Defenseless in the protected area
It is Germany's largest protected area, but there is no question of undisturbed nature in the Wadden Sea. Sometimes the protection only exists on paper and individual interests are at the expense of the environment - a status report.
Past splendour: The North Sea, the Wadden Sea and its adjacent coasts must once have been a kind of marine Serengeti of Central Europe, where gray whales and northern right whales cavorted, pelicans fished, flamingos filtered plankton from the water and salmon, sturgeon or rays moved through the sea. On land, aurochs and moose grazed s alt marshes and swamps, and bears may have preyed on baby gray seals or common harbor seals. Over and over: Thousands of years of hunting and exploitation eliminated many species locally and drove them to less disturbed regions.
Nevertheless, the Wadden Sea is still a valuable habitat that offers millions of ducks, waders and seabirds a home or a nutritious resting place during migration. Around 15,000 seals are also resting on suitable sandbanks, and even the gray seal, which temporarily disappeared completely from German beaches, has returned in smaller numbers to Helgoland or near Amrum. In addition, the shallow shelf sea offers important edible fish such as plaice, herring or sole a comparatively quiet and safe nursery, not to mention the countless molluscs, crabs and worms. Because of this diversity and productivity, the area was declared a national park twenty years ago - divided into three parts: Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea.
Fishing as the biggest problem child
The resistance was massive: the tourism industry and the local population, farmers, hunters and fishermen feared for their influence, their hobbies or their income. The foundation of the internationally recognized protected area was therefore only possible with many special permits. For example, oil is being drilled on the Mitteplate platform in the middle of the mudflats, gas pipelines and power lines run through the silt, wind turbines, which have been heavily criticized, are said to be built off the coast, and the military is still practicing from time to time. For years, geese could even be hunted in the national park - a practice that was only banned in the early 1990s. Since then, not only have the populations of certain bird species increased again, the animals have also become more trusting and less inclined to flee.
Initially, the s alt marshes in the region were also used intensively, which mainly ate sheep short and small, so that only species-poor grasslands developed. In the meantime, however, the national park administration has taken almost half of the corresponding areas out of management and favored the development of various ecosystems there, which today offer animal species that depend on them an optimal habitat. Although some areas are still farmed and despite sometimes heated discussions with the remaining shepherds and some local residents, organizations such as the WWF and NABU see this development of the reserve as a success story.
The unregulated fishing, which is still active in large parts of the Wadden Sea and, in addition to crabs and plaice, mainly uses the mussel beds, is a concern both for them and for the national park administration. In the Schleswig-Holstein park, for example, according to the WWF, cutters are allowed to fish for shrimp in 97 percent of the area, and even in the remaining small area, the environmentalists noted illegal attacks. The shrimp fishery as well as the hunt for plaice or flounder does not only affect the desired target species: "We are particularly concerned about beam trawling and other bottom trawling. Here a net is pulled over the bottom and the bottom fauna is destroyed in the process the catches have extremely high bycatch rates," says biologist Iris Menn from Greenpeace Germany. Juvenile fish, starfish or shrimp that are too small go straight back overboard – to the delight of the seagulls, whose populations may be growing as a result.
The harvesting of mussels (Mytilus edulis) was even intensified and expanded after the founding of the Schleswig-Holstein part: Initially there were 1300 hectares of cultivated land - on which specially placed small mussels grow to market maturity - the "breeders " by 1997 a total of 2800 hectares were occupied. Only in the following years did this area decrease again to 2000 hectares. At least the park authorities managed to get a ban on mussel fishing on dry mud flats and in most of the core zones; the removal of cockles (Cerastoderma edule) was even completely forbidden because they churned up the sensitive mud flats.
But these restrictions don't go far enough for Manfred Knake from the Wattenrat - an association of independent nature conservationists from the coastal region of East Friesland: "The mussel fishery may (in Lower Saxony, note.i.e. Red.) be carried out on about eighty percent of the drying mud flats in wild mussel beds for seed mussel production, even in the strictest protection zones. The small seed mussels are released elsewhere on the mudflat until they are ready for the market. However, the mechanical tearing of the mussels from the banks often causes lasting damage, and repopulation is endangered by the structural damage." In addition to climatic reasons and displacement by the migrating, exotic Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), this is considered one of the main reasons for the reduction of mussel beds to a third of their original distribution.
The main problem is mass tourism with thirty million overnight stays in connection with the zero supervision by four full-time national park wardens
(Manfred Knake) Mussels and cockles, however, provide valuable food for many species of birds, for example for oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) or the knot (Calidris canutus) - a red-colored wading bird - during the Rest or the breeding season is essential and overuse can have serious consequences. For example, as a study by Jan van Gils and his colleagues from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research on Texel has now revealed , industrialized harvesting of cockles in the Dutch North Sea region caused part of the collapse of roosting and wintering knot populations throughout the Wadden Sea. While in 1960 an estimated 2,000 tons of the mollusks, considered a delicacy, were collected by hand each year, by the late 1980s this had increased to almost 80,000 tons - sucked out of the mud by only 22 ships using high-pressure pumps.
