunes. This diversity in the landscape makes the Wadden Sea a unique habitat for more than 10,000 animal and plant species. The Wadden Sea is an indispensable stopover and resting area for millions of migratory birds.
Are there any conditions attached to the status as World Natural heritage site?
The Wadden Sea has been a protected area for more than a generation. National parks have been designated in the German Wadden Sea, and in the Netherlands Wadden Sea was declared a “State Natural Monument”. The designation as a World Natural Heritage site has not changed the status of these protected areas. No new regulations have been added.
The support of the local populations, numerous organizations, and the respective authorities in the area is responsible for the fact that these protected areas in the Netherlands, Niedersachsen, and Schleswig-Holstein have now been declared a World Natural Heritage site.
For more information, see www.waddensea-worldheritage.org/
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