Transboundary management of ecosystem services and benefits: The Wadden Sea (Denmark/Germany/the Netherlands)

Anja Domnick and Harald Marencic

Transboundary protected areas are a particularly important form of shared governance, involving two or more governments and other actors (Borrini-Feyerabend, 2013). These sites also face unique governance challenges.

Location and World Heritage designation

The Wadden Sea stretches for 500 km along the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, and was inscribed on World Heritage List for its outstanding universal geological, ecological and biodiversity values. This large World Heritage site encompasses a multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment, and is rich in species specially adapted to the demanding environmental conditions (UNESCO, 2014l).

Main ecosystem service provided by the site

The Wadden Sea plays an important role as a tourist destination and thus has a significant impact for the regional economy. Many regions are entirely dependent on tourism. Every year millions of tourists are drawn to the Wadden Sea coast. 50 million overnight guests and 30 – 40 million day visitors per year are attracted to experience this natural wonder. Tourism is one of the major sources of income in the region with a turnover over 5 billion € per year.


Nature conservation and recreation coexist well in the Wadden Sea, mainly due to long-term policies, comprehensive protection and management schemes.


Governance and management system

Almost the entire Wadden Sea is managed under a nature conservation regime with natural processes undisturbed throughout most of the area. Since 1978, the three countries have been cooperating successfully together to protect the entire Wadden Sea as an ecological entity as laid down in the Joint Declaration. The trilateral Wadden Sea Plan together with the Trilateral Monitoring and Assessment Programme is the framework for policy, management, monitoring, research, communication and education. The World Heritage status of the site underlines the fact that the Wadden Sea has to be protected and managed as one ecological entity.


However, as the area is a popular tourist destination for many generations, there is a risk that increased tourism may have negative impacts and that protection and conservation of the World Heritage Wadden Sea could be harmed by new touristic developments.


Responding to these challenges the transnational project "PROWAD", funded by the EU via the Interreg IV B North Sea Program, plays an essential role in enabling and facilitating countervailing strategies. It uses a combination of knowledge and information tools, procedural advice and practical support, and capacity building and training to strengthen cross-sector relations between stakeholders across local, regional, national and transnational levels to answer the question: How can sustainable tourism be guided into safe ways to minimize the environmental impact that may come with touristic activities in the World Heritage Wadden Sea area.


The development of the Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy for the entire Wadden Sea was commissioned in 2010. The strategy foresees multi-level involvement and collaboration among different sectors (such as tourism and private business sector, ministries, nature agencies, national parks and NGOs) to create effective solutions. The strategy outlines the true potential that exists for nature-based tourism in the Wadden Sea and how, by supporting and protecting the ‘Outstanding Universal Value' of the site, the provision of social, economic and environmental benefits can be ensured at local and regional levels.