It was not until 2004 that the Netherlands stopped this highly destructive practice, but the measure came too late for the Knutts: their number fell by around eighty percent in the observation period from 1975, with the researchers calculating around 1998 to 2002 alone 58,000 additional deaths among birds due to starvation or the increased hardships of finding alternative roosting sites. Oystercatchers and eider ducks, in turn, suffer from the continued use of the mussels and cannot switch to the Pacific oysters because their shells are too hard to crack.
Light and shadow through tourism
In general, scientists such as Franz Baierlein from the Institute for Bird Research in Wilhelmshaven found that more than two thirds of the 34 bird species that visit the Wadden Sea as an important stepping stone during their migration saw a sometimes significant decline in population between 1980 and 2000 - and thus still long after the creation of national parks. In addition to fishing, the birds primarily come into conflict with tourism. After all, the number of reported overnight stays in the national park in Lower Saxony alone is more than thirty million, plus there are day tourists. Of course, this visitor pressure leaves its mark on the flora and fauna, as Manfred Knake repeatedly finds out - for example when a golf course is illegally built in the middle of a protection zone on Langeoog.
Disturbance to wildlife can also be subtle, as evidenced by the cases of the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Little Tern (Sterna albifrons). Both species prefer to breed on sandy and pebbly beaches, which people also like to use for swimming, hiking or kite flying. However, the two bird species are very sensitive in this regard, so that their total number along the entire Wadden Sea coast from the Netherlands to Denmark was in free fall for a long time and in some cases still is. The major environmental organizations such as the WWF are therefore concerned about new trends in the regional tourism industry - despite a partially positive view: "Tourism and nature conservation can generally be reconciled particularly well, because their areas of interest overlap strongly: both need an intact, credibly protected Wadden Sea. But tourism also wants any kind of event tourism and new large-scale construction, which then no longer coincides with the national park and ultimately also contradicts the holidaymakers' desire for intact nature," says Hans-Ulrich Rösner, head of the WWF Project offices Wadden Sea. The Schleswig-Holstein National Park Administration also sees the cooperation with tourism as positive: "The cooperation with tourism is very successful. Problems are only local and they are usually solved in a short time," says Hendrik Brunckhorst from the National Park Office.
But tourism also wants any kind of event tourism and new large buildings, which then no longer coincides with the national park and ultimately also contradicts the desire of holidaymakers for intact nature
(Hans-Ulrich Rösner) Manfred Knake, however, takes a much more critical view of this complex: "The main problem is mass tourism with thirty million overnight stays throughout the national park in connection with the virtually zero supervision by four full-time national park wardens on the islands and 14 people doing community service." It can therefore happen unpunished that a colony of herring gulls (Larus argentatus) with 3000 breeding pairs can be plundered by egg thieves on Langeoog, or that kite surfers – a modern and faster form of windsurfing – invade strictly protected resting areas for birds and seals. And the hands of the national park wardens are tied, even in the case of illegal violations, as they are not even allowed to send people off.
At the same time, the wishes of local politicians to promote tourism repeatedly lead to new and rezoning of the national park, which further threaten rare animals such as a landing site for water sports enthusiasts on Wangerooge in the middle of the breeding area of little terns. The Wadden Council has documented more than eighty violations of this kind so far: "Politics must finally deal honestly with the protection goals and not say national park and mean tourism. Even the national park administration is coaxing tourism. The state government is currently pursuing the opening of protected areas for tourism under the keywords 'Serengeti effect' and 'Where man and nature meet' This 'encounter' has fatal consequences for the geese and wading bird species, which are sensitive to disturbance and do not like these encounters."
Wind energy as a major controversial topic of the future
A relatively new problem for the national park is the issue of wind energy, which in future will make a larger contribution to Germany's clean power supply in large plants off the coast. For Greenpeace and the WWF it is a double-edged sword, because on the one hand they see the dangers of climate change - which is already changing the North Sea - which must be countered with carbon dioxide-free energy production. On the other hand, they fear the industrialization of the North Sea and the disruption of important bird migration routes by the rotors and power cables. A critical monitoring of planned projects is therefore indispensable for them and their construction is not automatically acceptable, at least for the WWF, without meaningful research work on the consequences for birds, whales or the risk of ship collisions.
We take a critical view of systems behind the dike near the national park
(Ingo Ludwichowski) The Wadden Council and various citizen initiatives involved are completely opposed to new wind turbines outside of the national park. In their opinion, the already fluctuating utilization of the wind power plants and the correspondingly small contribution to energy production does not justify the high production costs - especially not if this occurs with an impairment of the landscape and the loss of resting and breeding areas for birds. NABU, on the other hand, welcomes the position of the state governments, at least not to build any turbines in the national park, which would also be in contradiction with the national park law: "We take a critical view of turbines behind the dike near the national park. NABU also strictly rejects the construction within protected areas at sea and also sees the need to critically examine the locations for possible negative effects," says Ingo Ludwichowski from the Schleswig-Holstein state association.
All in all, the Wadden Sea is still facing stormy times in the future - not only in terms of climate. The parks in Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein are therefore still a long way from the goal of a "real" national park such as the Serengeti in Tanzania, the Yellowstone in the USA or Manu in Peru: the people here still exert too much influence. Whether the planned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will help mankind seems more than questionable to many conservationists.